Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Bondage is Behind You, Freedom is Before*



As part of my job, I’ve been immersed in the Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition (AYPE) centennial anniversary. For those who don’t know, and that includes many people living in the Seattle area, the AYPE was held the summer of 1909 and was the first world’s fair held in the Pacific Northwest.

Before the Space Needle became a 20th Century icon, there was a world’s fair that celebrated the Pacific Rim, trade, technology and innovative new ideas. Following closely on the heels of the 1897 Yukon gold rush, the AYPE was an opportunity to display the resources of Washington State and herald technological developments such as the automobile.

One of the most interesting events associated with the fair was the 41st Annual Convention of the National American Woman Suffrage Association held in July, 1909. Suffrage leaders from throughout the country converged on Seattle and a special train was provided from Chicago to Seattle by the Northern Pacific Railroad. This train was dubbed, The Suffrage Special, and it made stops all along the route to court public opinion, add members to their contingent and gain the attention of the newspapers to generate support for their efforts.

On the train were many leaders of the national suffrage movement, including Frances “Fanny” Garrison Villard, the daughter of William Lloyd Garrison; Alice Stone Blackwell, the daughter of abolitionists and women’s rights advocates Lucy Stone and Henry Blackwell; Lucy Anthony, the niece of Susan B. Anthony and Pauline Perlmutter Steinem, the grandmother of Gloria Steinem.

These women organized differently than the more militant British suffragettes who chained themselves to fences, were arrested, engaged in hunger strikes and disrupted public meetings. The suffragists relied upon “sweet reason”, using a strategy to gain support for the suffrage amendment through education, speeches, receptions, meetings and newspaper coverage. They even published the Washington Women’s Cook Book with pro-suffrage information interspersed with recipes. Their goal was to use reason, persuasion and influence to gain support for the equal suffrage amendment to be voted on by the Washington State Legislature in November 1910.

July 7, 1909 was Suffrage Day at the A-Y-P, with over 600 suffragists entering the Exposition grounds under enormous banners heralding, “Votes For Women”. The women wore white dresses with green banners, (in honor of the Evergreen State) bearing their message. I can imagine how proudly these women must have walked, chins lifted, eyes straight ahead and focused on the battle to win the vote.

As we approach Independence Day, it’s often the fore-fathers of our country who are honored. I encourage you to take a few moments to consider the immense struggle our fore-mothers faced, as they helped build this great country and yet were forced to fight for economic equality, respect and the right of representation. The first National Women’s Rights Convention was held in 1848, but it wasn’t until 1920 that all women across the United States were given the vote.

This Fourth of July, light a sparkler for those brave, intelligent and amazing women who persevered. We are all the beneficiaries of their hard work and commitment.

*Historical Note: These words are from the international hymn of the suffragists and include: Forward, sisters, forward, Onward Evermore! Bondage is behind you, freedom is before.

Deborah Schneider, RWA Librarian of the Year 2009


6 comments:

Paty Jager said...

Interesting information, Deborah!

Our female ancestors are just as important in the building of this country as the male. In some ways more so, how they worked to right wrongs with gentle strength.

liana laverentz said...

They even published the Washington Women’s Cook Book with pro-suffrage information interspersed with recipes.

Oh, how clever of them. I love hearing stories like this. On voting day I always remind people that women died for the right to vote and not to squander theirs. Thanks so much for keeping this in the forefront of our minds! It's not just about the battles the men fought, but women, too.

KaiaLogan said...

I'll be lighting a sparkler :-)

(Thanks for an interesting post)

Lauri said...

Thank you, Deborah, for a great post. In all honesty, women haven't had the right to vote for very long at all. I always reminder others of that fact.

Cheers!

Tanya Hanson said...

Wonderful blog, Deborah. I loved learning about Susan B's niece and Gloria Steinem's ancestor being so involved. It still staggers me that "all men are created equal..." meant literally! Grrrrrrrrr.

Thanks to our foremothers.

Deborah Schneider said...

Thanks Ladies for such wonderful comments. My first book started with the heroine attending the Women's Rights Convention in 1848. Alas, that book won't ever see the light of day, but I'd love to use the idea and characters.

Liana - women learned to be subversive and outsmart the men!

Hurrah for your Fore-Mothers!