We are having cake tonight after dinner. I wanted to mark an occasion in a way that would feel special to my teen daughter and, well, cake is always a good way to do that. We’ll be celebrating that women in the United States gained the right to vote when the 19th Amendment to the United States Constitution was ratified on this date in 1920.
Tennessee voted to approve the amendment on this date, becoming the 36th state to do so after Congress proposed it on June 4, 1919.
It absolutely blows my mind that women in this country have had the right to vote for less than a century. I have my great-grandmother’s high school diploma framed in my office. She earned it 1908. She had to wait another dozen years until she was able to vote. My grandmothers were born before women could vote.
That is merely a few branches on the family tree, not far back at all.
I really want my daughter to appreciate that the right to vote, something she will soon have, was something relatives she met did not have at a point in their lives.
How lucky we are to be alive right now, as Lin-Manuel Miranda wrote in Hamilton.
Having a little celebration is not as much about marking our good fortune as it is about honoring and expressing gratitude for those who fought for us to have a very cherished right.
I want her to understand that it was a right that women had to work long and hard to get – it came as a result of sacrifice, determination, and dedication of very brave women.
This summer we visited the Women’s Rights National Historical Park in Seneca Falls, New York. It is located at the site of the first Women’s Rights Convention that was held on July 19-20, 1848.
One of my favorite parts of the visit was learning that Elizabeth Cady Stanton read the Declaration of Sentiments at the Convention despite the fact that she was very shy and had very little experience speaking in public. She wasn’t reading that Declaration because it seemed like fun. It wasn’t necessarily something she wanted to do, it was something that she felt she had to do.
My daughter stood at the same place in the Wesleyan Meeting House in Seneca Falls where Elizabeth Cady Stanton stood. And they have a copy of the Declaration of Sentiments on the podium there. We were the only visitors there so my daughter started to read it.
When, in the course of human events, it becomes necessary for one portion of the family of man to assume among the people of the earth a position different from that which they have hitherto occupied, but one to which the laws of nature and of nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes that impel them to such a course.
We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men and women are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness; that to secure these rights governments are instituted, deriving their powers from the consent of the governed.
I admit that I was rather surprised at what a powerful moment it was for me to hear her.
She didn’t have nearly the moment that I did, but she was interested because in the song “The Schuyler Sisters” in the musical Hamilton, the sisters sing “We hold these truths to be self-evident/That all men are created equal” and then Angelica says, “And when I meet Thomas Jefferson/I’m ‘a compel him to include women in the sequel!” The sequel was the Declaration of Sentiments and it was written primarily by Cady Stanton, not Jefferson.
Change can require a great deal of perseverance. The Declaration of Sentiments came 72 years after the Declaration of Independence, on which it is modeled. It took more than 70 years after that for the vision the women (and men – including Frederick Douglass) attending the Convention to become reality.
I hope she took away the lessons of the importance of using your voice, of fighting for what it is right, of taking a stand, of not giving up.
Our little celebration tonight may be small, but it is a way to hopefully impart the importance of this anniversary and to honor the women who made it possible by expressing our gratitude.
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