I’m sure most of you are aware we’re now in an election year (and if you’re not aware – can I come to wherever you are??!). As the year progresses, we will prepare to cast our vote. As one who has been voting for more than four decades, I generally take my civic responsibilities seriously, and have rarely missed the opportunity to vote in an election. It’s what a good citizen does. But seldom have I ever considered that it hasn’t always been that way, nor at what cost that vote has come.
Not only is 2020 a presidential election year; it also marks the centennial of the ratification of the 19th Amendment. The constitutional amendment stating “the right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex” was finally approved and became the law of the land in August of 1920, having been passed by Congress in June of 1919. But first, 36 of the 48 individual states had to ratify the amendment in order to have it become law. New Jersey became the 29th state to ratify the women’s suffrage amendment, when, after much struggle, the amendment was approved first by the NJ State Senate, and then by the State Assembly on February 9, 1920.
The price paid for women to have the right to cast a vote was immense. The movement began shortly after the end of the Civil War with the passage of the 15th Amendment, when the right ofv US citizens to vote was “not to be denied…on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude” – as long as you were male. The US Constitution stated that its power rested in the people, but at the same time ignored more than half of the population.
Women began to question, write, speak, organize, march, lobby, demonstrate, and make their voices heard. Opposition to women’s suffrage was based on the fear that women would take over the government, or the false assumption that women could not understand governance and politics.
For more than forty years these “proper” ladies pushed for the right to vote, many suffering victimization, abuse, violence, arrest, conviction, jail time, torture and more. But they persisted in their struggle, ultimately getting the amendment ratified in enough states to pass the federal approval process. We owe a huge debt of gratitude to these heroines.
Women’s suffrage, and New Jersey’s central role in that struggle, will be the topic of a special program at 2 pm on Sunday February 9th, sponsored by the Ewing Township Historic Preservation Society and the Lawrence Township League of Women Voters. The program will be held in the Education Building of the Ewing Presbyterian Church, 100 Scotch Road, Ewing.
Historian and storyteller Carol Simon Levin will portray Lillian Feickert, a New Jersey suffragist, and president of the NJ Women’s Suffrage Association from 1912 – 1920.
The NJ Women’s Suffrage Association soon became known as the League of Women Voters of NJ, an organization devoted to informed citizenship, and Lillian Feickert became its first president.
Ms. Levin, as the historical figure Lillian Feickert, will convey the struggle to achieve the vote for women in the late 19th and early 20th century, and in particular, the significant role of New Jersey and its women in the fight for the amendment.
New Jersey was the only original state which had given women the right to vote in 1776, only to rescind the right thirty years later by constitutional amendment. Ms. Levin will share the details of the process by which women in NJ contributed to the ultimate victory for women citizens.
Attendees are encouraged to wear the colors of the suffrage movement – white, gold/yellow and purple – to indicate their support for the commitment of these women.
And we all should keep these brave suffragists in mind, one hundred years later, as we exercise our precious right to vote this year.
Helen Kull is an advisor to the Ewing Township Historic Preservation Society.