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Although the women suffrage movement was solidified by a common goal, it was split among those who believed in a parallel struggle with those who were less privelege women and those who excluded them. Nancy Hewitt’s “From Seneca Falls to Suffrage?”, Annelise Orleck’s “Common Sense and a Little Fire” and the film on Ida B. Wells examine the cover stories behind the women’s suffrage movement that complicates the traditional narrative of the1920’s era. As women struggled to gain rights, they argued that in order to become fully independent, they needed to vote on the laws that concerned them. However, in reality African American, immigrant, and working-class women were excluded from political organizations that addressed the issue of the women’s suffrage movement. Thus, the most important lesson we learn from the history of women’s struggle for full citizenship, is that although women’s suffrage was a nationwide advancement, less privileged women were increasingly marginalized.
Cady Stanton who supported anti-immigrant suffrage and lived by the notion that wealthy American women needed to use the vote to take care of the “little daughters of the poor” (Orleck, 94). Harriot Blatch, one the other hand thought differently, she believed that poor women should have a voice in order to improve their living and working conditions. The creation of distance from certain less-privileged women officially shifted the women’s suffrage movement into a bourgeois issue.For instance,certain groups of immigrants such as Cuban and Italian immigrants and many poor whites were barred from the polls by intentional laws that used literacy tests to discriminate against racial minorities. Such conflicts are demonstrated by the experiences of Asian and Mexican American women who would be denied voting rights until the U.S. addressed their bilingual needs by translating ballots in their native language.
Similarly differences in why high class women wanted to obtain the vote was different of that of the marginalized group. Orleck describes how working class women wanted to use the vote to redistribute wealth throughout the low class as a whole, upperclass women sought equal access to power, money and prestige that their male siblings or husbands already acquired. These differences not only divided their values but the force of the factions of suffragists to agree. With the exclusion of the Black, immigrant and the White woman different organizations would be formed regressing the power of unity. What would it have meant for women to protest together disregarding class and race?
As an early African American civil rights leader and suffragist, Ida B. Wells created a new form of resistance by using the force of her pen to aid African Americans overcome oppression. For instance, she urged Blacks to boycott Memphis’s new streetcar line, in doing so she convinced hundreds of African Americans to move out to the Oklahoma territory. As a suffragist, Wells marched in several national suffrage parades, and founded the first black suffrage organization known as the Alpha Suffrage Club of Chicago. Despite her success as a journalist and organizer, Ida B. Wells also faced discrimination within the suffrage movement itself, like many other African American women who were restrained to advocate for their right to vote. Orleck’s piece “Common Sense and a Little Fire” articulates White working and high class suffragettes attempt to disregard the issue of Black women not being able to vote. She writes,“They may have followed this strategy in part because they believed that the vote could unite working women across lines: thus they avoided divisive issues as ethnicity, religion, and race.” (Orleck, 89). Even after the passage of the 19th amendment , Southern black women were the largest group of female voters barred from the polls, and some waited until the Voting Rights Act 0f 1965 that prohibited discrimination in voting. Unfortunately, as the United States began colonizing overseas countries , its racist inclinations was also applied to the movement of the white women suffragist. Staging similar examples of this pressing issue , is the current cover story of the United States heroic thinking and using women’s rights as their recent justification intervene and maintain their forces in Iraq. As different as these cases are, the United States uses justification and “benevolence” to help the “inferior race” for their own benefit.
After centuries of dehumanization,White women finally took significant steps to assert their autonomy from the political sphere often ignoring the needs of women who were less privilege. Being able to understand the complication of the traditional narrative of suffrage by examining the struggles of women of color in the United States is important because it correlates with the racist ideas inherent through the imperialist era.
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