Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Women's Issues

Nadine Bray, Women's Issues chair from the Brunswick Town Chapter

The early legal foundations of the United States separated the sexes into two
spheres, public and private.  This legal basis stemmed from English common
law, the legal system based on tradition, customs, and precedent.  Men
represented the public sphere and women the private sphere.  This separation,
usually based on patriarchal notions, resulted in men being the sole delegate for
issues outside of the household, including voting rights.  The early founders of
the United States saw politics as an exclusively male domain. 

Lucretia Mott, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony were powerful advocates for women’s political rights during the 1800’s and early 1900’s.  In 1913, the day before Woodrow Wilson was inaugurated as president – 5000 or so women marched down Pennsylvania Avenue hoping to gain support for women’s suffrage.  Lining the parade route were many who thought the idea of women voting was outrageous and who proceeded to ridicule the marchers.  Troops were brought in to stop the violence.

 In July 1917, women picketed outside the White House to protest President Wilson’s continued refusal to support women’s suffrage.  They were arrested and jailed in the Occoquan Workhouse in Virginia.  Wilson eventually relented, and in January 1918, he announced his support of a constitutional amendment granting women the right to vote.  It would take until July 1919 for Congress to send that amendment to the states for ratification, and it was in  August 1920 that the required ¾ of the states would approve the 19th Amendment.

 After a long struggle, women had garnered the right to vote.  But even after women were able to cast a ballot in local and national elections, many women did not exercise their right.  The initial lack of voter turnout by women has been attributed to a number of factors.  Women may have needed some time to learn how to incorporate voting as a behavior into their lifestyle.  Also, strong gender-role expectations encouraged women to view voting as something their husband or father was in charge of and did not see their vote as an important part of their role.

 However, among the seeds of the woman’s suffrage movement was the seed of broader social participation.  For example, women began to organize around issues they cared about, particularly civil rights, prohibition, domestic violence, and the welfare of children.  Early women’s organizations, such as the National American Woman Suffrage Association and the League of Women Voters, spearheaded women’s direct involvement in domestic and international public policy issues and organized women to vote across the country.

 Decades later, women’s voting percentages are alarmingly low   For example, in the 2008 presidential election;  60 percent of the approximately 115 million women eligible to vote – cast a ballot.  The most recent census showed that only 46.2% of female citizens 18 and older reported voting in the 2010 congressional election -- 66/6% reported being registered to vote.  Clearly, the right for which American women fought so courageously for so long – and for which women in other parts of the world are bravely fighting today – is taken for granted.  That said, women do exercise the right to vote in much greater numbers and greater percentages than men.  In every presidential election since 1980, the proportion of female adults who voted has exceeded the proportion of male adults who voted.

Elizabeth Dole, North Carolina’s first female US Senator who later served as US
Secretary of Transportation, US Secretary of Labor, and president of the
American Red Cross recently stated:  “Each time we vote, we celebrate the
advances made by these brave women and others who came before us.  Every
woman in American should commemorate those achievements by casting a
ballot on Election Day.  We owe our forbearers nothing less.” 

 Visit the NC State Board of Elections ( and check the status of your registration.  You can also view additional information such as the sample ballot for your district.

submitted by Nadine Bray Women's Issues chair

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