By Mary Hursh
SYRACUSE — This year, the Indiana Women’s Suffrage Centennial teamed with the Indiana Humanities, the Indianapolis Propylaeum, the Indiana Historical Society and the Indiana Historical Bureau to make speakers, exhibits, and teaching material available to celebrate the l00th anniversary of the passage of the l9th Amendment giving women the right to vote.
Hoosier women joined others from all corners of the United States in the push for the vote. There were many milestones along the way from 1848-1920.
Lucretia Mott (1793-1880) and Elizabeth Cady Stanton (1815-1902) joined forces at the first women’s rights convention in Seneca Falls, N.Y. There they presented the Declaration of Sentiments in front of an assembled audience of over 300 people in Seneca Falls, N.Y. on July19-20, 1848. The Declaration helped bring forward the social, civil, political, and religious rights of women. The Declaration also outlined the grievances and examples of oppression women had long suffered.
Mott spoke for years at religious meetings to advocate for women and slave rights. She published the “Discourse of Women” in 1850 to argue for equal political status with men including the right to vote .The turning point for her push into the suffrage movement was when she was denied a vote at the 1840 World’s Anti-Slavery Convention in London. “I grew up so thoroughly imbued with women’s rights that it was the most important question of my life.”
Stanton learned early on as the daughter of a lawyer the inequitable laws restricting women’s freedom and the ability to inherit property. Her father taught her she could help overturn objectionable statutes by public appeal to the government. Stanton wrote many speeches given by Susan B. Anthony. “I forged the thunderbolts and she (Anthony) fired them.” In 1895, Stanton published the “Woman’s Bible” describing the role organized religion played in denying women their rights. The focus of the two-part nonfiction book was to emphasize the roles of women in the scriptures.
Mary F. Thomas (1816-1888), a physician in Richmond, was the first female speaker before the Indiana General Assembly in 1859 where she presented a petition calling for a woman’s suffrage amendment to the state constitution. Thomas was a founding member of the Women’s Rights Association in 1856 and helped write the draft of their constitution which cites undeniable and inalienable rights as reasons for woman’s suffrage.
May Wright Sewall (1844-1920) and other Hoosier women united in a huge letter-writing campaign to pass a suffrage bill in 1883. Although the bill did not pass, the tactics used by the women were applied to other efforts for the franchise. Sewell was one of the most famous Indiana reformers. In 1878, she formed the Indianapolis Equal Suffrage Society to attain equal rights for women at the ballot. In 1891, she became president of the National Congress of Women. She helped to organize, promote and form coalitions of women’s organizations focused on women’s rights. She founded the Indianapolis Woman’s Club, Propylaeum and Art Association.
Perhaps the most famous suffragist of them all, Susan B. Anthony (1820-1906) came to the forefront in 1894 and spoke before the Indiana General Assembly urging legislators to grant women the right to vote. Soon, Indiana clubs become active and begin to be the drivers of suffrage activism. Anthony was first an abolitionist. She registered to vote in the election of 1872 and was arrested. In the United States vs Susan B. Anthony, the court disagreed that women had a constitutional right to vote. She was fined $100 but refused to pay. Throughout her life, she spoke at conventions and helped run a civil rights newspaper with Stanton called The Revolution. The motto for the newspaper was “Men, their rights and nothing more; women, their rights and nothing less.” She spoke over the course of forty-five years giving approximately one-hundred woman’s suffrage speeches a year. “There never will be complete equality until women themselves help to make laws and elect lawmakers.”
Lobbying of legislators in 1914 found its home with Grace Julian Clarke (1865-1938) and Dr. Amelia Keller (1871-1943). Clarke formed the Legislative Council of Indiana Women to push women’s rights bills that represented several thousand Hoosier women from many groups. Before that, in 1909, she organized the seventh District of the Indiana Federation of Women’s Clubs and worked for support for suffrage through the club. She was a graduate of Butler University, earning her Bachelor of Arts in 1884 and her Master of Arts in 1885. She was a writer for the Indianapolis Star from 1911-1929. Keller was the editor of the suffrage department column in the Citizen, a monthly magazine published by the Citizen’s League of Indiana. That league grew to over one-hundred branches. Keller was the president of the Indianapolis Equal Suffrage Society and the first woman physician to serve on the faculty of the IU School of Medicine.
Ellen DuBois in her new book “Suffrage,” highlights the life of several African American women who played a large role in the suffrage movement. Frances Watkins Harper spoke at the National Woman’s Rights Convention on May l0, 1866 and said that “Justice is not fulfilled so long as woman is unequal before the law.” DuBois mentions that several African American women came together in clubs to “break through the racist barriers confining suffrage support to white women.”
Two other African American women in the suffrage movement were Naomi Bowman Talbert Anderson (1843-1899) and Bettiola Fortson (l890-1917). Anderson spoke about suffrage at the first Women’s Rights Convention in 1869. She gave speeches on the experience of black women and their right to vote. Fortson was one of the first African Americans to write and publish a book in the Midwest called “Mental Pearls: Original Poems And Essays.” She was active in the Alpha Suffrage Club, the first black women’s suffrage association founded in 1913 by Ida B. Wells-Barnett. The club organized over 35 women to participate in an automobile suffrage parade in Chicago in 1913.