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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.

Conversations a Year After the March

(an excerpt from remarks at Women TIES Women Rising Weekend Event, 1.19.18)

-Stacey Murphy

Bodies minds power
Poster at the Women’s March on Washington DC, January 21, 2017

Last January, I was on my way to the Women’s March in Washington DC.  I was on a bus full of other women, and we were sitting in traffic on the Beltway around the City.  It was full of vehicles, not moving – the regular traffic combined with buses coming in from all over the East meant things were at a standstill.  Looking out the window, I saw some movement at the edge of the treeline about 50 yards away from the road.  Several men were emerging from the woods.  And then a few more.  I recognized the gleaming from the sun hitting the barrels of the shotguns they carried and a chill went through me.   They were advancing quickly on the stopped busses, some lowering the barrels, running toward us.  I couldn’t shout.  Other women on the bus were starting to notice them, too.  We were trapped.  I couldn’t scream.

I sat up, straight in bed.  It was still two weeks before the 2017 Women’s March.

I told no one about that nightmare, including the friends who were planning to come with me from Ithaca – I was pretty sure none of them had previous protest experience and I didn’t want to frighten them. I certainly wasn’t telling my mother about that dream!

Instead, I sat with those images and vision, and how stress shows up in our subconscious.  Some dreams are hard to decipher but this time, my fear was clear.  That my country, that all I took for granted as my rights in this country as a woman, SHOULD be able to take for granted, might be taken away after the inauguration.   Just like that.  Like someone hitting a light switch.  What were we going to find there, in DC?

Luckily the DC March was nothing like that.  It was powerful, delightful even.  And in the months between then and now, I have devoted a lot of time to a project to do the opposite of that nightmarish feeling of no voice – to give women a forum to use their voices.  That is this book – NY Votes for Women:  A Suffrage Centennial Anthology.

I worked with Nora Snyder, who writes for her website Illuminous Flux and convenes a writer’s group, the Writers Block Party, and with Cayuga Lake Books.  We put it together quickly.  With 2017 as the anniversary of women gaining the right to vote in NY we wanted to have it out and done during the year.  In all, it contains twenty-two women’s words in a variety of engaging essays, stories and poems.

A big part of the project is about making a forum for voices.  The book contains contributions from previously published, known writers and also from women who had not been moved to reflect on the significance of the women’s movement, or current events, or even to share their voices through their writing much before.   Nora led a number of creative writing sessions through the Writers Block Party, and a few of the pieces in the Anthology had their origins in those meet-ups.

And now, a year after the inauguration, the conversations continue.  Voice has taken on a new turn because the Anthology has led to a number of interesting, important feeling discussions between myself and others, particularly men.   Some of them have been pretty awkward but some wonderful and I believe that they have their place in moving things forward – it’s another way of not silencing, of finding words that can make things better for the girls and boys too in our lives.  For them, we have to do better.

Anthology Now Available!

Anthology Now Available!

NY Votes for Women:  A Suffrage Centennial Anthology is now available through Amazon.com and through Barnes and Noble Online .  We are so excited to share this project, and the thoughtful words of 22 women contributors with you!

Copies will also be available through Buffalo Street Books at our launch party on October 26th at the History Center in Tompkins County, in Ithaca NY, and at our November 7th reading at the Matilda Joslyn Gage Home in Fayetteville, New York.

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!