This is more of a rambling reflection than a properly composed piece, but I wanted to share something that blew my mind the other day -- even though it really shouldn't have. The information wasn't anything new; I'd known for years, and yet: you know how sometimes knowledge you already possessed can suddenly hit you with particular and even personal force? This was one of those moments. I was talking with my 6-year-old daughter about voting. I can't even remember specifically how the subject arose -- probably something to do with the election and her interest in the "olden days" -- when I commented that women couldn't vote in national elections until 1920.
My grandmother -- who, I'm blessed to say, is still living -- was four years old. My daughter, whose personality resembles her great-grandmother's so strongly it would force one to believe in reincarnation were the elder representative not still with us, is only two years older than that. The time when she would not have grown up with a right to vote... when I, the political historian (not that I would've been one then) would not have the right to vote... is in living memory.
Ninety-two years. That's not very long ago. I've taught many students about suffrage, but somehow it hadn't struck me so personally before now. My daughter's presence in this conversation probably had a lot to do with that. It was one of those moments when the professional becomes personal and for a moment I could glimpse just how important it was -- it is -- to protect, to defend and to advocate women's rights... and just how important it is to teach these things.
My students read several excerpts of documents written by women's rights advocates during the antebellum period in preparation for class last week. In one of them, Sarah Grimké spoke of "the disproportionate value set on the time and labor of men and of women"* -- in other words, of wage inequality. In 1837. The work continues.
* Sarah M. Grimké, Letter VIII, Letters on the Equality of the Sexes and the Condition of Woman (1837), in Isaac Kramnick and Theodore J. Lowi, American Political Thought (W.W. Norton, 2009), p. 520.