PEAK — PROMOTING EDUCATION, AWARENESS, AND KNOWLEDGE
University of the Rockies is proud to share our PEAK initiative: Promoting Education, Awareness, and Knowledge. Every month, we'll highlight different causes and opportunities that reflect the values of the University. You'll also learn ways you can participate.
Opinions expressed here are those of the writers and do not necessarily reflect the views of the University.
AUGUST 2014 – NATIONAL WOMEN'S EQUALITY AWARENESS MONTH
Coast to Coast: Women Before Their Times
by Dylan Self
Student Advisor at the University of the Rockies
Modern American culture seems to be steaming ahead with scarcely any sense of its own past. And the sad part is that it’s easy to convince people who have been blessed with more than their ancestors ever dreamed of that they have nothing but scraps. It would be easy to put on 30 year-old blinders and point to the status quo, saying that the change in American politics vis-à-vis women’s participation didn’t really come into its own until Elizabeth Cady Stanton et al. met in Seneca Falls in 1848. Or it would be easy to say it didn’t really come into its own during the Feminist movement of the 1960s or 1970s. Or it would be really, really easy to say it didn’t come into its own until Geraldine Ferraro or Sarah Palin’s names appeared on their parties’ tickets; placing them one heartbeat away from the presidency. But the issue of women exercising their right to vote dates back to before our nation was born and before it spanned the continent.
I was not aware of Lydia Taft until recently, but she holds the esteemed position of being the first woman to legally vote in the American colonies. As she was married to the wealthiest man in Uxbridge, Massachusetts, Lydia was a respected member of her community. So respected was Ms. Taft’s estate that after the passing of her husband and oldest son, the town felt it necessary to provide her the means to vote on the all-important question of whether it would support the British during the French and Indian Wars (Chapin 1881). On October 30, 1756, Lydia Taft voted in the open town meeting. She went on to cast votes again in 1758 and 1765 before she died in 1778; over 140 years before the 19th Amendment secured women’s right to vote across the country.
On November 24, 1805, another meeting took place on the shores of the Oregon territory, only this meeting consisted of colonists of a different kind. The Corps of Discovery, headed by Captains Meriwether Lewis and William Clark, had finally crossed the continent and the trek back to St. Louis had to wait until the following spring. At the place where the Columbia River connects with the Pacific, the entire Corps voted on where to settle down for the winter. During this meeting, not only was the Corps’ female guide, Sacagawea, permitted to cast her vote, but Captain Clark’s slave, York, was also permitted to vote (“Sacagawea” n.d.). And though it may not have been the dream of the nation at the time, the possibility presented on the shores of that far-off ocean by the votes of an African slave and a Native woman should inspire us to remember that political traditions are valuable, but they do not determine our shared destiny.
As our nation braces itself for another election this year, we have been hearing a lot about a “war on women.” Yet such a war is a sign of progress in itself. The efficacy of the “war on women” as a means of affecting change in the electorate means less to me than the fact that people who run campaigns for a living believe that it is effective. Political capital is precious, and politicians know that by aiming their messages at women there will be some respectable rate of return. In short, women have established themselves as equal co-drivers of the American political tides, and equality was a long time coming.
Chapin, Judge Henry. (1881). “Address Delivered at the Unitarian Church in Uxbridge, 1864.” [Charles Hamilton Press, Boston, MA.] Pg 172.
“Sacagawea” (n.d.) NPR.org. Retrieved on 14 July, 2014 from http://www.pbs.org/lewisandclark/inside/saca.html.
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