The year 2019 marks the 100th anniversary of women gaining the right to vote in the United States. I don’t think I truly grasped the reality that (white) American women have only had the right to vote for a century until I met a woman living in the year 1876.
I’ll explain. I met Louisa at Mystic Seaport- an outdoor museum in Connecticut. I first met her when I was watching a cooking demonstration in a historic house. Louisa came by and chatted with the cooking demonstrator. Before she left, she invited everyone to join her at the Seamen’s Friends building at 2:00. When she flitted away, the demonstrator said to us conspiratorially, “Louisa is such a nice woman. But be careful, I hear she advocates for women’s suffrage.”
It was a perfect hook. I dutifully arrived at the appropriate building at 2:00. After Louisa’s performance, the rest of the audience left and Louisa and I were alone.
“So, Louisa, I heard you have an interest in women’s suffrage,” I prompted.
“I don’t know where you heard that,” she answered, looking around.
She was good. She pulled me in.
We started up a conversation. She told me about how unfair it was that she couldn’t vote even though she owned property and paid taxes on that property. She also talked about how difficult it was to voice her opinion, much less actively engage in the suffrage movement, in her small town. We talked about women’s suffrage, her life in Mystic, and her past experiences.
My humanities moment came as we finally left the building. By this point I had started to suspend disbelief, and I wanted to leave Louisa with a sense of hope for her future. So I turned to her and told her not to give up on the dream of women’s suffrage. And then I realized that I was being ridiculous. Not because I was acting like I was actually having a conversation with a woman from 1876 (well partly because of that) but because there was a high chance that she would never actually see the right to vote in her lifetime. And that was my humanities moment. The moment when something I knew became something that I knew- white women have had the right to vote for 100 years in the country. Many people of color only gained the right to vote (in all practical ways) in living memory.
This new understanding led to a shift in how I engage in civic life. But before that moment, I was regrettably one of those millenials that didn’t vote because I didn’t think my vote mattered or that I was knowledgeable enough to vote. But since that conversation, I started voting in all levels of elections partly because of the past. I vote now because of how many women fought for me to have this right.