Montclair and 100 years of women’s suffrage
By GWEN OREL
On Aug. 18, 1920, American women gained the right to vote, as the 19th Amendment was ratified.
Speeches and celebrations have been mainly online due to social distancing, but National Archives events have been streaming all month in the “Rightfully Hers” exhibit.
While the bill was ratified on Aug. 18, it was on Aug. 26 that U.S. Secretary of State Bainbridge Colby signed a proclamation at his home in Washington, D.C. — making the amendment official.
Tomorrow, Aug. 27, at 1 p.m., A’Lelia Bundles, the granddaughter of Madam C.J. Walker (the first self-made Black millionairess), will hold a conversation on the Archives website with journalist/suffragist/activist Ida B. Wells’ great-granddaughter, Michelle Duster, about the impact that African American women had on women’s suffrage.
At 5 p.m., a panel titled “100 Years Later: Women in Charge of the Ballot Box,” also on the Archives website, will have two female Republican and two female Democratic secretaries of state, including New Jersey’s Tahesha Way, discuss their role in the struggle for women’s rights.
Montclair’s own Valentina Roever, a sixth-grader at Glenfield Middle School, won the grand prize in the Archives’ “Rightfully Hers” competition with her picture “Reflecting on Women’s Right to Vote,” which depicted women on strike on one side and 21st century women waiting to vote on the other.
But it would be a mistake to think of the 19th Amendment as done and dusted and over, said Jessica Restaino, director of the Gender, Sexuality and Women’s Studies program at Montclair State University.
“We have a responsibility right now to acknowledge the milestone, but we are also acknowledging the fact that this has been a long and ongoing struggle, this notion of voting
rights,” Restaino said. “I would say that one of the main areas of attention at this instant is around access to voting.”
There is more work to do, she said. A bill reauthorizing the Voting Rights Act, shepherded and heralded by the late John Lewis, has been approved by the House of Representatives and is now sitting on Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s desk, she said.
Access to the vote and how possible it is to vote is a very current issue, she added. Restaino questions herself about how to talk to students about voting, and wonders if they understand the history of voting.
SUFFRAGE AND MONTCLAIR
Some of the legacy of women’s suffrage can be seen in Montclair. Suffragist Alice Paul (1885-1977) worked in England and London to get the vote, and when imprisoned in England in 1909 went on a hunger strike and was force-fed.
After returning to America, she got her PhD. She organized the 1913 Woman’s Suffrage Procession in Washington, D.C., which was a parade the day before Woodrow Wilson’s inauguration as president. She founded the National Woman’s Party in 1916.
After the 19th Amendment was ratified, Paul continued to work for women’s rights until her
death: She worked on an early version of the Equal Rights Amendment that was delivered to Congress in 1923.
She also worked hard to add protection for women to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Originally from Mount Laurel, she was posthumously inducted into the New Jersey Hall of Fame in 2010.
Montclair State University’s Alice Paul Residence Hall is named in her honor.
A suffragist who actually lived in town was Lucy Stone (1818-1893). Her home was at 118 North Mountain Ave. and, unusually for the time, the house was in her name, not in her husband’s, Henry Blackwell.
She and her husband moved to Montclair from Orange in 1858, because in Orange she did not have the right to vote in town elections. The house remained in the family’s possession until Blackwell’s death in 1908.
Along with being the first woman from Massachusetts to earn a college degree (she attended Holyoke Female Seminary, now Mount Holyoke College), Stone was known for keeping her birth name after marriage.
She was a major figure in the women’s suffrage movement: She founded the American Equal Rights Association in 1866 with Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton. They had a falling out about administrative details, so Stone left and founded the National Woman Suffrage Association in 1869. In 1890, the two groups combined to become the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA).
Susan B. Anthony (1820-1906) was a leading suffragist who was arrested for voting in the presidential election in 1872. She and 14 other women cast ballots, but Anthony was the only one taken to trial. President Trump issued her a posthumous pardon on Aug. 18. However, the Susan B. Anthony Museum and House in Rochester, N.Y., rejected the pardon, saying that she would not have accepted that she had done anything wrong. In 1873, Anthony rejected the penalty imposed at her trial and would not pay, saying that paying would have validated the proceedings; accepting a pardon, argued the museum’s executive director, Deborah L. Hughes, would do the same.
'VOTE, OR DON'T COMPLAIN'
Shirley Cobert, of the League of Women Voters of the Montclair Area, puts the issue succinctly: “If you don’t vote, don’t complain.”
The League, said Cobert, who at 97 has been a member for more than half a century and held many positions, was founded by Carrie Chatman Catt and Emma Smith DeVoe in 1920, the same year the 19th Amendment was ratified.
“My grandmother went from Long Branch, N.J., to New York to march for the right for women to vote,” Cobert said.
The League grew out of NAWSA. It is nonpartisan and, in 1974, voted to admit men as members.
Cobert herself has marched on the mall in Washington for passage of the ERA.
She emphasized that it’s important to participate in government at all levels.
“We run candidates nights and issue informative sheets, with nonpartisan viewpoints,” she said. “Everyone should be an active participant in the government of their community, state and country.”
Montclair Local ran a virtual candidates forum with the League of Women Voters in April.
Betty Evans, who was the first female township commissioner, was a member of the League, Cobert said.
As registration chair, Cobert would set up tables at the craft shows in Anderson and Brookdale parks and, after the voting age was lowered to 18, at Montclair High School.
“You can’t force someone to vote, but you can give them the opportunity and suggest they do it,” she said. “One of the main reasons for forming the Leagues was to educate the community about issues that are important to that community.” And having the right to vote means people can participate in the community.
Restaino pointed out that while progress has been made, there is more to go to achieve voting access and equity for all. And while women have achieved a great deal, misogyny and injustice based on sex persist.
“The right to vote is precious,” she said. “It’s profoundly important. It’s about really trying to localize collective power.”