Surprise: Republican Women and Women’s Rights, 1872, 1920 and 2012
It took strong women from both the Democratic and Republican Parties, as well as from suffrage organizations like the National Woman’s Party and the National American Woman Suffrage Association, to secure the right to vote for women in 1920. With so many issues relating to women’s rights being discussed in 2012 in federal and state legislatures, in the churches, and in the press, it will take strong women in both parties to protect women’s rights of self-determination. Republican women have been at the forefront of these battles in the past; American women of all parties need them to take up a leadership role again.
* * * * *
As I was preparing “The Corner Stone (Annotated)” for re-publication, I discovered several surprising connections among the author, Margaret Hill McCarter; the famous suffragist, Susan B. Anthony; the Republican Party; and current events. Over the last several months, numerous issues have been raised in state and federal legislatures that I believe would diminish women’s self-determination. These issues include reducing access to health insurance and health care; reducing access to family planning, contraception, and legal abortion; inadequate protection against rape and other violence; diminished availability of safety-net programs that predominantly benefit poor women; and impractical access to legal redress against unfair pay practices.
I had seen an image used frequently in reports of and reactions to the debates over these issues. The image was of several women from the National Woman’s Party protesting in front of the 1920 Republican National Convention, with a banner that reads “No self-respecting woman should wish or work for the success of a party that ignores her sex. Susan B. Anthony 1872 and 1894.” As most of the initiatives at play have been put forward by the Republican party at state and national level, the implication of the contemporary use of this image is clear and direct, questioning how and why a Republican woman would support a political party that ignores her sex.
With respect to the protest in 1920, however, I had never given much thought to who it was these women were protesting. What I discovered is that the targets of this protest likely included Margaret Hill McCarter, the author of the sweet little book, “The Corner Stone”, that I was in the process of re-publishing. As a member of the Republican National Women’s Committee, McCarter was the first woman to address a national convention of a major political party – the 1920 Republican National Convention. She was introduced to the Convention as “well known as a writer and a staunch Republican by inheritance as well as by belief.” Given the contemporary controversies (and my ignorance of history), I must admit, I was surprised that it was the Republican Party that had first included a woman speaker.
The next discovery I made had to do with the original quote. I realized I was woefully unfamiliar with the details of the role that Susan B. Anthony played in the fight to secure women’s right to vote. I learned many things I should probably have known already, including that she voted once, illegally, on November 5, 1872 long before the Nineteenth Amendment was passed or ratified. The circumstances surrounding her trial and conviction were discouraging in their own right. But the second surprise I discovered was how she voted. As she told her friend and fellow suffragist, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, she voted “positively voted the Republican ticket—strait…” Given events of the day, I was shocked. My immediate thought was “I wonder what Susan B. Anthony would think of the current state of affairs?!” I think she would be tremendously disheartened.
And that brings us back to events of the day. The third discovery that has surprised me is that there are prominent Republican women who believe that vastly different interpretations of recent initiatives represent “honest disagreements between the parties,” that they somehow contribute to “empowering women”, giving women greater independence and opportunities. They genuinely believe that will be the outcome of the forces that are being put into place. I don’t agree with them, but I respect their right to hold that opinion.
Given the demographics on what proportion of American women use contraception; rely on insurance for their health care; have faced the gut-wrenching choice of whether or not to continue a pregnancy; have suffered rape or other violence; have trained the men who were promoted over them time and again, and known that the men were paid more – I think there must be many other strong, Republican women who recognize that the steps being taken in these important issues will damage women’s self-determination, and will reverse the successes that have been won for women in 2012. I admire strong Republican women like Senators Kay Bailey Hutchinson, Olympia Snow, and Lisa Murkowski for calling for more equitable treatment of women in GOP legislative initiatives. But these strong women need support of others in the Republican party who understand the damage that is being done, and greater damage at risk, from legislation that undermines women’s self-determination. I would hope other strong Republican women would speak up – to their husbands, fathers, brothers, elected representatives – and to the people of their political party, who would otherwise ignore their sex.
For those who do, thank you!