Women’s Equality Day is today. Who knew, right? Little known, less often celebrated, Women’s Equality Day came about to commemorate the passage of the 19th Amendment – you know, the one giving women the same voting privileges as their male counterparts. It’s been less than 100 years since ratification (so expect a big party in 2020. Just sayin’) and yet how quickly we forget.
The suffrage movement was a struggle. It was ugly. It was the worst of the political process. It was an “attack on the family,” suffragettes heard. Men would be emasculated if women voted. Who would feed the family?! Who would do the wash?! Many anti-suffragettes were women, fighting against other women. Suffragettes were force fed, an especially brutal process. They were jailed. Their children were taken away. Why? Because they believed that women should be equal in voting rights to men. Quite a bold statement, wasn’t it?
Utah led the way on women’s suffrage. Women like Emmaline B. Wells served our state and our country well. She was an early advocate of women’s rights, writing in the Women’s Exponent “I believe in women, especially thinking women.” She was appointed as a Utah representative to a suffrage convention in 1879 and stayed involved in the movement for the rest of her life. She also spent time as a single mother, a teacher and an advocate for women and children. She was called as the 5th General Relief Society president of the LDS church in 1910, a decade before the 19th amendment was ratified. She ran for the Utah Senate against Martha Hughes Cannon, a physician and fellow suffragette. Martha, an opinionated and deeply religious woman herself felt that education and especially public service were important for women, stating:
Somehow I know that women who stay home all the time have the most unpleasant homes there are. You give me a woman who thinks about something besides cook stoves and wash tubs and baby flannels, and I’ll show you, nine times out of ten, a successful mother.
I wonder if either Martha or Emmaline could get elected today?
In the years since 1920, too many of us have forgotten. We have forgotten the struggle that suffrage required. We have forgotten that women – like men – are not defined by a single role. We have forgotten that early Utahns welcomed women’s voices at the table. We have forgotten that women are strong and powerful in their own right.
It is time we remember.
Remember that women can be deeply religious AND strong and opinionated. Contrary to popular culture, they are not mutually exclusive.
Remember that mothers are smart enough to vote AND raise children. Imagine.
Remember that women have the God-given right to inspiration on the roles that are right for them.
Remember that women hold up “Half the Sky.”
Remember that women of today owe a debt of gratitude to the women of yesteryear.
I am grateful today to honor strong women, the ones who rock the cradle AND rule the world.