Although many people do not know it, March is Women’s History Month. To some degree, its origins can be traced back to March 8, 1857, when women from New York City factories staged a protest over wages and working conditions (although some historians refute the event ever took place).
For those who doubt it, the inaugural International Working Women’s Day was held on March 8, 1907. Later, the annual event would become closely tied to many women’s issues, including equal rights, equal wages, and suffrage (which has beginnings much earlier than that).
In the United States, International Women’s Day was first observed in 1909. Much later, Congress established National Women’s History Week in 1981 (second week in March), and Women’s History Month has been passed as a resolution every year since then.
In recognition of Women’s History Month, the U.S. Census Bureau has released facts and figures about women in America as part of its Profile America series. It estimates that there are 157 million women in the United States, 85.4 million mothers, and 30.7 million women who have a bachelor’s degree or higher. In business, they represent $1.2 trillion of the economy, almost 60 percent are in the work force, and about 46.2 percent vote (slightly more than men).
How History Plays A Role In Individual Legacies.
While the numbers are interesting, there are even more compelling stories about the spirit of the movement and how certain individual women helped changed the world. And depending on the states, ages, and families, some people might be surprised to find their ancestors were proponents during this vibrant period in American history.
“Depending on where your family lived in the country, women’s suffrage could have been a dramatic and even all-encompassing issue,” says Randy Sutton, president of Celebrating Legacy. “Although a few states had passed universal suffrage before the 19th Amendment, others fought to limit or make it non-existent. There is no doubt our ancestors might have had an opinion or participated in events during some of these most critical years.”
While woman’s suffrage had an early start in the United States (1848), some of the most significant historical markers took place immediately following the 19th Amendment to the Constitution in 1870, which gave the right to vote to black men. When the 15th Amendment was ratified, it immediately rekindled universal suffrage as an issue and the 19th Amendment was drafted in 1878 and ratified in 1919.
Sutton suggests family researchers might turn to the movement’s rosters, campaign material, and newspapers because they sometimes capture the story and sentiment that family trees do not always provide on their own. For example, here is an excerpt from the Lewiston Evening Journal reported on July 24, 1913.
This year, Congress is listening to the demand of woman suffrage as it has has listened before. Why? Because voting for women is now a question of practical and national politics. Because approximately 4,000,000 women qualified to vote for presidential electors. And by 1916, there will undoubtedly be many more of them — with or without the aid of Congress. Four states, North and South Dakota, Montana, and Nevada have decided to submit the question to voters in 1914. The legislatures of New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Iowa, have this year passed suffrage amendments which must be approved by the by the next legislature. — Lewiston Evening Journal
“When you know that 1913 and 1914 were a pivotal years in Nevada, you can refine your research to that period instead of 1919,” said Sutton. “If you do this, you would find out that some of the leaders in Nevada included Jeanne Weir and Anne Martin along with Mabel Vernon, Jane Addams, and Sara Bard Field. Martin, by the way, would go on to become the first woman to run for U.S. Senate in 1918 and 1920.”
Where did Sutton stumble onto this information? By narrowing the focus, the Legacy Linx team discovered an out-of-print book called Out West: The Clash In Nevada, which was written by Addams and Field. It includes biographies of several women who were active in the Nevada movement. And with its preservation, there are at least 22 families that can rediscover something about their heritage.