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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.

"The Full Estate Of Citizenship"

My good friend Dr. Gary Mormino, Florida's most eminent historian, frequently sends me printouts from microfilmed newspapers of a century or so ago.  Our local papers, including the Tampa Tribune and the old Tampa Times, never have been digitalized, and it was only recently, after the St. Petersburg Times became the Tampa Bay Times, that we have any electronic access to even that chronicle of our past.  So Gary spends his days reading old microfilm, a task that yours truly never would undertake. 


Turning the filmy "pages" to find a specific article on the old-fashioned machines creates a spinning sensation that makes me dizzy.  Thus I am very grateful for his printouts because they offer the reality of primary documents, the unfiltered words of ghosts of generations ago.  There was far less separation of news reporting and editorial opinion back then, but the attitude of the St. Petersburg Times on August 19, 1920, was surprisingly liberal.  The headline was "Woman's Suffrage Wins," and the article continued:


"When the telegraph wires flashed Wednesday, they bore this fateful message:  'Tennessee ratifies suffrage.'"

"Woman's right to the full estate of citizenship is won in America.

"No more will she be classed with idiots, insane persons and immature youths.  Henceforth woman will stand alongside man as his equal in determining the affairs of the nation just as she has been his equal and even his superior in the other things that have made the world of today.

"Woman's fight has been a long one.  It has been a fight against prejudice – a fight against age-old customs – but it remained for one of the Southern states to add the final vote needed to ratify the Susan B. Anthony amendment to the constitution giving woman the right of full suffrage.

"And woman's influence will be felt.  She has gradually worked her way out of the obscurity of the past.  She has won, step by step, the consideration and rights of a free citizen of a free nation.  There was a time when woman was the mere chattel of man.  There was a time when her voice could not be heard even in the councils of the church, the most powerful of all civilizing influences, but today she stands before man not only to be honored and loved as the mother of her children, but as his partner and co-worker, fully recognized as his equal and empowered to express her wishes at the ballot box."


That's lovely, but ignores the fact that just a few years earlier, the paper had used bizarre language to condemn female progress.  In 1913, after Florida's first legislative hearing on the issue, the Times printed "quaint phraseology" attributed to an anonymous Persian:  "The best way to stop such women [is] to mount them upon assback…stopping in each street for three strokes of stout stick…"




The next day, August 20, 1920, the paper continued the newly progressive tone, but with more specificity to St. Petersburg.  This headline was "City's Women Commended."  It said in part.


"Women of St. Petersburg have demonstrated the wisdom of voters in granting them the ballot.  Their very first step in the opening of the city and county campaign[s]…is organizing what is known as the League of Women Voters… These same women named other committees to urge the male voters to qualify to vote in the county election...

"These women know that many men shirk the duties and responsibilities of citizenship... The Daily Times has always believed and always will believe that there should be compulsory voting laws… Every man who has reached his majority should be compelled to express his wishes at the polls… He should be compelled to have a part in the naming of the men to whom are delegated the powers of government… There has been too much of leaving politics to the politicians…

"All praise to the good women of St. Petersburg for pointing the way… We are positive that they will use their new-found privilege aright and that the city will benefit from its progressive act in giving them the ballot."  That's very nice, I think, but there are several points that need more attention than these flowery words.




First, compulsory voting.  The League of Women Voters had been in existence for almost a decade by then, having initially been founded in the western states where Wyoming women had voted since 1869 – and never, then or later, did the League advocate compulsory voting.  I suspect that the St. Pete paper would not have adopted this position, either, had it crossed the minds of upper-class male editors that under compulsory voting laws, a black man could cast a ballot equal to his.  No American state ever has adopted compulsory voting, although a number of nations have.  In modern dictatorships, mandating that people vote has proven to be a way of keeping track of individuals.


Second, the preening about St. Petersburg women winning the vote was not as worthy as it appears, given that women in some Florida municipalities had been voting for several years.  Women played a major role in creating the Palm Beach County town of Fellsmere – then much larger than the city of Palm Beach – and when the incorporation papers went to Tallahassee in 1915, legislators failed to notice that the city charter granted women the vote for municipal elections. With the precedent thus quietly established, women in other towns followed suit, and by the time that the Times was bragging about St. Pete, women already had voted in municipal elections in almost two dozen towns.  


One of those towns, Moore Haven in Glades County, elected a woman, Marian Horowitz O'Brien, as mayor in 1917.  Thus it is especially worthy of attention that the Times assumed that women (and men) would vote only for men, as in being "compelled to have a part in the naming of the men…"  A couple of decades later, though, St. Pete would elect a woman to the legislature who was progressive even by the standards of our time.  Mary Lou Baker was an attorney who kept her maiden name and probably was the world's first legislator to be pregnant in office. 


The Times endorsed Baker initially, but dropped its support after World War II, when women were supposed to return to the kitchen, and she lost her re-election bid.  Not coincidentally, Baker was the first legislator to propose that Florida women be allowed to serve on juries.  Her bill did not pass.  So much for equal rights, right? And by the way, Dr. Mormino persisted in nominating Baker for the Florida Women's Hall of Fame.  Even though I once chaired that committee, it took years – probably because Mary Lou Baker also worked for legal birth control.


Finally, is it notable that the 1920 writers pointed out that "it remained for one of the Southern states to add the final vote needed to ratify."  Indeed, this should be spelled out more often.  While it is true that Southern states were conservative on everything, including women's rights, it also is true and Tennessee and West Virginia were the crucial last states to ratify – while some states that are thought of as liberal did not, notably Connecticut and Vermont.  The Southern states of Arkansas, Texas, and Oklahoma also ratified, and every western state except New Mexico had granted the vote before any eastern state did.


Things change; politics is complicated; and I wish people would read more history to give themselves the background that they need for voting.  This time of self-isolation is excellent for reading.  Please let me immodestly suggest my book from the University Press of Florida, They Dared to Dream:  Florida Women Who Shaped History.  UPF never sends me any royalties, but if you want a different book, perhaps I will get a few dollars from this year's Victory for the Vote:  The Fight for Women's Suffrage and the Century that Followed. 


It has an introduction by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi -- yet I am sad not only that the pandemic has prevented its promotion, but also that in the whole century since women could vote, we never have elected one at the highest level, or even as president of the US Senate.  I really thought that we would have done that by now, and so, I think, would have the Times editors who congratulated women in 1920.  The League of Women Voters indeed has been a major success in reforming the corrupt government that existed with an all-male electorate, but we still have a significant way to go.


Oh, a note re dates:  As you see, the Times reported the news of Tennessee's ratification on August 19, 1920.  We celebrate August 26, however, because that was when the federal secretary of state officially added the 19th Amendment to the US Constitution.  In between, Tennessee conservatives holed themselves in Decatur, Alabama, to prevent the legislature from having a quorum.  Yes.  Both Tennessee's and West Virginia's stories are exciting enough to make a movie.




Re equality:  Among my friends who worked long and hard for that were Jack Price and Gay Culverhouse, both of whom recently left this earth.  With my husband's death not so far in the past, and with the pandemic suppressing the suffrage centennial on which I labored so long, I have to say that it sometimes is hard to stop the tears.  But optimism is necessary to idealism, and both Jack and Gay were great idealists.


Jack, whose actual name was Lee Jay Price, was head of the Tampa chapter of the National Conference of Christians and Jews (NCCJ) in the 1970s.  A native of Jacksonville, he taught me much about Florida history that was not covered in the books of that time – or even later.  Jack always was pointing out someone like Eula Gandy Johnson, a black women in Fort Lauderdale who led the integration of Florida beaches in 1961.  Offended by her "swim-ins," the city fathers sued her, but she eventually won -- and Floridians could swim in state waters without regard to skin color. 


Jack introduced me to many similarly courageous people, and until the end of his 90 years, he worked to advance the American dream.  He had been drafted for the Korean War, and his whole life was dedicated to international peace and democracy.  His friends called him "Jack the Clipper," because after the NCCJ promoted him to a job in New York and long before the internet, he sent clippings from a variety of publications that he knew would be of particular interest to his recipients.  Despite his determination to live to November and vote against Trump, COVID took him down.  He was buried without ceremony in Payne's Prairie.


You probably know much more about Gay, but none of the news coverage of her death really portrayed the Gay I knew.  She was a feminist to the core and generous about supporting women and women's causes.  She was indeed the active president of the Tampa Bay Bucs and later worked for players whose brains had been injured by the brutal game – but she was more than that.  The owner of art galleries here and on Amelia Island, she especially promoted artists whose themes were unusual.  When I stayed with her in her Manhattan condo, she pulled out from under her bed the work of someone who was capturing images of executions. 


She read widely, and we had countless philosophical conversations in her rural New York home, as well as on Amelia.  Gay earned a doctorate in special education at Columbia University and later served on its board.  Here in Tampa, she set precedents as president of the Chamber of Commerce and in gender-integrating the prestigious Palma Ceia Golf Course.  Until Gay, women were not allowed on those hallowed grounds on Saturdays.


I have been blessed with many wonderful friends, but I'm not sure that makes losing them any easier.  Please take care of yourself.



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