1999: Casting a ballot; a right steeped in tradition

Hannibal Courier-Post, Wednesday, April 14, 1999

Author: MARY LOU MONTGOMERY, Courier-Post Associate Editor

In 1904, the diesel engine was shown for the first time in the United States at the St. Louis Exposition. Cy Young pitched the first perfect baseball game, not allowing an opposing player to reach first base. O. Henry published his first collection of short stories, "Cabbages and Kings." And Theodore Roosevelt was re-elected president. My grandmother - my daughter's namesake - was 18 years old in 1904. She loved to read, followed the St. Louis Browns and attended the St. Louis Exposition. But she didn't have a voice in Roosevelt's re-election. She was a woman, and women didn't gain the right to vote until passage and ratification of the 19th Amendment in 1920, when she was 34 years old. A week ago, in April 1999, I stood shoulder-to-shoulder inside a metal frame enclosure with my 18-year-old daughter. Blocked from view in the lobby of a local grocery store by patriotically striped strips of cloth, I showed her how to insert her ballot into the voting machine, and then watched as she turned the pages and individually punched each race offered in our particular ward. She had already formulated her own opinions as to which candidates to support, and which issues to back, so she didn't need my input as to how to mark her ballot. She studied the issues herself, reading candidate profiles in the newspaper, and listening to swaying advertisements on the local television broadcasts. She wanted me at her side on this important day only to show her how the process works. I'm fairly certain that my daughter and her contemporaries are fairly oblivious to the sacrifices that were made to ensure that their voices could be heard on election day. The Woman's Suffrage Movement is little more than a notation in a history book to these young women, but the fact is it took more than 100 years for women to win the right to vote. According to the World Book Encyclopedia, the push for the woman's right to vote began in the early 1800s. A women's rights convention was staged in Seneca Falls, N.Y., in 1848, where two reformers, Lucretia Mott and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, adopted the Declaration Sentiments, calling for women to have equal rights in education, property, voting and other matters. But they and their contemporaries faced strong opposition from people who argued that men could represent their wives better than the wives could represent themselves. In 1869, suffragists formed two national organizations to work for the right to vote. A woman suffrage amendment was first introduced in Congress in 1878, and was subsequently re-introduced each session of Congress for the next 40 years. In 1919, the Senate finally passed the amendment and sent it to the states for approval. By 1920, the required number of states had ratified what was to become the 19th Amendment to the Constitution: "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." The world has changed since my grandmother cast her first vote. The Internet and email are fast approaching the U.S. Postal Service as the favored means of communication. Telephones, which weren't even invented when my grandmother was born, have advanced to the state where cell phones may soon dominate the industry. Satellite television broadcasts place live images of foreign wars into our living room. And air transportation has all but erased international trade boundaries. My daughter and her great-grandmother were born 95 years apart, but they share more than a common name. They share a conviction that they can speak and think for themselves. Did my daughter consider the history of the suffrage act when she voted, or contemplate the way the world has changed since her great-grandmother cast her first ballot in the 1920s? Probably not. Eighty years after women's votes were first counted, my daughter voted because she wanted her voice to be heard on community issues that impact her future. And thanks to the determination of the visionaries of the past who believed in the same cause, today that's my daughter's right.

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