Waukesha and Women's Right to Vote
Local women were pivotal to suffrage movement. How far have we come since?
A quick history test.
Question: What year and with what amendment were women granted the right to vote?
Answer: 1920, with passage of the 19th amendment to the U.S. Constitution
Today, Aug. 26, is National Women's Equality Day.
It marks the 91st anniversary of the passage of 19th amendment and acknowledging it shouldn’t be merely a nod of recognition to a long-ago past.
It wasn’t that long ago and Waukesha was at the forefront of the fight.
And while women have had the right to vote for the past 90 years, it took them 70 years to get that right, starting in 1848 with the Seneca Falls Convention.
Comparatively, the 15th amendment, granting citizens of all races the right to vote, in writing if not in deed, was passed in 1870, 50 years before women were granted the right to vote.
“This Amendment became law only after decades of work by committed trailblazers who fought to extend the right to vote to women across America.... These brave and tenacious women challenged our Nation to live up to its founding principles, and their legacy inspires us to reach ever higher in our pursuit of liberty and equality for all.” -- President Barack Obama, 2011 proclamation for National Women’s Equality Day
A strong advocate for the suffrage movement, Youmans was president of the both the Waukesha and the Wisconsin Woman Suffrage Association and lobbied the U.S. Congress on behalf of women’s enfranchisement. At times, Waukesha was home for offices of the suffrage organizations and printing of materials for the effort.
In a 1921 article for the Wisconsin Magazine of History, How Wisconsin Women Won the Ballot, Youmans wrote:
“In looking back over the last seven years of the struggle there are some high lights; but mainly it is a sober record of doing the day's work as well as one could, educating and organizing, raising money and expending it, writing and exhorting, and never for one moment failing in faith as to the justice of our cause or its final outcome.”
In 1920, Youmans was named the first woman presidential elector from Wisconsin.
But for a modern-day woman, growing up after vote equality and bra-burning, making sense of women’s equality is sometimes mind-boggling. How far have we come?
While overt discrimination is generally not seen, one wonders about the lack of women in certain areas, for example, politics, which ultimately shapes our communities with laws and policies.
Currently, of 15 Waukesha alderman, two are women – Kathleen Cummings and Joan Francoeur – comprising 13 percent of the Common Council.
On the school board, four of nine members are women: Barbara Brzenk, Ellen Langill, Patricia Madden and Karin Rajnicek, 44 percent of the board.
At the county level, out of 25 county supervisors, four are women: Jean Tortomasi, Waukesha; Kathleen Cummings; Pamela Meyer, Eagle; and Pauline Jaske, New Berlin, 16 percent of the county board.
In the Wisconsin legislature, including both the Senate and House, 33 of 132 legislators are women, 25 percent of Wisconsin legislators. At the national level, according to the Center for Women in Politics, women hold 17 percent of the seats in the U.S. Congress.
Numbers of women have more than doubled in the American workforce and more than tripled in college attainment in the last 40 years, according a statement released by U.S. Secretary of Labor Hilda L. Solis regarding Women’s Equality Day.
More working women have college degrees today than men, while women-owned businesses are growing at four times the rate of businesses owned by men, according to the release.
“Our accomplishments are undeniable, but the fight for full equality endures. It has been four decades since the Equal Pay Act was signed into law, but women still only make 81 cents on the dollar compared to men,” Solis wrote in the statement.
However far we’ve come, we wouldn’t have made any progress without the persistent efforts of women like Theodora Youmans.