It’s perhaps the most basic right of all: The right to be heard.
For thousands of years, women weren’t. No one in power listened to them. They had little control over their bodies, their finances, their lives.
But a few women realized if they won one right — the right to vote — all else might follow.
“Suffrage: Women’s Long Battle for the Vote” by Ellen Carol Dubois chronicles that struggle, which peaked 100 years ago with the ratification of the 19th Amendment. The book notes that the larger fight, for full equality, goes on.
The women’s war was long and intense. It would grow to include picket lines, hunger strikes, and physical violence. But it began quietly in Seneca Falls, N.Y., on a hot summer Sunday in 1848, when Elizabeth Cady Stanton met friends for tea.
“Cleanliness, order, the love of the beautiful and artistic, all faded away in the struggle to accomplish what was absolutely necessary from hour to hour,” she complained.
Talking to the other women, she unleashed “the torrent of my long-accumulating discontent with such vehemence and indignation that I stirred myself, as well as the rest of the party, to do and dare anything.” The friends decided to hold a two-day public meeting on “the social, civil, and religious conditions and rights of women.”
The Founding Fathers had begun America’s war for independence by publishing a list of grievances. These women would do the same for their gender.
Titled “Declaration of Sentiments,” their broadside began with familiar but significantly altered language. “We hold these truths to be self-evident,” it read. “That all men and women are created equal.” And it ended with a groundbreaking resolution: “That it is the duty of the women of this country to secure to themselves their sacred right to the elective franchise.”
The fight for the vote had begun.
It would take more than 70 years, and give rise to many leaders and controversies.