Marking the 100th anniversary of women’s right to vote

NEW IPSWITCH – As part of the ‘New Hampshire Humanities To Go’ program, the New Ipswich Library hosted “Votes for Women: A History of The Suffrage Movement” on Jan. 28.

The presentation, given by League of Women Voters New Hampshire president Liz Tentarelli, is one of many being held throughout the Granite State this year to mark the 100th anniversary of the federal ratification of the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which took place Aug. 18, 1920.

The 19th Amendment declared, “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” and became law on Aug. 26, 1920.

Using historical photos from the Library of Congress and the Smithsonian Institute in a PowerPoint presentation, Tentarelli said women got the right to vote in 1920, but black women in the south in particular, were facing the same Jim Crow laws that black men had been facing since 1870 when they got the right to vote.

“The states were exercising state’s rights, in terms of voter registration,” she said. “They were creating, I’ll call them ‘unrealistic literacy tests’ – there were different literacy tests for blacks and for whites. It was discouraging people from registering at all. There was intimidation in the south, up until 1965 when the Voting Rights Act was signed by Pres. Johnson.”

Tentarelli added that Native American women who were living on tribal lands, like Native American men, were not considered citizens until 1924.

“They considered themselves citizens of their own tribe,” she said. “Some of them didn’t particularly want U.S. citizenship. But they did not have voting rights. And Chinese-born Americans did not receive full citizenship until 1945. So, they were not voting but there was there was a famous Chinese woman named Mabel Lee, well-educated, she had a PhD from Columbia University, who participated in the New York Suffrage movement. But she never got to vote. I doubt that she lived long enough to vote in 1945.” [Editor’s note: Lee died in 1966.]

Tentarelli said there were key women in New Hampshire, which was the 16th state to ratify the 19th Amendment.

“Armenia White, of Concord, was president of the New Hampshire Women’s Suffrage Association,” she said. “She was certainly very active in getting suffrage through. And then in the ratification process. And a woman named Mary Chase, of Andover, is another figure. But I have not found a lot written about her. And then there is a woman from Portsmouth, Sallie Whittier-Hovey, and she was part of the more strident suffrage organizations, led by Alice Paul.”

“That said, Granite State women could not vote till the amendment had been ratified by 36 states, which took place in August 1920 when the Tennessee legislature passed it,” said Tentarelli. “One young legislator, 24-year-old Rep. Harry Burn who was counted as one of those voting against ratification, changed his vote after receiving a note from his mother.”

The note read in part, “Hurrah and vote for suffrage. “Don’t keep them in doubt.”

Going back earlier, Tentarelli also spoke about Marilla Marks Rickert, of Dover.

“Her portrait now hangs in the state house,” she said. “She first tried to vote in 1870 and demanded a ballot every year thereafter. Sadly, she had a stroke just months before the first time she would have been able to vote, November 1920 and we’ve found no evidence that she was able to vote.”

Tentarelli said the suffrage movement was a long one, and the call for women’s rights to vote didn’t spring from any one moment.

“It came out of a more general movement for greater equality for women,” she said. “It came out of a changing role of women in society.” 

Many of the people who were early movers were also part of the Abolition movement. South Carolina sisters Sarah and Angelica Grimke were the first publicly known white American female advocates of abolition of slavery and women’s rights.

Many women were inspired by the women’s suffrage movement in England in the 1840s. Then in 1848, U.S. women gathered in Seneca Falls, New York, and held the first Women’s Rights Convention for women’s rights in social and civil endeavors.

As the civil war started in 1861, the women’s rights movements were set aside, as women dedicated their focus on freeing those in slavery.

Tentarelli said she prefers not to get into contemporary politics, but added that as president of the LWF, in her presentation, she makes the point that the major suffrage organization, the National American Women’s Suffrage Association simply changed its name.

“In 1920, it became the League of Women Voters,” she said. “Now that women had the right to vote, they needed to know how to do it. And they needed to know how to study issues so they could vote from a position of knowledge. It was a non-partisan organization, and it still is.”

The League of Women Voters is also celebrating its centennial in 2020.

For more information on Humanities To Go, visit www.nhwomenvote100.org.