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Anthology Contributors share Solace in Viral Times

-4/21/2020

Our Anthology’s publisher, Cayuga Lake Books, has been sharing the words of some of our contributors in their Facebook project Solace in Viral Times. The project’s intention is to share short pieces in response to COVID-19 and our experiences, and offer some comfort to readers during this time of physical distancing. Several contributors to NY Votes for Women have pieces that have appeared recently, including (so far) Carol Kammen, Lisa Harris, Stacey Murphy, Yael Saar, and Yvonne Fisher. We hope you enjoy “Surrender” by Lisa Harris.

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New Hope for Equal Rights

-Stacey Murphy, 1/15/2020

People marching in Women’s March events this weekend (I plan to be at the one in Seneca Falls if the weather cooperates) will have this newest bit of hope to celebrate, even as we give voice to all of the issues that need remedy: today, Virginia became the 38th state to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA). It was first introduced in 1923. Many women are surprised to learn that, in spite of a push during the 1970s, it was not ratified and the Constitution was not amended to afford legal equality between men and women in matters of divorce, property, employment, and more.


Wikipedia has a good summary of the history and timeline of what was largely a bipartisan effort in the 1970s until…it wasn’t. I was a child of the 70s and mostly recall rude jokes about bra-burning and women’s libbers, though most people seemed inclined to support the concepts, at least from the farthest views out.

Virginia, as the 38th state, gave the final state approval that would have been needed to ratify the amendment. However, the last deadline to achieve sufficient support for the ERA was 1982. There’s also a matter of five state legislatures that voted to revoke their approval (Idaho, Kentucky, Nebraska, Tennessee, and South Dakota). Still, there are legal challenges to those because it’s never been decided whether a state can revoke its ratification of an amendment to the Constitution. There will be, of course, more legal wrangling to come, and although many of the original objections seem outdated thirty years later, I expect there will be newer modern problems, or as we are seeing with women facing limits on their health choices, opposition resurrecting that we thought was laid to rest long ago.

Still, today’s news was hopeful. I love looking at the faces of the women in Virginia today, jubilant. Perhaps we can finally put the matter to rest and see the ERA amendment in place by the time of its own Centennial in 2023.

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Still protesting
photo credit: Alison Fromme   

-Stacey Murphy, 1/7/2020                            

In the weeks before the 2016 election, there was a day that a Twitter-burst went around, musing that if women didn’t have the right to vote, Trump would be elected.  The shocking part for me, at that moment, was that several women responded, saying they would gladly give up enfranchisement.  They were kidding, I figured, but still, it was October 2016, and something felt very wrong with the world.  I couldn’t sleep that night; why would anyone make a joke about giving up a fundamental right?   I supposed it was just a matter of taking things for granted; American women (white ones, anyway) had been guaranteed suffrage almost 100 years before that.  It seemed safe enough, after so much time, to be able to joke.

Did you know that, in America, women have lost the right to vote before?  During our earliest days as colonies and then a fledgling country, women who had the right to vote had it taken away.

The colonies and early states set their own voting laws, but in all cases, voting rights went with property ownership. “…the right to vote for the lower house of colonial legislatures had been defined in traditional British terms: Only people who had freehold landed property sufficient to ensure that they were personally independent and had a vested interest in the welfare of their communities could vote”(Ratcliffe, PDF). British law and customs dictated that women ceased to be legal entities of their own upon marriage, meaning that women who were single or widowed could vote.  Mainly it was widows who exercised this right because younger women generally did not have the property of their own to qualify. There’s a great set of stories by Jocelyn Sears, early accounts of women voting in four colonies and early states, here, including the details around each of their circumstances and more of the pertinent history of the time.

Women legally voting began to change in the 1770s, when New York clarified its law to remove voting rights for all women.  So went Massachusetts, and then New Hampshire in the 1880s.  In 1787 the U.S. Constitutional Convention placed voting rights in the hands of all states.  All of the states in existence then, except New Jersey, removed the voting rights of women.  Jersey actually AFFIRMED the rights of “all free inhabitants,” including white and black women to vote in 1790 – but then revoked women’s suffrage in 1807.

Later in the 1800s, as territories became states, a number of them carried the rights of women to vote forward into statehood.  But as we know, it wasn’t until 1919 that the 20th Amendment to the Constitution guaranteed suffrage.

Perhaps it is this piece of early American history that informed my sadness that evening in October 2016.  I didn’t know any of this, then, but what if we carry knowledge in our DNA?  I believe, with certainty, we hold it in our subconscious.  Or perhaps the foreboding of that night, the sense that all was not right in our country, was a harbinger of the next few years, where we are now.  Our voices are stronger now than in the 1780s, of course.   Women of all races CAN vote, but suppression efforts that target non-white and lower income communities seem to be a bigger problem than ever.

We have returned to fighting for so much, even things that those who fought for equal rights in the 1960’s and 70’s thought would be safe in perpetuity.  In matters of equality, health care, body autonomy, and more, women have to make sure our voices count. We have to use them to push equality forward so we don’t slide further backward.

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On the Eve of Voting: “We Always Persisted” by Gaia Woolf-Nightingall

11.5.18 – Tomorrow is the midterm elections in the United States.  In the past few days, my thoughts of what elections mean for women, and the persistence we employ to have our needs and desires met, have included this piece, written by Gaia, as it appears in NY Votes for Women.  Enjoy!

Gaia in white
GAIA WOOLF-NIGHTINGALL
We Always Persisted

I was not born in the United States of America. I am an immigrant.

I hail from a small Northern English village which is of little consequence except that it has the dubious distinction of being a place which was deeply embedded in Great Britain’s industrial revolution in the 1800s. It was once a land of cotton mills and coal mines and it is where my journey began.

I arrived in central N.Y. on the coldest night I had ever experienced. It was a snow-covered January night. My daughter was so tired and small at just seven years old that I
thought her little body would shatter from the shivers that she could not control in the frigid darkness. I look back on that day often now, as the silent snow piles deep against my window, and I reflect on my female lineage, those women who walked the sacred earth before me. How the journeys and sacrifices they made won me the right and gave me the courage to choose my own destiny.

My mother once told me the story of my great grandmother who, like me, hailed from a Northern English town named Newcastle Upon Tyne. Like my home town of Adlington, Newcastle was a busy site of industries, but instead of cotton mills and coal, Newcastle had shipbuilding and steel. Through the great march of time my great grandmother’s story became like an old jigsaw puzzle which had been left in the attic for too long, and now, though many of the original pieces had been lost, the fragments that I had were precious to me.

The story told to me began when my great grandmother was already married to my great grandfather and had emigrated to Mombasa, Kenya, just before the dawning of
the twentieth century. My great grandmother was white, educated and therefore a privileged woman, but this was still a time before women’s suffrage. Women in my great
grandmother’s era for the most part could not vote or stand for elections. It is unlikely that the idea of women’s suffrage had been birthed at all in my great grandmother’s
consciousness as she wandered the streets of Mombasa.

As was the custom then, and as it often is to this day, women were the primary caregivers for children, and my great grandmother worked hard to raise her four
rambunctious offspring. Like all hard working people she wished for breaks, for vacation time, for time to simply be.

My great grandfather, a man very much of his time and generation, took himself off to the bush to hunt and explore whenever the opportunity presented itself. My great
grandmother grew tired of being left alone, unable to explore the far horizons of the African plains, and so she asked her husband to take her with him on his next
adventure.

My great grandfather considered this, and then explained to his wife that she could not go on safari with him because she, a woman, was of a more delicate constitution than a man. For her dignity, she would need more home comforts than he would. He did not therefore believe it would be wise for his party to carry the extra burden into the plains. My great grandmother acknowledged this.

A week later my great grandmother returned to the subject of her husband’s next safari, but before he could object, she presented to him the extra guides, equipment and
materials that she would require, according to his judgment.

My great grandfather once more considered, and then announced to his wife that she could not go on safari because there would be no latrine in the bush and her modest
sensibilities would not be able to tolerate such an inconvenience. This was again acknowledged by my great grandmother.

Once again a week passed by and my great grandmother approached her husband on the subject of the safari. Before he could object, my great grandmother presented to him a
shovel, a wooden seat and a small tent; she would have no difficulty in digging a latrine and preserving her dignity in the bush.

Again my great grandfather considered her request to go on safari with him. “Ah but what if you are in need of dentistry when out on the great plains, there will be no one to call upon for aid, if you get a toothache.” My great grandmother acknowledged this.

About a week or so later, she returned to her husband and before he could formulate an objection to the subject of the safari, my great grandmother gave him a beautiful wide
smile. As she did so, she revealed a shining set of false teeth. She then explained that, as she no longer had any attached teeth in her head there was no fear of her getting a toothache on safari.

My great grandmother greatly enjoyed her first safari on the African plains.

As I stumbled off the bus that had brought us from JFK airport to Ithaca and first felt the stinging embrace of that bitter cold, I was thinking of my great grandmother and her legacy. I had been afforded the privilege of coming to America because of her persistence, because of her drive to succeed and make her dreams come true, even when
obstacles were constantly placed before her. She, and the millions of women like her who struggled against the prejudice of their time persisted, sacrificed and creatively
found their way through the maze of barriers erected before them.

My great grandmother’s spirit, and the spirit of her generation of women laid the foundation for the woman’s suffrage movement. When I stepped off that bus I placed my feet on a land which was to me the epitome of that spirit. I stepped off that bus and walked in the footsteps of the women of suffrage who had walked those same streets with their placards, calling for recognition, for justice and equality.

And it is this spirit that I invoke now, as I now contemplate the US election of 2016, when for the first time in American history a woman, a pioneer of her generation, stood for election as the president. It as an election that my great grandmother would never have conceived of as she stood on the African plains.

I brought my daughter to an America where one day she may vote for the people she wishes to represent her in government, or may even stand for election herself. She will, I have no doubt, witness a woman ascend to the office of Commander in Chief one day, and she will be able to contribute to that choice in whatever way her conscience dictates, through her vote. This is because here in New York State in the 1800’s as my great grandmother lived her adventurous life in Africa, a group of women drinking tea in Waterloo, New York, decided to make a change. They wanted the inalienable right to vote, to make their own choices about who represented them in government. A movement began, one that would require persistence, sacrifice and creativity to birth a new era for women.

A movement that gave women a voice, a stake in their own country’s destiny, in their own destiny. A movement that has afforded my daughter and me, and millions of women across the globe, the opportunity to take control of our own lives. I wonder what my great grandmother would have thought of it all. I like to believe that if she could, she
would have been part of the suffrage movement. She was, after all, as strong, sure, and determined as the first suffragists of England were.

I was not born in the United States of America, but I am a legacy not only of my great grandmother but also of the women of New York who began a revolution, who dared to
look beyond the far horizon and see a different way of being. Perhaps as they sat drinking their tea and imagining the future of womankind, they caught the faint echo of my great grandmother’s voice raised in joy at the sight of a great wildebeest migration. I like to think that they did.

Save the Date – October 26th!

FeaturedSave the Date – October 26th!

The Anthology is close to ready to print and we are excited to share it with the world!  Save the date for our launch party at The History Center in Ithaca New York!

Thursday, October 26th, 6:30 pm.

Join editors Stacey Murphy and Nora Snyder, and publishers from Cayuga Lake Books for light refreshments and sneak-peek readings by some of the contributors:

-Carol Kammen

-Gaia Woolf-Nightingall

-Lisa Harris

-Nora Snyder

-Sarah Jefferis

-Yvonne Fisher

The History Center will be featuring the Centennial, including a new exhibition with drawings of suffragists.

Copies of the book will be available for purchase.  Please join us!

 

2017: Welcome to our project!

Featured2017: Welcome to our project!

My grandmother was born in Unadilla, NY in 1900.  That means she was coming of age right around the time women were fighting for – and gaining – the right to vote.  In New York and some other states, the right to vote came in 1917.  I’ve given a lot of thought to what she might have been like back then.

I’ve been learning that others share this curiosity.  Others feel a pull between the elections this year, other events in our lives, and that important part of history in our State, and our Nation. The experiences of women in gaining access and voting are very diverse across our ranges of ages, experiences, races and religions – some triumphant, some funny, many painful – and all feel important right now.  The Writer’s Block Party, an informal group of writers – novice and experienced – decided this Anthology would be a great way for writers to explore this theme.

Submissions are now closed, but check back for news on the release and reading events coming soon!

 

Wyoming Women Gained Suffrage First. But How Are Things in The Equality State Now?

Photo credit: Louisa Swain Foundation, Laramie WY

When presenting about NY Votes for Women: A Suffrage Centennial Anthology, I like to start out with a trivia question, asking the room if anyone knows which state guaranteed women the right to vote first.  As you’re sure to have guessed from the headline, it was Wyoming in 1869, while still just a territory.  As it would follow logically, Wyoming was then also where the first woman would cast a vote; Louisa Swain of Laramie.  My friend Abi Munro-Hulley works near the Wyoming House for Historic Women in Laramie, and walks by Louisa Swain’s statue every day in front of that building.  During the 2016 election, women legislators and professors from the University gathered to lay white roses in the statue’s arms in recognition of progress women had made, and to signify their hopes for the future.

How are things in Wyoming now? Abi notes, “Wyoming is very proud of its history of being the first state to give women the right to vote, but apparently we have one of the lowest numbers of women in state government in the country.”  A 2016 story by Wyoming Public Media noted that, at that time, women held only 13% of political seats in in the state, and “the gender wage gap in Wyoming is the second largest in the country, and it will be decades before that gap is closed.”  

In 2020, the Equality State’s legislature is 18% female.  As their website notes, there is a 30% “tipping point” experts say is necessary in politics to effectively address gender issues.   The Wyoming Women’s Legislative Caucus, a non-partisan group of women lawmakers, looks to improve on the legacy of that name.  Its members work together to encourage Wyoming women to run for office through candidate development, speaking events, an intern program, and events including an annual conference.  This month, Leap into Leadership in Cheyenne will continue that effort with sessions on grassroots campaigning, building a team, volunteering, and more, all designed to support women becoming more involved in politics. 

Will their efforts bear fruit? Time will tell.

-Stacey Murphy 2/4/2020

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Above: Nancy Avery Dafoe, Stacey Murphy, and Gaia Woolf-Nightingall at the Women’s Rights Alliance of NY State’s annual conference, 11/2/19

In early November, three of us contributors presented our pieces in the Anthology to the members and attendees at the Women’s Rights Alliance of NY State’s Annual Conference in Syracuse, NY. To keep with the conference theme, “Women’s Rights and Justice in New York State, Past and Present,” I opened our reading with remarks on what we had learned in 2017. These lessons might be useful as 2020 is coming, as groups across the nation are planning celebrations, marches, local events, and other activities around the 19th Amendment.

If there is one main takeaway that people embarking on these events will need to realize to be effective, it’s this. Early in the process of gathering submissions and writing, I realized that in spite of a visceral sense of Suffrage’s enormity, I knew almost nothing about the events of the movement. I only had heard about a couple of its leaders. I didn’t know how many women were involved. I wasn’t aware of how racism played out as the movement(s) evolved. I am still learning a lot about when women did and did not have certain stated rights.

But I also learned I wasn’t alone. Many of the contributors experienced the same thing. And it comes out in conversations I’ve had since. This September, for example, one friend was shocked to learn that racism was a factor because, in her words, after all, “Frederick Douglass was at the 1948 convention.”

It comes out in the pieces, too. We did not edit out writers’ expressions or opinions, so in the book, there are pieces that laud the suffragists as a uniform, powerful force marching toward equality, and right before or right after, there are pieces that point out some of the more difficult realities that appear in the arc of the real story.
More and more, people learn and retain history in sound bites. Most of the history I was handed in school in the 1970s and 80s was white and male. That is changing, but still, facing 2020, I expect there will be a lot more education that needs to happen to understand what we are celebrating. Planners can expect to encounter it at events and other activities that come to bear around the national centennial. Some of it will be representative of the dearth of information and related confusion. Some of it will be vigorous pushback. Organizers that are planning events as actions for activism around women’s rights would do well to be ready. – Stacey Murphy, 12/13/2019

Upcoming Spring Doings!

New_York_Fair,_Yonkers,_1913_floatReadings and Appearances featuring NY Votes for Women: A Suffrage Centennial Anthology:

Tuesday March 6: 6:00 PM:  Lifelong, 119 West Court Street Ithaca NY

Thursday March 8: 6:00 PM:  Card Carrying Books and Gifts, 15 East Market Street, Suite 102, Corning NY – International Women’s Day Celebration!

Friday March 9: Interview taping with Pegasys – stay tuned for airing dates!

Saturday April 14: 2:00-4:00 pm: Author event, Barnes & Noble Ithaca.