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The Woman’s Hour: The Great Fight to Win the Vote

By Penny Robinson

Her Voice Her Vote Our VictoryOn the evening of Thursday, August 25, The League of Women Voters of Appleton hosted keynote speaker Elaine Weiss, author of the highly acclaimed narrative history The Woman’s hour: The Great Fight to Win the Vote.

An accomplished storyteller, Ms. Weiss riveted the well-informed audience with details and photos, allowing them to feel that they almost were present. For three generations the suffragettes persisted, continuing to organize even after repeated failures and, for many years, lacking even the telephone (invented in 1876).

The campaign began with the 1848 Seneca Falls convention, at which Frederick Douglass was the only man to express support. Through a world pandemic, a civil and world war, numerous failed state campaigns, court battles and petitions to Congress, it culminated in marches and protests (which resulted in some arrests, imprisonment, and force-feeding), that led to the Nineteenth Amendment:

“The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex. Congress shall have the power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.”

They were opposed by men of course, by railroad magnates, by other women who feared the moral decay of families and the nation, as well as corporations that feared the end of child labor.

After the amendment passed in Congress, 36 states had to ratify it. Wisconsin’s history of ratification is convoluted. According to a previous presentation by Linda Bjella, co-president of LWV:

“In 1911, Ada James’ father, Senator David James, introduced a bill that would grant Wisconsin women full suffrage. The bill passed both houses of the legislature and was approved by the governor. When the bill passed a second time in 1912, it went to a referendum. Suffragists led by Ada James initiated a state-wide campaign of stump speeches and automobile tours, but the state’s male voters defeated the referendum by a margin of nearly 2 to 1.”

According to Weiss, once states received the official papers from Congress on June 5, 1919, for the proposed 19th Amendment, it had to be ratified by three-fourths (36) of the states. Illinois, Michigan, and Wisconsin all ratified the 19th amendment five days later, on June 10. Illinois had ratified it about an hour before Wisconsin, but the documents needed to be hand-delivered to the Secretary of State’s Office in Washington D.C. to be signed. Ada James insisted that her father, the 76-year-old former WI State Senator David James, serve as messenger, and even had his bags packed for him. He arrived at the Capitol on June 13 and presented Wisconsin’s official papers. Minutes later, the messenger from Illinois arrived in the same office. Due to a clerical error on the Illinois papers, a second vote had to be taken, delaying the departure of the courier, so Wisconsin’s papers were certified first.

Tennessee was the last state to ratify, and the legislature there abounded with debate and more. Especially nasty were some of the opposing women. Ratification was won by a letter from a mother to her son, the youngest member of the legislature.

Going back to the roots of the women’s movement, Weiss celebrates the persistence and courage of such women as Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and others but does not sugarcoat their racism. Despite early unity with abolitionists, upper-middle-class white women were willing to sacrifice racial equality for gender equality. If Black women were allowed to march with them at all, they were relegated to the back. During the ratification in Nashville, Carrie Catt, the New York-based president of the National American Woman Suffrage Association and the successor to Susan B. Anthony, made calculated decisions to distance her groups’ interests from those of Black men and women, who finally gained the actual right to vote at the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Steven Spielberg’s Amblin production company is adapting the book for television, with Hilary Rodham Clinton serving as Executive Producer.

It is worth noting, that 100 years later, we are now fighting in many states to KEEP the right to vote, as state legislatures pass voter suppression laws. Two bills are pending in Congress to protect our right to vote: HR 4, the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, which has passed the House, but not the Senate; and HR 1, the For the People Act, which awaits any vote.

During this event at Perry Hall, on the Fox Cities Campus of the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh, short remarks were offered by both co-presidents of the LWV-Appleton, Linda Bjella and Marti Hemwall, as well as by Alderperson Denise Fenton. Attendance was limited to approximately 140 people from the Fox Valley.

Part of Fox Valley 19th Amendment Centennial Celebration, this event had been postponed for a year because of the pandemic. More information about the LWV Appleton and Centennial Celebration is at More information about Elaine Weiss and her book is at

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