Just Do It!

A person sitting on the ground in front of water.
If you’re like me, by now you’re wishing this election campaign was over, or better yet had never started in the first place.   We all have opinions and theories, disappointments, predictions and concerns around any election, but this one is different.  It would be easy to become so frustrated and confused that we consider skipping the whole thing.    But at the end of the day, the important, the crucial thing is to JUST DO IT,  in the familiar words of the Nike slogan.   Important for all of us, but especially for any of us  who have felt the pain of having our voices ignored or discounted,  in other words, for most women at some point in their lives.     Even now.    And it’s not so long ago that women’s voices were not only ignored, they were suppressed.

A person sitting on the ground in front of water.To put it in  perspective:

Freed male slaves were  granted the vote in 1845.*    The Nineteenth Amendment  granted women the right to  vote in 1920.

And here’s another shocker:    In 1923, the National Women’s Party proposed a Constitutional amendment, eventually known as the Equal Rights Amendment to  prohibit all discrimination on the basis of sex.

It  has Never Been Ratified.   

The women’s suffrage movement in America began in New York  in 1848,  led by well-known early pioneers Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton.  We owe them a huge debt of gratitude for their enormous sacrifices and their perseverance to achieve for us a right we often take for granted, if we think about it at all.

However, there is another compelling and little known tale of struggle and dedication to suffrage in Mississippi. By 1820, a  growing number of southern women in Mississippi  had mobilized to improve social and educational conditions for women and children and the National American Woman Suffrage Association was formed.  In 1890,  The Mississippi Constitutional Convention seriously considered granting women the right to vote.  Sadly, the proposal died in committee by a single vote.

But it was not over.

A person sitting on the ground in front of water.
Nellie Nugent Somerville(1863 – 1952) Courtesy Mississippi Dept of Archives and History

In the 1890s the Mississippi Woman Suffrage Association,  under the leadership of Nellie Nugget Somerville,  began efforts to gain the vote in Mississippi.  The fledgling movement floundered in spite of heroic  efforts by the suffragists.  Facing fierce opposition by the legislators,  by the 1900s they had almost given up.  In 1906, Belle Kearney,  a compelling professional speaker,  breathed life into the nearly moribund movement and gradually the suffragists regained momentum.  However, they could not win  over the
necessary majority of state legislators,  and the state suffrage campaign of 1914 failed.  Legislators declared that woman suffrage was “not in the best interest of Mississippi women, that women should remain ‘queen of the home and hearthstone.'”

A person sitting on the ground in front of water.
Belle Kearney (1863 – 1939) Photo from her autobiography, A Slaveholder’s Daughter.

But it was not over.

In 1918, a state suffrage amendment was once again introduced and received a tie vote, insufficient to  meet the required two-thirds majority.   In 1919  a resolution was introduced to reject the amendment as “unwarranted, unnecessary and dangerous interference with state’s rights.”  The rejection resolution was approved by a vote of 106 to 25.  At this point, many of the suffragists left the movement in despair.

But it was not over.

By now the Nineteenth Amendment  had been ratified by 35 states and some Mississippi senators felt the state must do likewise for the sake of the Democratic Party.  The bill was recalled, amended to read “ratify” rather than “reject” and the bill passed the Senate.

But it was not over

The House  rejection was swift and decisive. As one legislator put it, he would rather “die and go to hell” than vote for it.  The amendment went down  90 to 23.

But it was not over.

By 1920, Mississippi was only one of two states in the nation that had not ratified the Nineteenth Amendment.  However,  as a federal law, it superseded the state law and provided women the vote. Ironically, two years later, Mississippi’s two leading suffragists, Somerville and Kearney, were elected to the state legislature, surviving the battles and winning the war.

The State of Mississippi finally ratified the Nineteenth Amendment  with no opposition on March 22, 1984. Neither  Kearney nor Somerville lived to see the ratification.

But it was over at last.

So, just in case you were thinking about giving Election Day a pass this time, please take a minute to remember the struggles of our Foremothers on our behalf.A person sitting on the ground in front of water.

Go Vote.

Just Do It!


*The bill was ratified, but not enforced until the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

Source:   Marjorie Julian Spruill and Jesse Spruill Wheeler, Mississippi Women and the  Woman Suffrage Amendment,  Mississippi History Now, Mississippi Historical Society 200-2015.   http://bit.ly/2fvviLw