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Riveting Story

A review by Nancy Vineburgh of my book The Vote: Women’s Fierce Fight appeared in the April 2020 edition of NAWA NOW, the newsletter of the National Association of Women Artists, Inc., the oldest women’s fine art organization in the country. Jill Cliffer Baratta, vice president of NAWA, sent me a copy. Nancy’s perspective, including her note to NAWA members delighted me. With Nancy’s permission, here is her review:


By Nancy Vineburgh

Penny Colman’s new book, The Vote: Women’s Fierce Fight, presents the riveting story of our nation’s women who struggled well over a century to ensure our equality and our enfranchisement. As NAWA pays tribute to the centennial of this milestone, Colman’s book makes us grateful for the bravery, tenacity, and genius of both the leaders of and participants in this ‘fierce fight’.

The author traces the origins of woman suffrage to the deprived status of women in 17th century America. Governed by English Common Law that was transplanted to the colonies, women had no legal or political rights. In 1648, Margaret Brent, a single woman who was a Maryland landowner and attorney, is known to be the first woman who demanded ‘vote and voyce’. There is a landmark in her honor, The Margaret Brent Garden, in Historic St. Mary’s City, Maryland.

Many powerful men such as Thomas Jefferson and John Adams adhered to and sustained the patriarchal mindset in which women were to be obedient, chaste, and unquestioning. That women began to have a voice occurred as a result of their involvement in the anti-slavery movement. So apparent were their organizational skills, they were asked to suspend their rights’ activities and support abolitionism. This resulted in black men achieving the vote, but not women.

A watershed moment occurred in London in 1840 when Lucretia Mott (43 years of age) met Elizabeth Cady Stanton (24 years old). They decided to join forces, hold a convention and form a society to advocate the rights of women. Eight years later the Seneca Falls Convention was held in New York. A primary call to action was to add ‘and women’, to the famous line in the Declaration of Independence, ‘all men are created equal.’ The Seneca Falls Convention was derided in newspapers as a “most insane and ludicrous farce”. Several years later Susan B. Anthony met Stanton, setting in motion a friendship of 51 years as ‘coadjutors’ and ushering in a period of intense activism to achieve the goal of women’s enfranchisement.

How women galvanized other women to achieve a common goal amidst rejection after rejection, setback after setback including imprisonment and harsh treatment, is something none of us can fathom today. Women were literally called to war! Elizabeth Cady Stanton wrote about “councils of war” and the “mode of attack”; “ammunition” and “bullets” and “combat”. Susan B. Anthony evoked a “grand army of women.”

Nowhere was this warrior mentality more at work than women’s activism vis a vis President Woodrow Wilson. At his first address to the Sixty-Fourth Congress in 1916, Alice Paul, a key suffrage leader of the day, led the unfurling of a banner from the gallery, which read: MR. PRESIDENT, WHAT WILL YOU DO FOR WOMAN SUFFRAGE?

Following an unsuccessful meeting of a woman’s delegation to talk with Wilson, Paul conceived of a new, bolder tactic to picket the White House. “Teams of pickets stood in front of the White House six days a week from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. in heat, rain, snow and hail for over two and a half years. These pickets included factory workers, society women, celebrities, college students and diverse, female interest groups from all over the country.”

Of note to NAWA members is “Paul’s genius for communicating with images.” Not only did these women fight a war, they waged the most amazing advertising campaigns. Paul insisted that the banners be beautiful and ever-changing. Of all shapes and sizes ranging from 6 by 6 feet to 5 by 2 feet, every design was meticulously rendered through hand painting and stenciling. “The messages were artistically lettered in easy-to-read bold type.”

Ultimately the battle for women’s rights necessitated a state by state ratification process requiring hours and hours, months and months of political maneuvering and persistence. The vote was finally won on August 26, 1920. Several months prior, the National American Woman Suffrage Association held its 51st Annual Convention, the ‘Victory Convention’. Its President, Carrie Chapman Catt sums up their amazing achievement:

“Ours has been a cause to live for, a cause to die for if need be. It has been a movement with a soul, a dauntless, unconquerable soul ever leading onward.” Her final words set off a wild celebration as she declared, “Oh, women, be glad today and let your voices ring out the gladness in your heart.” In this writer’s opinion, Penny Colman’s book documents and successfully communicates the heart and soul of this ‘fierce fight’.

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