WWSBD? (What Would Susan B Do?)
By Carrie Park, Class of 2016
The Susan B. Anthony dollar. Annoying, right? If I owed you four dollars and I gave it back to you in Susan B’s, you would probably vow to never lend me money again. Just like a Canadian quarter, you’d roll your eyes and think, “How am I going to get rid of this?”
Poor Susan B. Stuck on a coin the same size and color as a quarter, but definitely not granted the same amount of respect. Her grim visage seems to reflect this knowledge. But perhaps it reflects something else. We don’t talk much about women’s suffrage these days, but this election year, I think we need a little reminder.
ALERT: This article is in no way a political endorsement of either party. You may read on without fear. Unless you fear history. In that case, you should read on because those who don’t learn from history are doomed to repeat it.
In 1868, the United States ratified the 14th Amendment. In Section 1, it extended voting rights to former slaves by declaring all persons born or naturalized in the United States to be citizens. Unfortunately, in Section 2, it went on to clarify that by “all persons” it meant men only. This was a great disappointment to Susan B and many others who felt that women had been left in the political dust.
But, “H-E-double hockey sticks hath no fury like a woman scorned” (Susan B was a Quaker and would not have said the “h” word). In the 1872 presidential election, Susan B and fourteen other women entered a Rochester, New York poling facility and demanded that they be allowed to register and vote despite their deficiencies in testosterone.
You may be surprised to hear that Susan B never anticipated being able to actually cast a ballot. She expected to be turned away. Her strategy was to have her rights denied and then subsequently get to sue in federal court. But she was so persuasive that the polling officials allowed her to register and vote! Nine days later, she was arrested and charged with the crime of voting. Sorry, Susan B. Do not pass go, do not collect $200. In fact, the punishment was a fine of $100. *Please keep in mind that in the 1870’s, if you were a woman and you had a job, you were probably working in a textile mill and earning an average daily wage of 28 cents. Quick math calculation: 100 dollars divided by 28 cents minus room and board times seven days a week equals let-me-tell-you-what-you-can-do-with-your-@#$%ing-fine (even Quakers have their breaking points).
A new strategy emerged after that. Susan B and her ally, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, launched a campaign to get an Amendment passed specifically giving women the right to vote. Spoiler alert: a half-century later, success will come, but not without enduring atrocious governmental responses that put the “suffer” in “suffragette.” Picture your great-great grandmother in petticoats and high button shoes, thrown in jail for standing in front of the White House with a sign that read, “Votes for Women.” Even while in jail, the women continued to protest by going on hunger strikes. Guards responded by force-feeding them raw eggs and milk, causing instant vomiting. These ladies were tough. If you can’t handle the raw eggs or the raw truth, you can go online and watch the Disney version of tactics the English suffragettes used in a musical number from Mary Poppins, called “Sister Suffragette”.
Finally, in August of 1920, the suffragettes were granted their wish and the 19th Amendment was ratified. It is bitter sweet to note that Susan B never saw the realization of her dream. She died in Rochester, New York in 1906. On Thursday, July 28th of this year, the mayor of Rochester placed the following sign on her grave: “Dear Susan B: We thought you might like to know that for the first time in history, a woman is running for president representing a major party. 144 years ago your illegal vote got you arrested. It took another 48 years for women to finally gain the right to vote. Thank you for paving the way.”
This election year presents a challenge for many of us. The two conventions have been anything but conventional. The one thing we can all agree on, however, is that Cleveland came out smelling like a rose on the national stage. We were praised for our friendliness and our preparedness. As members of Leadership Medina County, I want to remind you that the act of voting was once a crime for women. It is our duty not only to vote, but to encourage others as well. I’d like you to consider the following come November: WWSBD? Don’t take your privilege for granted. Make Susan B proud!
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