Today in 1920 … Votes for Women!

Celebrating the ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment. Photo: Cornell University Library.

Yes … The Nineteenth Amendment became law, giving United States women the right to vote. How about those smiles? I can only imagine what a rush it must have been.

This happened just in time to enfranchise my mother-in-law, who came along a month later. (I love to remind my daughters of that bit of timeline trivia. The bad old days are never as far away as you think!)

We were a bit behind the curve on this one. British women over 30 won the right to vote in 1918, although it would be 10 more years before they gained the right to vote at 21, achieving true voting equality at last. (And here’s a timeline showing the history of women’s suffrage worldwide. It is particularly amusing to note the instances in which women inadvertently won voting rights through loopholes in laws that politicians hastened to “correct.”)

While I’m straying into suffrage history on the other side of the pond, I wonder if anyone else remembers a riveting 1974 BBC miniseries called “Shoulder to Shoulder”, about the remarkable Pankhurst family and the fight for British women’s suffrage. Somebody on YouTube put up this rare clip, which I cannot resist sharing.

Don’t miss the kick-ass theme anthem and (at 3:14) the scene where the tough-as-nails Mrs. Pankhurst (played by the great Sian Phillips) causes a riot in a crowded theater:

I saw “Shoulder to Shoulder” as a teenager during its U.S. release on PBS’ “Masterpiece Theater” and never forgot it. Exasperatingly, it has never been released on DVD. Come on, BBC, how about it?

Quote of the Day: “Dear Son: Hurrah and vote for suffrage! Don’t keep them in doubt! I notice some of the speeches against. They were bitter. I have been watching to see how you stood, but have not noticed anything yet. Don’t forget to be a good boy and help Mrs. Catt put the “rat” in ratification. Your mother.”

— Mrs. J.L. Burn (Febb Ensminger) of Tennessee to her son, state legislator Harry T. Burn, who would cast the decisive vote enabling his state to ratify the Nineteenth Amendment, clearing the way for it to become law.


Just Clone Me, Already

I’ve talked about my successes with searching New York State vital records indexes at the National Archives regional branch in NYC. That’s me; always putting my best foot forward. Today’s edition is about the other foot.

Does anyone else find themselves wishing they had a clone along for the ride whenever they visit a major records repository? I know I do.

This clone would be an idealized, hyperaware form of me (perhaps synthesized from some super-secret, ultra-octane Irish-German DNA grown in a medium of Guinness and Weissbier). It would tag along to places like the National Archives regional facility in Manhattan. I’m sure the security folks would be fine with it once we both cleared the metal detector.

Upstairs at the archives, my clone would:

• Bring the sweater I desperately need, even in high summer. The microfilm room is a MEAT LOCKER, people.

• Remember what the Soundex code for “Walker” is so I don’t have to go checking for it.

• Notice that I’m starting to nod over the microfiche viewer and say brightly: “Look at you — at that rate you’re going to miss something big! Tell you what, why don’t you grab a cup of coffee — I’ll take over for a bit.”

• Poke me as we’re leaving and say: “Hey! You found that kid’s birth for 1899 but you forgot to check the 1899 deaths for her! Just thought I’d save you an extra trip.”

I want that clone so bad.