The Liz Library presents Irene Stuber's Women of Achievement - Women's History Month

Episode #WHM-20 for Day 20
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Compiled and Written by Irene Stuber
 who is solely responsible for its content.

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Some Notes on Women's Political Coming of Age

On August 29, 1920, the last of the two-third states necessary to ratify an amendment to the United States Constitution voted passage of the 19th amendment that mandated women's voting.
      Before the ratification, a number of women had held local offices but no federal ones.
      The situation changed slowly, but it did change so that in just 42 - swifter than a speedingThe situation changed slowly, but it did change so that in just 42 - swifter than a speeding ballot box - the woman's vote is now recognized as the deciding factor in most elections.
      These are a few highlights of how it started and developed.

At the 1920 Democratic convention, Laura Clay, American women's rights activist, became the first woman in American history to receive a vote to be the presidential nominee of a major political party.

Event 10-03-1922: in a blatantly political move to get the women's vote that had just been mandated under the 1920 amendment to the U.S. Constitution which he did not support (nor did Georgia ratify), Georgia Governor Thomas Hardwick appointed 87-year-old women's rights advocate Rebecca Latimer Felton to an interim seat of the U.S. Senate from Georgia.
      It was a token appointment because a special election was held in time for the seating of the winner in the next U.S. Senate session.
      Instead of accepting it as a token, Mrs. Felton shocked everyone by going to Washington and forcing the Senate to accept her credentials.
      She sat as a U.S. Senator for two days, Nov. 21 and 22, 1922 before the duly elected successor - who had waited like a true gentleman while Miz Felton made her point - presented his credentials and was seated.
      Gov. Hardwick's appointment of Felton didn't endear him with the women because they remembered that Hardwick had opposed woman's suffrage and under his leadership the Georgia legislature refused to ratify the 19th amendment.

Hattie Wyatt Caraway (b. 02-01-1878) has gone down in the HIStory books as a sweet little old lady who just kept her dead husband's U.S. senate seat warm.
      You decide whether this is another case of selective history with HIStorians writing of what they would like women to be instead of what they really were.
      HWC was first woman elected to the U.S. Senate in her own right (1932); first to preside over a Senate sessions (1932); first to conduct Senate hearings; first woman to chair a Senate committee; first to be president pro-tem of the Senate (1943); first woman member of Congress to endorse the Equal Rights Amendment (1943); and she fought valiantly for federal help for many of her poverty stricken constituents who faced starvation and life without hope during the darkest days of the Great Depression. She chaired the Senate Committee on Enrollled Bills from the 73rd to 78th Congress.
      She got to her Senate office every day at 8 a.m. via the public streetcar and worked straight through to evening. She read EVERY bill and EVERY word of the Congressional Record. She seldom spoke on the floor of the Senate, explaining,
"I haven't the heart to take a minute away from the men. The poor dears love it so."
      She never missed a committee meeting where, she said, the real work of the Senate occurred. One day she filed 43 bills.
      She wasn't quite the timid woman sitting and knitting and just keeping her late husband's seat warm was she?
      Her usual brightly colored wardrobe was replaced by plain dark clothes for her first reelection campaign, and she continued wearing them - playing the sweet-little-old widow role to the hilt.
      When campaigning, she traveled the length and breath of Arkansas in an open car. Many of the roads in that state were still unpaved. In 1932 she surprised everyone by running for the office she had been appointed to following her U.S. Senator- husband's death. In her second campaign in 1938 she garnered a vote that equaled that of all her six male opponents running in the primary!
      Yet, for all her accomplishments, her portrait was not hung in the Arkansas State Capitol until 1993.

Mary Williams Dewson (b. 02-18-1874) is one of the most overlooked and powerful women of her period. Her pronouncement that the advancement of women (in all fields of endeavor) was directly tied to their political influence is obvious today.
      Starting in Massachusetts grassroots politics in 1913, MWD was instrumental in the passage of unemployment insurance programs and of minimum wage laws in many parts of the country.
      MWD organized women in several local campaigns in the 1920s and was then appointed to head the Democratic Women's division. Under MWD's tutelage the division became the guiding force of the democratic party. The 1936 presidential campaign was almost entirely dependent on materials - the so-called Rainbow flyers - that the women's division created.
      Through MWD's influence the Democratic party changed its rules for equal female representation on the Platform committee.
      As a member of the Social Security Board, she finally got things off dead center with Congress and developed a strong working relations with the states.
      MWD used her influence to get government jobs for women party workers and is credited with Frances Perkins' appointment as Secretary of Labor (1932). Dewson was a close working friend of Eleanor Roosevelt and the highly influential group of politically active women that surrounded her.

"Sometimes I feel like a ghoul. I'd read the obits, and as soon as a man had died, I'd rush over to the White House and suggest a woman to replace him," India wrote in her memoirs, Pulling No Punches (1977).
      India Edwards, former vice chair of the Democratic National Committee was unanimously elected to the national committee in 1950, not because of any husband or family ties.
      She did it the old fashioned way: she earned it by being a longtime volunteer in the party and developing into one of the finest fundraisers the Democrats ever had.
      As a consequence of "laboring in the fields" she became one of the first women to gain major influence in party politics.
      At one point in President Harry Truman's come-for-behind victory in 1948, Truman turned to her and sighed,
"India, sometimes I think there are only two people who believe I will win. You and me."
      "That's enough," she replied.
      Largely because of Mrs. Edward's influence (showing future women would-be politicians how to work in a campaign to get later benefits), Truman appointed more women to top jobs than any other president to that time.
      Among the appointments were Eugenia Anderson as Ambassador to Denmark, Perle Mesta as Minister to Luxembourg, Ruth Bryan Rohde as alternate delegate to the United Nations, and Georgia Neese Clark as Treasurer of the U.S.
      Edwards who was one of the best fundraisers ever for the Democratic Party said that John Kennedy looked upon women as "nothing but sex objects." Kennedy made only 10 appointments of women that required Senate confirmation. In the same period of their administrations, Truman made 15 and Eisenhower made 14.
      She was society editor and women's editor at the Chicago Tribune.

Several women have campaigned for the nomination of the major political parties but none have garnered any great across-the-board-support, but more and more women are serving in the U.S. Congress, and women governors are no longer rarities.
      The number of women who serve as mayors of cities large and small are almost as common as leaves on a tree.
      All in 80 years...
      As Dewson, see above, said seven decades ago: You'll get your rights when you get political power.
      Or as Carrie Chapman Catt who headed the National American Woman's Suffrage Association said:
"It takes 100 years to change people's opinions."
      Even the most ultra-conservatives are acknowledging that by 2025 that the most powerful person in the world - the U.S. President - will be MADAM president.
      But it will only happen if you honor your foremothers by getting involved in politics the way they did.
      Don't squander your legacy.

© 1990-2006 Irene Stuber, Hot Springs National Park, AR 71902. Originally web-published at We are indebted to Irene Stuber for compiling this collection and for granting us permission to make it available again. The text of the documents may be freely copied for nonprofit educational use. Except as otherwise noted, all contents in this collection are © 1998-2009 the liz library.  All rights reserved. This site is hosted and maintained by the liz library.