By Elsa Roberts, Follow her on Twitter

One woman struggles on a table while five prison guards hold her down and shove a feeding tube up her nose. 

During another prison stay her hands are handcuffed above the door for the night after she was beaten.

Another woman, another feeding tube forced on her, and raw eggs poured down her throat.

These women, described above, endured painful indignities and intermittent imprisonment to help secure the right to vote that women currently enjoy in the U.S. today; their names were Alice Paul and Lucy Burns.

They were part of what is known as the Suffrage movement, which began in the mid 1800s and continued through the Victorian era until women finally secured voting rights after August 18, 1920, after Tennessee became the 36th state to ratify the 19th amendment.  

Paul and Burns were preceded in the movement by Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony, Lucretia Mott, and numerous other women, many of whom convened the Seneca Falls convention in 1848 to put forth demands for the rights of women. One of those rights was the right to vote, and so the Suffrage movement got underway. Anthony and many other activists pushed for women’s right to vote through education campaigns, picketing the White House, attempting to vote in elections, and lobbying congress. In 1878, Stanton and Anthony drafted what would become the 19th Amendment. It was presented to the Senate where it spent several years in committee before being voted down in 1887.

It took many more years of action and the civil disobedience of women like Paul and Burns, who organized the National Women’s Party in 1917 to begin to picket the White House in protest of President Wilson’s opposition to suffrage. The women picketing, known a the Silent Sentinels, picketed every day except Sunday until 1919. Wilson eventually bowed to pressure and supported the 19th amendment, and, after a failed attempt in 1918, it passed Congress in 1919.

Now, when women head to the polls or fill out their absentee ballot, they are fulfilling the legacy left by women ready to die for the ability to have their voices heard and participate fully in the political process through voting. Today, on August 26, 2013, Women’s Equality Day, let us remember these women and celebrate our right to participate in the democratic process while remaining vigilant to protect our voting rights, which are again under attack.

Today, as we take note of our progress we must also again take up the mantle of our foremothers and fight to retain our rights, as they are slowly being eroded away via removing protections from the Voting Rights Act, shortening early voting days and times around the country, and burdening erstwhile voters with ID requirements. Celebrate the women who worked to gain the vote by becoming involved in your local elections and state politics, demand expanded early voting days and fight against the ID requirements which disproportionately impact people of color, women, and the elderly. Together we can take back our rights!


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