In both public programs and at area schools and colleges, the Burlington Branch of Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF), hosts presentations by Dr. Sally Roesch Wagner on the women’s suffrage movement in October of 2020. The public programs are co-sponsored by Vermont Suffrage Centennial Alliance (VSCA) and are free and open to the public. Topics of these presentations will feature one of the following themes:
WOMEN VOTED HERE — BEFORE COLUMBUS
Imagine that women have the right to choose all political representatives, removing from office anyone who doesn’t make wise decisions for the future. Living in a world free from violence against them, women will not allow a man to hold office if he has violated a woman. Economically independent, they have the final say in matters of war and peace and the absolute right to their own bodies.
This is not a dream. Haudenosaunee (traditional Iroquois) women have had this authority – and more — since long before Christopher Columbus.
While white women were the property of their husbands and considered dead in the law, Haudenosaunee women had more authority and status before Columbus than United States women have today.
Women of the Six Nation Iroquois Confederacy (the Haudenosaunee) had the responsibility for putting in place the male leaders. They had control of their own bodies and were economically independent. Rape and wife beating were rare and dealt with harshly; committing violence against a woman kept a man from becoming Chief in this egalitarian, gender-balanced society.
When women in New York State began to organize for their rights in 1848, they took their cue from the nearby Haudenosaunee communities, where women lived in the world that non-native women dreamed.
Amazingly, despite the assimilation policy of the United States, Haudenosaunee women still maintain much of this authority today.
THE REST OF THE STORY OF THE SUFFRAGE MOVEMENT
“I am sick of the song of suffrage”, Elizabeth Cady Stanton wrote to Matilda Joslyn Gage in the 1880’s. Gage concurred. These two women had begun to think differently than Susan B. Anthony, their co-leader of the National Woman Suffrage Association, who believed the movement should concentrate on getting women the vote. We already have that right, Gage contended.
In a system based on the consent of the governed, the government just needs to protect our right to exercise citizenship, not “give” it to us.
We need to look at the larger issues, Stanton and Gage agreed. Those issues were: creating a system of cooperation, not competition; ensuring that every child born was wanted and women were the “absolute sovereigns” of their bodies; rebalancing economic disparity while gaining equal pay for women and demanding a “true” religion, one that fostered freedom and equality for all.
A WOMAN PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE – IN 1872 and 1884
Victoria Woodhull, the first woman to declare her candidacy for President of the United States, spent election night in jail for exposing two #MeToo-like violations in her newspaper. She was arrested under the omstock obscenity law in 1872, a law that prohibited the distribution of any information related to contraception or sex.
While Woodhull never carried out a presidential campaign, Belva Lockwood did. Disgruntled feminists formed the Equal Rights Party in 1884 when both the Republicans and Democrats continually ignored women’s concerns. Presidential candidate Belva Lockwood declared that “It is quite time that we had our own party; our own platform, and our own nominees,” even if they couldn’t vote for them. With the exception of the territory of Wyoming, it was against the law for women to vote in every state and territory in the union.
Woman suffrage, of course, was a central feature of the new party’s platform, along with “equal and exact justice for all citizens, regardless of color, sex or nationality.”
Economic security and financial justice lead the concerns of women voters today, who might enjoy casting their ballot for the Equal Rights party’s platform of increased wages, government control of transportation and communication, and an end to monopoly, “the tendency of which is to make the rich richer, and the poor poorer.”
Lockwood never made it to the White House. “Reforms are slow, but they never go backwards,” she reflected. “Their originators may die, but the reform will live to bless millions yet unborn.”
Dr. Wagner is a nationally recognized lecturer, author and story-teller of woman’s rights history. One of the first women to receive a doctorate in the United States for work in women’s studies (UC Santa Cruz), and a founder of one of the country’s first college women’s studies programs, (CSU Sacramento), Dr. Wagner has taught women’s history for forty-eight years. She served as historian in PBS’s “One Woman, One Vote,” and appeared as a “talking head” in Ken Burns’ documentary, “Not for Ourselves Alone: The Story of Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony,” and penned the accompanying faculty guide. Dr. Wagner’s Women’s Suffrage Anthology, published by Penguin Classics in 2019, unfolds a new intersectional look at the 19th century woman’s rights movement.