Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Women's Suffrage: A privilege, not a drag

This year's rapidly approaching Women's Equality Day, August 26th, provides an interesting means of reflection. Looking back over ninety of the most eventful years of human history, it is incredible to see what women have accomplished. Women in science, politics, literature, journalism, business, and a multitude of other professions have without question changed the world, and advanced human understanding to an incredible amount. When one considers all that has happened as result of women, it is hard to believe that just ninety years ago, women did not even have the right to vote.

The fight for suffrage is a famous one, yet many do not know the degree to which women were terrorized, tortured, and endangered as result of their conviction, their collective quest for political voice. Suffragists (as 'suffragette' was originally used as a derogatory term) were horrendously beaten by police and hostile observers of their peaceful protests and White House pickets. In prison, suffragists were even more badly abused. Hunger strikes were dealt with by force-feeding, like in the case of Alice Paul, while other women like Lucy Burns and Dora Lewis were also brutally mistreated by prison guards. Conditions in prison were awful for the suffragists. In one case, women at the Occoquan Workhouse spent several weeks using only water that came from an open pail, and eating food infested with worms.

What would these women think now, seeing their daughters, granddaughters, and great-granddaughters forsaking the precious right that they spent so long fighting for? Voting is a privilege and a responsibility, and the fact that so many women do not take advantage of it is most distressing. It goes without saying that the fight that suffragists fought ninety years ago was an incredibly difficult one. Nevertheless, they fought it anyway, because they could see how valuable, and necessary it was for their growing, changing country.

Modern women need to continue to value their right to vote as much as female suffragists did when they first were granted it. We tend to forget that suffrage isn't something that we were just given. It was something we fought very long and very hard to win.

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