WGS Lecture Series: ‘My Great Grandmother’s Role in the American Suffrage Movement’

By Kaley Michael, Staff Writer

The Women and Gender Studies series continued this week with a lecture from Dora Lewis Townsend entitled “My Great Grandmother’s Role in the American Suffrage Movement.” Townsend, an Adams County resident of 45 years and Baltimore Native, received her bachelor’s degree from Boston University School of Public Communications. She has worked at the York Adams Mental Health Clinic and for the Center for Public Service, where she met the Chair of the Women and Gender Studies Department, Professor Susan Russell.

Townsend began her lecture by citing the works through which she has conducted her research, primarily an article written about her maternal aunt in 1976 entitled “Political Prisoner” about Dora Kelly Lewis and the letters written by Dora Kelly during her time in prison. These letters are now available in the Library of Congress, and additional copies can be found in the Pennsylvania Historical Society. Iron Jawed Angels, a film about Alice Paul and her feminist endeavors, and A Woman’s Crusade: Alice Paul and the Battle for the Ballot by Mary Walton.

Dora Lewis Townsend gave a narrative history of women’s battle for suffrage. Beginning with the 1848 convention in Seneca Falls, New York, Townsend recounted the figureheads of the women’s suffrage movement. She mentioned people such as Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony, who fought for women’s right to vote in front of the Supreme Court on three separate occasions. The efforts of these women eventually resulted in a unanimous vote by the Supreme Court that argued the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments did not give women the right to vote. At the time, a married woman could not own property, be sued, make a contract or will, operate a business in her name, keep her wages from her husband, vote, go to college, or keep her children if she and her husband divorced. “A woman was civilly dead,” Townsend quoted.

Anthony and Stanton wanted to draft an amendment to the Constitution, but eventually the movement lost them among the crowd. In 1878, the Anthony Bill was presented to the Senate, which later became known as the Susan B. Anthony Amendment, or, better known today, the Nineteenth Amendment. Before this, men worried that if women obtained the right to vote, they would fight for higher wages, better working conditions, and for children to be prohibited from working in factories. In 1906, only Utah, Idaho, Colorado, and Wyoming had given women the right to vote. In 1984, Mississippi would be the last state to ratify the nineteenth amendment, and Tennessee the thirty-sixth, causing the amendment to pass. The former Confederacy, the block of Southern states, had already let all free male slaves vote, thereby increasing their electorate.

Alice Paul was a Quaker who attended the National American Woman Suffrage Association convention. A graduate from Swarthmore, Columbia, and the University of Pennsylvania, she was a well-educated woman. As a twenty-five-year-old, she was a rising leader. Prior to the convention she had been helping the women’s suffrage movement in England. It was set that only women who were of at least thirty years of age and who owned property could vote in England at that time. However, in 1928, women were able to vote regardless of the pre-established parameters.

Following the march on Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, D.C. on March 3, 1913, eight delegations called on President Woodrow Wilson for suffrage. Women began to be more militant, passed out call to arms flyers, and stood outside of the White House every day for two years. Five hundred women were arrested for this picketing, with two hundred twenty-five serving time in jail. Dora Kelly Lewis was told she would not go to jail if she would stop fighting,

Later, on the night of terror, forty-one women were arrested as they arrived at the White House with banners. The women were charged with obstructing traffic and held overnight in jail. Kelly begged to be recognized as a political prisoner so that she would have more times to write her letters. Treatment was very poor in regard to the women. Dirty horse blankets were used, open toilets persisted, sheets were not changed, and women eventually went on a hunger strike. In August, 1918, Kelly was arrested again and held for two weeks in a remote prison without windows. Women later burned a strawman of Woodrow Wilson in front of the White House.

Dora Kelly Lewis died in January of 1929 at the age of sixty-six, eight years after the ratified amendment.

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Author: Kaley Michael

Kaley Michael ‘22 is a staff writer for The Gettysburgian with a potential major in English and minor in Spanish. She hails from the “Keystone State,” and though she did not choose a college too far away from home, she hopes to study abroad within the next four years. When she’s not binge-watching The Office, she enjoys thrift shopping, napping, and singing with her best friends (in key).

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1 Comment

  1. Glad to see Gettysburg is becoming the P.C. haven of America. Of course what this speaker does not mention is that the most vocal opponents against women having the right to vote were……WOMEN! It was not oppressive, misogynist men who were the most vocal against women’s suffrage. It was WOMEN! In fact, Teddy Roosevelt’s sister was one of the leaders against women’s suffrage (among many others). But, naturally, our “gender studies” experts seem to have overlooked this inconvenient little factoid. No, it’s better to claim oppression by evil (white) men!

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