The Legend of the Legendary League program Nov. 25, presented by Nick Hedrick and Shelbi Hoover, addressed the struggle for women to gain support in the national suffrage movement of the right to vote. When the U.S. Constitution was ratified in 1788, no women had voting rights. Four decades later, the early suffrage movement gained steam when hundreds of people gathered at a church in to hold the well-attended convention in Seneca Falls, New York. Activist Elizabeth Cady Stanton presented a document calling for women to be allowed into the voting booth. The document was signed by 68 women and 32 men.
The suffragettes were inspired by the words of Mary Wollstonecraft, the mother of “Frankenstein” author Mary Shelley. In the 18th century, Mary argued that if women could have access to a proper education, they wouldn’t appear naturally inferior to men. The critics dismissed her as a prostitute and a “hyena in petticoats.” The public insults and belittlement that Mary received for believing that women have the same right as men do to an education were but only one example of the unjust treatment that women could expect in a society in which they had almost no real representation and power.
A very early pioneer in the field of women’s rights, Sojourner Truth was born into slavery in northern New York in 1797. Born Isabella Baumfree, she would have five children while enslaved before escaping to freedom — and would go on to successfully sue a white man for illegally selling her son into slavery in the south. Truth would speak publicly and advocate for her views on temperance, abolition and women’s rights for most of her life.
Progress was severely slowed by the outbreak of the Civil War and perhaps even further as the War concluded and the 14th Amendment granted black men, the right to vote. Why? Serious disagreement broke out between suffragists and abolitionists on the matter of who should receive the vote first.
The next 30 years would see relatively little progress on national scale in favor of suffrage, although women were rallying and organizing mightily during this period. By 1912, the momentum that had begun at Seneca Falls was up to full speed, and over 20,000 supporters travelled from all over the country to attend one of the largest marches held in New York City. Five years later, members of Alice Paul’s “Silent Sentinels” began a constant picket of the White House, challenging President Woodrow Wilson to face the growing movement. President Wilson eventually came out in support of women’s suffrage in 1917. Finally on Aug. 26, 1920, the 19th Amendment was ratified granting women in American the right to vote.
Some of Indiana’s best-known suffragists have ties to our community which became known as the “headquarters for the woman Suffrage movement in Hoosierdom.” Crawfordsville native Elizabeth Boynton chaired a woman’s suffrage convention here in 1869. Lew Wallace’s stepmother, Zerelda, joined the cause after becoming well-known in the temperance movement. Testifying before the senate, she said society couldn’t be reformed unless women were allowed to vote.
Dr. Mary Holloway Wilhite, Crawfordsville’s first female physician, helped start Montgomery County’s suffrage association in the 1860’s and later organized an Indiana Equal Suffrage Association Convention in Crawfordsville. She hosted Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton at her home, which stood at corner of West Wabash Avenue and Grant Avenue across from Wabash College.
As part of the suffrage centennial celebration, the LWVMC and CDPL will continue to sponsor in alternating months the “Well Read Citizen” book club and suffrage history slide programs, held the fourth Monday of each month at 6 p.m. in the Donnelley Room at the library.
The League of Women Voters, a nonpartisan, multi-issue political organization, encourages informed and active participation in government, works to increase public understanding of major policy issues, and influences public policy through education and advocacy. For information about the League, visit the website: www.lwvmontcoin.org or send message to: LWV, PO Box 101, Crawfordsville, IN 47933.