Thursday, February 7, 2019

Women in White

If you watched the State of the Union Address on Tuesday night, February 4, 2019, you must have noticed all of the women dressed in white.  The purpose was to remember those suffrage women of the past who struggled for decades to win the vote for women.

Although white is the color we most frequently associate with suffragettes, they also wore purple for loyalty and dignity; green for hope; and white for purity.

We tend to associate the Suffrage Movement with the early 1900s, perhaps because women did not gain the vote until that century.  The bill was passed in 1919; however, the final state to ratify and make the bill law was Tennessee in 1920.  Some states took a very long time to ratify, the last state being Mississippi in 1953.

Although we may remember those 20th century suffragettes in white, the movement began much earlier.  Probably the best known historic event is the Seneca Falls Convention held in 1848.  Among the five women calling that event was Elizabeth Cady Stanton, who began working with Susan B. Anthony in 1851, both pictured above later in their lives.  

Kansas women were urging their rights even before Kansas had been admitted as a state.  In 1859 women sought equal rights at the Wyandotte constitutional convention, and although they were not allowed to speak, women's mere presence at the convention may have contributed to the passage of women's rights to acquire and own property and to retain equal custody of their children.  Traditional laws transferred a woman's property to her husband when she married, and in the event of divorce, men automatically gained custody of their children.   In 1861, the first state legislature granted women the right to vote in school elections, and a quarter of a century later, in 1887, Kansas women won the right to vote and to run for office in city elections.  Of course, it was men who were needed for passage of these rights, since women could only lobby and persuade from outside of the government.  

While these voting rights may seem minimal, given the fact that women were excluded from voting in state and federal elections, Kansas was seen as quite progressive for those times. 

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