The upcoming election tomorrow is very much on my mind: Not surprising given my mother's influence on me and the fact that I wrote about her influence in my Author's
Note in my latest book The Vote: Women's Fierce Fight.
My mother, who was born in Zagreb, Yugoslavia (now Croatia), was Czech through her father's ancestry. Although her father and stepmother immigrated to New York City, she spend much of her childhood with relatives in Czechoslovakia, in Korycany, a small village,
and graduated from a high school in Brno, a nearby city. She left Czechoslovakia in 1938 shortly before Adolf Hitler's forces occupied the Sudentenland region of her country. A serious student of history, my mother was aware of the role that the vote had played in Hitler's rise to power. In the 1932 presidential election in Germany, Adolf Hitler ran against Paul von Hindenburg, the current president. Hindenburg won, but Hitler's strong showing
(more that 13 million votes, or 36%) resulted in Hindenbug appointing him the Chancellor of Germany. Upon Hindenburg's death in 1934, a referendum, a direct vote by the electorate, was held to merge the post of president and chancellor. It was overwheming approved. Hitler had completely control of the country.
That knowledge taught my mother a political truth that she insistently passed on to me—voting matters! (The image is from my mother's 1938 passport. She became a U.S. citizen who always voted.)
The statue represents Louisa Swain, who in 1870 in Laramie, Wyoming, was the first woman to cast a ballot in a general election. (The Wyoming Territorial legislature passed a bill in Dec. 1869, granting equal political rights to women.) Unveiled in 2005, the statue stands in front of the Wyoming Women's History House in Laramie. When I saw it, I noted that she is depicted carrying a pail. That reflected the account of her voting as happenstance, i.e., that she was on her way to collect yeast and serendipitously walked by a polling place where she cast her ballot. Another account is far more probable, i.e., that she was chosen to cast the historic ballot by a group of women who gave her a bonnet to commemorate the event. A contemporary newspaper account (right image) indicates that her arrival was expected. "Ninety-three ladies voted at the polls. . . . Mrs. Louisa A. Swain, a lady of seventy years of age, walked up and deposited her vote, it being the first here and probably the first ever deposited in the world by a lady at a general election. Mrs. Swain is an old
lady of the highest social standing in our community, universally beloved and respected, and the scene was in the highest degree impressive. There was too much good sense in our community for any jests or sneers to be seen on such an occasion." Herman Glafcke, then the Secretary of Wyoming Territory, later recalled that "The men took off their hats and remained uncovered, while she performed the sovereign duty of an American citizen."
In the Epilogue of my book The Vote, I wrote: "Efforts to curtail many citizens' right to vote continue to this day, including impeding registration, passing stringent voter ID laws, purging voters from the rolls, and limiting voting hours. In words that resonate today, Mary White Ovington, a stalwart suffragist, journalist, and co-founder of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, wrote that in the fight to protect the right to vote—'We must not rest.'"
Note: The image is of the article that appeared in the Baraboo Republic (Baraboo, WI), Sept. 21, 1870, p. 1.