We Are Waiting No More, Ladies: From Abigail to Hillary
We are ladies in waiting no more, gentlemen. Tired of traveling third class to the revolution.
Heroines Harriet Tubman, Lucretia Mott, Alice Paul and Eleanor Roosevelt on the money herald the start of something big.
And by we I mean American women here now in 2016, voters from 18 to 98. Heck, count girls and babies; they inherit the new world being born and they can campaign, too. April brings Hillary Clinton as the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee.
How sweet it is. A victory from sea to shining sea. Long time coming.
Dial back to 2008, the bittersweet spring when Clinton lost to Barack Obama in the Democratic primary, though she was far better seasoned. But who said the world was fair? Witnessing an American president break the color barrier one wintry day at high noon was breathtaking.
To be clear, Obama’s victory over Clinton turned a page in our oldest story. The historical theme is clear. Women are often expected to wait for their rights. Wait their turn for political power.
In 1776, Abigail Adams wrote to husband John a famous letter saying, “Remember the ladies” in the new republic. Did he listen to her? No. Though she warned, ladies might “foment a rebellion.”
In Philadelphia in 1776, Thomas Jefferson and the Declaration of Independence signers in that hall completely cut us out of their revolution’s documents. “All men are created equal” means what it says. Fourscore and seven years later, Abraham Lincoln expanded the phrase to mean black men. The founding fathers didn’t remember us.
As the Broadway hit musical, “Hamilton,” puts it, we weren’t in the room where it happened. Only one man in the Revolutionary generation believed in the rights of women: the truly talented Aaron Burr, Jefferson’s vice president. The man who dueled and slew Hamilton at sunrise on July 11, 1804. If not for the tragic duel, Burr might have become president and our struggle, our story, might have been different. Nobody knows.
The “Negro’s Hour” episode, however, could not be clearer. After working for the abolition of slavery for 30 years (1833-1863) women in the anti-slavery movement also created the women’s rights movement in 1848.
The first convention was held in Seneca Fall, New York, now a national historic site. It is to women what Philadelphia in 1776 was for men. Lucretia Mott, the Philadelphia Quaker champion of rights for slaves and women, was the main speaker. Frederick Douglass, abolitionist orator and publisher, was among hundreds in the throng. He urged Mott to make the vote one of the demands.
Hillary Clinton has visited Seneca Falls, as first lady and as senator from New York. She’s pretty perfect to take the past to present and future. The sisterhood’s fight for our rights is the march she’s on — and it’s not over.
Not Mott, not Susan B. Anthony, nor Elizabeth Cady Stanton — the three depicted in the U.S. Capitol Rotunda suffrage statue — lived to see the day women won the vote.
Here is where the earth shattered: In 1865, the Civil War’s political settlement extended voting rights and citizenship to black men only, excluding women.
The cut happened after women had worked for abolition and their own rights together. Republicans told women to wait, this was the “Negro’s Hour.” (Except Lincoln, who had died.) Even great Douglass sided with that political refrain.
The vote is the passport to democracy. Trouble was, history’s major change trains run only so often, and you have to catch one if you can. Here was the chance.
Suffrage took a long time coming, from 1865 to 1920. That’s two generations. The vote was never given, but taken over years from a grudging Southerner with three daughters — Woodrow Wilson.
Spirited Alice Paul changed the game by moving it from private to public, out on the streets of Washington. In vivid vigils and parades, “go ahead, arrest us,” was the template of her nonviolent resistance — and the police did, in the public eye. So much for ladylike. Like Mott, Paul was a “birthright” Quaker. She arrested national attention and sympathy for suffrage.
Anna Quindlen, the luminous novelist and journalist, stated that since serving as secretary of state since 2008, Clinton’s vast experience puts her at the top of the class of candidates — ever.
Our time is now. Ladies, we are waiting no more. There’s a train to catch to Philadelphia in July.
To find out more about Jamie Stiehm and read features by other Creators writers and cartoonists, visit Creators.com.
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Photo: Abigail Adams. Wikimedia Commons/ Gilbert Stuart.