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Commemorating Women’s Suffrage

At the very establishment of our nation, women were not included in the deliberations of the founders. Although the right to inherit and own property was enshrined in the Northwest Ordinance of 1787 – the document that outlined the governing of the new states of Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan and Wisconsin – the Constitutional Convention that convened later that year in Philadelphia did not build on it.

When the outspoken Abigail Adams wrote to her husband John at the Convention to “remember the ladies,” he countered that the Declaration of Independence declared that “all men were created equal.” (It’s a good thing he didn’t say it to her in person: she might have responded with a rolling pin!)

Many women noted at the time that the revolution was based on the rallying cry of “No Taxation without Representation,” yet they had no representation in the new nation either.

Today’s Women’s March, the “Me, Too” movement are not new phenomena but have developed from a long history of women seeking equal rights.

For the next year, many organizations will be commemorating the 100th anniversary of the introduction and ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States which secured the right to vote for women.

As part of Women’s History Month, an exhibit highlighting the events and characters of the movement will be on display at Historic Fort Steuben in Steubenville from March 11-22 with a particular focus on Ohio’s history.

As Ohio was created to be a non-slave state, many abolitionists had settled here, and women were active in the movement. Many of these women went on to work for women’s suffrage, such as Columbus resident Elizabeth Bisbee who established a newspaper, The Alliance, to fight for equal rights for women.

Others including Frances Dana Gage helped organize women’s conferences across Ohio during the early 1850s. Gage led a state convention in Akron on May 29, 1851. At this meeting, Gage and the other women found that their objectives were not shared by locals in the community. Many men, including several ministers, came to the convention to heckle the speakers. It was at this conference that Sojourner Truth, a former slave, gave her famous “Ain’t I a Woman?” speech.

In 1852, a number of people met in Massillon, Ohio, at the Women’s Rights Convention. Participants voted to establish the Ohio Woman’s Rights Association, which held its first statewide meeting in Ravenna on May 25, 1853. The attendees helped to draft a petition asking the Ohio Constitutional Convention of 1850-1851 to give women the right to vote – a request that was rejected.

The Civil War put the movement on hold for a number of years. It wasn’t until the importance of the efforts of women during World War I was recognized that public opinion changed. Even President Woodrow Wilson, who had not supported it, changed his position in 1918 to advocate women’s suffrage as a war measure.

After decades of effort by hundreds of advocates, the Senate finally approved the amendment on June 4, 1919, by 56 to 25 after four hours of debate. Ohio was the fifth state to ratify it on June 16, 1919. The Nineteenth Amendment, which prohibited state or federal sex-based restrictions on voting, was ratified by enough states to go into effect on August 18, 1920.

Too often we take for granted rights and privileges that were gained by the labor, suffering and sacrifice of others. The right to vote – an essential aspect of our democracy – is one of those.

Article courtesy of Historic Fort Steuben.

Commemorating Women’s Suffrage

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