Founding Feminists: September 23, 1923

Founding Feminists is the FMF’s daily herstory column.

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Anyone who thinks the National Woman’s Party must have lost some of its drive or militancy after finishing its campaign to put the Susan B. Anthony (nationwide woman suffrage) Amendment into the Constitution on August 26, 1920, clearly wasn’t at today’s colorful pageant in Colorado Springs. Meeting over the weekend, the party celebrated 75 years of feminist progress, while making it clear that the battle for total equality is far from over.

Alva Belmont, President of the N.W.P., let it be known at a banquet last night that the 19th Amendment was just one stepping stone on the path to equality, and that it’s time for women to assume political leadership:

For twenty centuries men have been running the world. Now it is time for women to take over affairs, and as they very nearly hold a balance of power at this time, the day may not be as far distant as old party leaders imagine when there will be set up a woman’s government by women and for women, children and humanity in general.

Plans were announced in April to set up a separate “Women’s Congress” in Washington, possibly as early as December, to debate the same issues as those of the U.S. Congress, so that women’s views could be made known. There is presently only one woman in Congress, Rep. Ella Mae Nolan, Republican of California. The National Woman’s Party may become a formal political party with its own candidates and platform.

But Belmont reassured those who fear that feminists want to simply “get even” for thousands of years of patriarchal rule and plan to disempower and restrict men, that this is not the case: “Now don’t construe my meaning as that of a woman opposed to men. I am for men, but for women and children first. Men have forgotten us during the past, but we are going to remember them and take them right up and onward with us.”

One prime example of that “equality for all” philosophy is the party’s enthusiastic endorsement of an “Equal Rights Amendment,” which they call the “Lucretia Mott Amendment” in honor of that pioneer feminist. Written by the party’s founder, Alice Paul, it would outlaw any form of discrimination against either sex by any State, the United States, or any place subject to its jurisdiction. The party made full equality for women its “paramount issue” during the 1922 midterm elections, and intends to do the same in the 1924 General Election.

Despite her many years of work and unrivaled monetary contributions to the suffrage struggle, Belmont said that she had never voted, and would refuse to do so until she could vote for a woman candidate nominated by a woman’s party. She also criticized other wealthy women for not getting involved in the struggle for dignity, opportunity and equality for all women. “For nine years,” she said, “I have been as one crying in the wilderness to women of wealth and leisure to give over their pleasure and frivolities and do something to justify their existence. I have cried in vain. No reform ever appealed to people who have all they want.”

via Library of Congress
via Library of Congress

Fortunately, there are exceptions to the rule. On July 28th, E.M. Levy announced that she had bequeathed $ 50,000 to the party in her new will. She had never taken much interest in politics until the National Woman’s Party came along, but is now an enthusiastic supporter who has already made a number of generous contributions, including a $1,000 Life Membership.

The party concluded its conference today by putting on an elaborate pageant in the Garden of the Gods. It was reminiscent of the suffrage spectacles of a decade ago. The event drew 20,000 spectators, plus reporters from many major newspapers, and film was shot by Fox, Pathe and Universal for their nationally distributed newsreels.

The program opened with Ruth Montgomery, assisted by a 200-voice chorus, singing “Angels Ever Bright and Fair,” followed by trumpets announcing the procession that followed. Led by Sally Halthausen Gough on a black horse, it was intended to salute previous efforts, and show how long the struggle has gone on since that original women’s rights convention in Seneca Falls, New York, in 1848. It included everything from a covered wagon and bright red stagecoach to more modern forms of transportation, with hundreds of participants taking part. Many portrayed feminists of earlier days, and dressed in costumes from their time.

The pageant also featured exuberant singing of confident songs, such as “The March of the Women,” an anthem from suffrage days, which begins with “Shout, Shout, Up With Your Song.” The music was accompanied by a large display of purple, white and gold banners of the National Woman’s Party held up by a delegation of schoolgirls. Other banners, bearing the words of Susan B. Anthony that “Failure is Impossible” fluttered in the breeze as well.

Colorado is a very progressive State. Women won the vote here in an 1893 Statewide ballot referendum, the first ever to succeed. But the fact that the laws are far from equal even here was stressed in numerous speeches, and cited as proof that there is still much work to be done. Among today’s speakers were many veterans of the suffrage struggle, such as Alice Paul, Sue White, and Eunice Brannan. White, who played a major role in her home State of Tennessee’s crucial ratification of the 19th Amendment on August 18, 1920, deplored the fact that even in 20th Century America, we are still living according to the ancient English Common Law assumption that in marriage, the husband and wife become one, and that the husband is the “one.”

It was noted by Alva Belmont that 30 years after winning the vote in Colorado, a wife’s earnings are still the property of her husband, and women cannot serve on juries, thus denying them even so basic a right as a trial by a jury of their peers. Of course, she also noted that things are a lot better here than in Georgia, where a father can will his children to anyone he chooses without his wife’s consent. And in Louisiana, the husband is legally recognized as “head and master” of the household.

The 14th Amendment has failed to help women in any way thus far, so there is still nothing in the Constitution to explicitly guarantee equal treatment under the law for women and men. But that oversight is something the National Woman’s Party intends to remedy, and there are plans to get the Lucretia Mott (Equal Rights) Amendment introduced into Congress before the year is out.

So, as exciting as their battle for the ballot may have been, there should be even more interesting times ahead for the National Woman’s Party on this long road to equality!

(Photo : Schoolgirls holding up the purple, white and gold banners of the National Woman’s Party at the pageant earlier today. Newsreel camera operators and photographers are in the trench in front of the banners. )

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