As I’ve mentioned before, I’m an information junkie and one of the things I like best about writing is conducting research. The research for THE WIDOWS OF BRAXTON COUNTY was particularly interesting to me due to the chapters set in the 1890’s. In order to write those, I needed to get into the head of my character, Hannah, and learn what it was like to be a woman of those times. All I can say is I’m really, really glad I, one…live in America, and two…live in this century!
The popular image of womanhood back then was based on “The Cult of Domesticity” or “The Cult of True Womanhood”. Its tenets were piety, purity, submission (men are superior to women, therefore they must submit), and domesticity (it was the role of a woman to provide a peaceful and calm refuge for her husband.) Though some single women worked, it was not considered “proper” for a married woman to have a “job”…her only job should be caring for her home and her family. As a result, women were financially dependent on their husbands. And if a woman did have any leisure time and enjoyed reading, those books should be of a religious nature.
However, things were beginning to change by the 1890’s. The Industrial Revolution created new jobs that could be held by women. Upper class women were winning the right to attend college and obtain professional degrees. An image of “The New Woman” was beginning to emerge, and an important part of that image was women obtaining the right to vote nation wide. Home and family was still important, but women wanted a voice.
And that voice was not won easily. In 1917 women of the National Women’s Party began picketing the White House. At first they were ignored, but after the start of World War One, they began to be arrested for obstructing the sidewalk, unlawful assembly, etc. (I don’t think the President appreciated the placard calling him “Kaiser Wilson.”) They refused to pay what they considered an unlawful fine and were imprisoned. While in prison, if they refused to work, they were put in solitary confinement and given bread and water. If they launched a hunger strike to protest their treatment, they were forced fed via a tube down their throats with a substance of raw eggs mixed with milk. They were given worm infested food and lived in unsanitary conditions. Finally it culminated on November 15, 1917 when forty guards attacked thirty-three suffragettes and brutalized them. Word of their treatment leaked out via newspaper accounts and by the end of November, they all received pardons, and by March, their arrests were ruled unconstitutional. In January of 1918, President Wilson announced his support of women’s suffrage, and it was finally ratified on August 18th, 1920.
This Tuesday, as I stood in line to cast my vote, I thought about these women and how their struggles changed the political climate of this country. Today women make up 51% of the population, and according to some of the talking heads, we’re the deciding demographic when it comes to elections. This statement is supported by the exit polls last Tuesday….54% of the electorate was comprised of women.
Isn’t it amazing when you look at where we were in the 1890’s and compare it to the above listed statistics? Personally, I don’t want to go back to “The Cult of Domesticity.” I like having a voice in the affairs of my country. I like having freedom. I like having the ability to earn my own income. I appreciate the fact that I and my daughters were able to pursue our education and our dreams. And I look forward to the fact that my granddaughter will have the same opportunity.
I, for one, regardless of what party or what candidate I choose to support, will never take my right to vote lightly. And I will always be grateful to those who fought to give me that right.
Have a great rest of the week and see you next Thursday!
All the best,