My memories around the first time voting are hazy, but I do know it was 1980 and I was just 22.
The Republican presidential challenger, Ronald Reagan, had just trounced “my” candidate, Democratic incumbent Jimmy Carter, but I don’t recall being too concerned. A junior at the University of Oregon, I likely was more absorbed with classes, my new job waiting tables at a campus nightspot and a very appealing man I had just begun dating — and not necessarily in that order.
I suspect voting seemed little more than an amusing novelty. In other words, I took for granted the most fundamental of democratic rights.
We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men and women are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness ...
I came of age in the ‘70s when the women’s movement, led by feminists such as Gloria Steinem and Betty Friedan, was greatly responsible for leading millions of American women, including my mom, into the workforce.
The Equal Rights Amendment had been resurrected in 1972. Girls could even wear pants (finally) to public school in rainy Salem, where I grew up. As the Virginia Slims cigarette commercial at the time proclaimed, “You’ve come a long way, baby.”
Whenever any form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of those who suffer from it to refuse allegiance to it, and to insist upon the institution of a new government.
Yet another 30 years or so would pass before I learned there actually had been an earlier, so-called first wave of feminism. I was developing a course in women’s literature at the community college where I taught, when my readings introduced me to Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony and other ardent suffragists of the mid-19th century.
But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same object, evinces a design to reduce them (women) under absolute despotism, it is their duty to throw off such government ...
To our 21st-century eyes, Stanton and Anthony certainly do not fit the superficial, preconceived notions of what a “feminist” looks like. A portrait of Stanton, in particular, a wife and mother of seven children, shows her hair tightly curled and her body covered by the high-necked, demure fashion of the time.
Appearances can be deceiving. Stanton, Anthony and other 19th-century feminists, including some men (notably, the great 19th-century orator, abolitionist and escaped slave, Frederick Douglass), kicked off the women’s movement at the Seneca Falls Convention of 1848, where Stanton’s “Declaration of Sentiments,” a clever co-opting of another “Declaration,” was read.
The italicized passages interspersed throughout my essay come from Stanton’s “Declaration.” Thomas Jefferson’s version certainly did not include the words “and women” to grant them equality alongside men, meaning white men.
Now, in view of this entire disfranchisement of one-half the people of this country, their social and religious degradation ... we insist that they have immediate admission to all the rights and privileges which belong to them as citizens of these United States.
Stanton and Anthony died in 1902 and 1906, still years before American women would actually gain the right to vote. Instead, their descendants in the women’s suffrage movement, both in the U.S. and U.K., took up the cause, enduring ridicule, imprisonment, hunger strikes and in some cases, beatings, before finally witnessing the 19th Amendment’s ratification in 1920.
The Founding Mothers of the women’s rights movement were especially in the forefront of my mind when I, myself, filed to run for office in 2018. They did not have that choice.
Nearly 40 years and dozens of elections after casting my first ballot, I had hoped to vote for another Elizabeth this coming November. I had hoped to witness her, or even another female candidate, sworn in as the first woman president of the United States. I will have to wait at least another four years, perhaps longer. I won’t hold my breath.
But I will continue to vote for as long as I can breathe. And each time, I will offer a silent thanks to all the women — and men — who worked tirelessly to give me that right.