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Doris writes a weekly column for LaGaceta, the nation's only trilingual newspaper, which has pages in English, Spanish, and Italian.  Begun in 1922 for Tampa's immigrant community, it continues to thrive more than a century later.  Her column is titled "In Context," as it aims to put contemporary issues in the context of the past.

By The Time You Read This

I'll be in Minneapolis.  As you know if you are a regular reader, the last two columns were quick bullet-points and not my usual analysis of fewer topics.  The analysis approach instead has been devoted to appearances in the Midwest as a scholarly expert for the Bill Rights Institute.  The women's history division of the Library of Congress recommended me, and I've been speaking under the aegis of the Washington-based institute, which educates teachers on what to teach about the Constitution. 


They are doing this because, as you may be aware, next August will be the centennial of the 19th Amendment that granted all voting rights to all American women.  It's a much more complex subject than most people realize, including teachers, and I'm trying to focus teachers on the devils in the details.  I'm especially emphasizing the point that the fight for women's rights has been a fight against "states' rights." 


That still is true in terms of reproductive rights, which we can gain or lose when we cross a state line.  For a very long time, this also was true of voting rights.  Few people understand how much women's legal status varied between states.  When we celebrate the centennial next year, it is especially important to know that, except for New Mexico, women in every western state had full voting rights before any women in eastern states.


So I'll start this at the end.  My 1998 book on the subject closes with the president of the era's mainstream feminist organization, the mother of today's League of Women Voters.  I said, "Carrie Chapman Catt summed it up.  Since the first call for the vote in 1848, she counted:  480 campaigns in state legislatures, 56 statewide referenda to male voters, 47 attempts to add planks during revisions of state constitutions, 277 campaigns at state party conventions and 30 at national conventions, and 19 biannual campaigns in 19 different Congresses.  Literally thousands of times, men cast their votes on whether or not women should vote.  Literally millions of women (and men) gave their entire lives to the cause and went to their graves with freedom unwon.  No peaceful political change ever has required so much from so many for so long."


And yet most people think that women's right to vote sort of fell from the sky in 1920 because the time was ripe.  My aim for the next year is to correct such simplistic views of our political past and to enter more completely the female half of us into the curriculum for the entirety of American history.  I'll have a new book coming out in February, but for now, I want to tell you about what I've been doing recently in Oklahoma and Kansas. 


It may not seem relevant to Floridians, but I hope that as you read, you will find some things that you are glad to know.  Most professional historians tend to be disdainful of state and local history, but not me – nor some of our great local folks, especially the Florida Humanities Council and our eminent Dr. Gary Mormino.  It is important to understand how we all are bound together by our various backyards.




You may remember that Oklahoma was Indian Territory until deep into American history, well past the Civil War.  The land was the permanent detention center for the unwanted, and Florida Seminoles were banished there twice.  The first were captives during the Second Seminole War of the 1830s.  In that same decade further north, tens of thousands of people in other tribes – Cherokee, Choctaw, and more -- were marched there on the infamous Trail of Tears. 


Two decades later, at the end of the Third (and last) Seminole War, Native Floridians who did not manage to hide in the Everglades were exiled to Oklahoma.  The ship on which they went to Oklahoma from Tampa Bay -- via the Gulf of Mexico, the Mississippi and the Arkansas rivers -- ironically was called The Gray Cloud.  Soldiers who forced Seminoles onboard recorded sympathy for dogs, who wailed from the dock for their departing families.  We really should have a Riverwalk marker to commemorate this sad occasion.


The US government kept its promises for about a generation, but then on April 22, 1899, white people were allowed to line up their wagons at the border and race to claim land under the Homestead Act.  Oklahoma still was a territory, not a state, and women knew from previous experience that their best chance to asset their rights to equal citizenship was at the territorial stage.  Territorial positions such as governor were not elected, but were federal appointees -- and for the first time in their lives, white men realized what it felt like to be disenfranchised.


So white women in Oklahoma – some of whom were homesteaders in their own right – organized their equal rights society just months after settlement.  The legislature granted them the right to vote in school elections, and they used it immediately as both voters and candidates.  This was a global first, and within a decade, 11 of 23 counties had elected women as county superintendents of schools.  Men also elected women to offices for which women were not eligible to vote – including deed registrars, an important office in a land-rush area.


The Equal Rights Society ran several legislative efforts in the 1890s, winning the House but losing the upper chamber (called the Territorial Council).  Then they lobbied the convention that wrote the new state constitution – and met such strong opposition that they almost lost their school enfranchisement.  Unlike most state constitutions of that era, Oklahoma's spelled out voting rights for "male persons of Indian descent" -- but not for women of any descent.  Or education.  Or property.  Or taxpayers, or anything else.


Oklahoma became a state in 1907, and women got a statewide referendum for full voting rights on that year's ballot.  They ran a fairly sophisticated campaign, yet lost.  A decade later, in 1918, they tried again.  The national association spent more money on that than any previous campaign anywhere, and it paid off as they managed to overcome three high hurdles. 


First, state law specified that any ballot question left unmarked would be counted as a vote against the proposal; second, the effort to explain this to (male) voters was hampered by the worldwide flu epidemic, which banned meetings of more than a dozen people; and three, thousands of ballots had been mailed to World War I soldiers without the amendment on them, all of which would be counted as negative votes.


It is virtually a miracle that these barriers were overcome, and Oklahoma men enfranchised their women in November 1918.  Some party bosses were nonplussed and tried to stop certification of the vote, but in one of his last acts, Governor Robert Williams proclaimed the amendment adopted.  And the next year, Oklahomans elected the second woman in Congress – Protestant missionary Alice Robertson, who two years earlier, had opposed women's right to vote.




Kansas initially was part of Indian Territory, too, but as Southerners tried to expand slavery, Congress passed the 1854 Kansas-Nebraska Act, which repealed the compromise on slavery that it had adopted in 1850.  The new law created the two new territories and allowed male voters there to decide whether or not to permit slavery.  Nebraska was too far north for slavery to be economically profitable, but Kansas – like the slave state of neighboring Missouri – might support a plantation culture.


The result was that many idealists, mostly from New England, rushed there to make it "free soil."  Because abolition of slavery and women's rights were closely tied, Kansas became a demonstration project for feminism – and in 1861, Kansas women won the right to vote in school elections, a global first.  A few years later, after the Civil War ended in victory for abolitionists, these liberal people – men included – conducted the first statewide campaign for full enfranchisement.


Lucy Stone and her husband Henry Blackwell went out to Kansas to campaign, and Henry wrote excited letters urging Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton to join them.  They did, and for a while, envisioned victory.  But Kansas, Missouri, and Arkansas each experienced internal civil wars after the Civil War, and Kansas had more conservatives than these liberals expected.  They lost by a wide margin.


Twenty years later, in 1887, Kansas women won the right to vote in municipal elections.  This was another first, and very important because local races were the ones that women cared most about.  Another milestone, also in 1887, was the election of America's first female mayor.  Anti-feminist men put Susanna Salter's name on the ballot, thinking that it was a huge joke and she would be humiliated – but instead, she was elected.  Reporters came from around the world to view a woman presiding over city council meetings and were surprised at how well she did it.


There's more to the story, but I'll cut to the end.  Kansas women finally won full voting rights in 1912, eight years prior to the 19th Amendment that applied to all states.  Since then, they have elected three women as governor, all of them Democrats.  Florida in comparison?




Because I know that some of you care, I'll say that Hubby again is hospitalized with heart/lung problems.  This time the EMT guys said that his oxygen level was so low that they wanted to take him to Brandon, which is closer than his standard care at the VA.  Although I hate to give credit to for-profit hospitals, especially those affiliated with Hospital Corporation of America, it has been a pleasant surprise – and the best thing is the food!  Yes, hospital food!  Their chicken nuggets are the best I've eaten ever, and the Beef Stroganoff was so good that I may ask for the recipe.  If not for the plastic plates and cutlery, I'd go to the hospital regularly for lunch at its cafeteria.



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