A century ago this month Tennessee became the 36th state needed to complete ratification of the Women's Suffrage Amendment, extending women's right to vote to all states..
Women actually voted in many states before 1920. You may never have heard of her, but the first woman in Congress — Jeannette Rankin of Montana — had introduced the proposed amendment in the House
The badly neglected Rankin isn't even mentioned in the lengthy Wikipedia article on the 19th Amendment. Her name doesn't appear in a recent 44-page New York Times commemoration of the 19th. Why has she been treated so shabbily?
She was a Republican. Democrats sometimes hesitate to celebrate someone contradicting claims that progress always comes from,their party.
Republicans probably neglected Rankin because she was a pacifist who voted, along with several dozen other members of Congress, against declaring World War I. She returned to Congress in time to cast the sole vote against declaring war on Japan in 1941. These votes may explain why she only served two widely separated terms!
This centennial is an appropriate time to review the amazing changes in women's position since 1920, changes neatly exemplified by four generations of women in my family.
My paternal grandmother, Cobie Muyskens deLespinasse, was born in 1883. Several of her brothers became college professors, but her parents didn't consider it important to help daughters get an education — a rather common attitude.
Cobie was frustrated by this, but read widely and educated herself. My mother, Helen Childs deLespinasse, born a generation later and a college graduate, told me (before I met my wife!) that Cobie was the best educated woman she had ever known.
Cobie assisted my grandfather (a dentist), gave lectures around Oregon including on the state's educational radio station, and published three novels, one for children, and two that were "adult" in more ways than one. (She said if you put some sex in, they would sell better.)
When she died in 1963 at age 80, women's position in the U.S. had changed greatly and was still in a rapid state of flux. Women were participating more fully in the economy since World War II, and the birth control pill was accelerating movement into the professions.
During my 1970-1971 sabbatical at the Harvard Law School there were noticeably more women in first-year classes than in the second- and third-year classes. Problems encountered earlier by Sandra Day O'Connor and Ruth Bader Ginsburg when they had trouble finding professional employment after they graduated, were gradually evaporating.
At a time when women were rarely encouraged to enter technical professions, my wife, Doris Stringham deLespinasse, graduated from Stanford in 1963 with an English major despite her high school enthrallment with physics.
She put her education to good use, teaching part-time, authoring a journal article, and helping write several literature textbooks. Later, she studied accounting and became a CPA. Her first boss was one of Michigan's first female CPAs. Doris later was an accounting professor, developed extraordinary computer skills, became a consultant, and ran training programs for industry.
Continuing the trend, our daughter Cobie, named for my grandmother, majored in physics.
Social changes may seem slow at any one time but can be spectacular after accumulating for a hundred years. Today, women are major players in technical fields like law, accounting, computer engineering (our daughter-in-law, Rachel Grey), and medicine, and in politics, as the candidacy of Kamala Harris points out.
I'm not saying that every problem women ever had in our society has been solved, but it is difficult for women today to imagine how things were a hundred years ago. Wouldn't it be wonderful if, a century from now, people of color would find it equally hard to imagine the lives of their ancestors back in 2020.
Paul F. deLespinasse is Professor Emeritus of Political Science and Computer Science at Adrian College. He received his Ph.D. from Johns Hopkins University in 1966, and has been a National Merit Scholar, an NDEA Fellow, a Woodrow Wilson Fellow, and a Fellow in Law and Political Science at the Harvard Law School. His college textbook, "Thinking About Politics: American Government in Associational Perspective," was published in 1981 and his most recent book is "Beyond Capitalism: A Classless Society With (Mostly) Free Markets." His columns have appeared in newspapers in Michigan oregon, and a number of other states. Read Prof. Paul F. deLespinasse's Reports — More Here.
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