Women’s Rights

On Monday the Democratic National Convention begins in Denver, and before it ends history will be made.

Senator Hillary Clinton, an Island icon after years so many stays here as First Lady, and the former presidential candidate who gave the presumptive nominee, Senator Barack Obama, his biggest challenge yet, is scheduled to speak on Tuesday.

Her speech will come eighty-eight years after women won the right to vote in this country (though well after many other nations) with the nineteenth amendment to the U.S. Constitution in Nineteen Hundred and Twenty.

By the time women were finally enfranchised, the most influential proponents of that right were dead. Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton had been in the fight for a long time.

Shortly after the Civil War, those two were among the leading feminists, many also leading abolitionists, who split bitterly over the fourteenth amendment, which in Eighteen Hundred and Sixty Eight granted suffrage to former male African American slaves, but not to women. This would for the first time explicitly restrict voting rights to males.

Stanton and Anthony opposed it, seeing it as a betrayal of women’s equality. Other women set aside their own voting interests to ensure an end, they hoped, to racial equality.

A hundred and forty years later, a woman and an African American man contested the Democratic nomination for President of the United States. With Mrs. Clinton now out of the race, many women again are disappointed, even split, whether on the convention floor or around the dinner tables of the Vineyard.

But when Senator Obama takes the podium on Wednesday, it will be the forty-fifth anniversary of the civil rights leader Martin Luther King’s I Have a Dream speech. In it Doctor King exhorted that, “Now is the time to make real the promises of democracy . . . Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred. We must ever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline.”

Whatever your politics, this is sound advice for all women and men to keep in mind while arguing among friends or casting their votes.