Women's Equality Day: Seen and Heard
One of the most basic and powerful human needs is to be seen and heard. We all want to feel valued, important, and recognized for who we are. It’s how we connect with others, showing them that they matter to us and that we care about them. Today we’re celebrating Women’s Equality Day to commemorate the 100th anniversary of women’s suffrage. It’s an amazing true story of how women worked together to earn the right to be seen and heard on a national scale. Prior to the summer of 1920, women didn’t have the legal right to vote in the United States. Every four years on the first Tuesday in November, they had to sit at home while their fathers, brothers, and husbands got dressed up and went to the polls to cast votes for who would represent them in government. Women in America had to abide by the government’s rules, but they didn’t have a say in choosing who would make those rules. Congress eventually passed the 19th amendment to the U.S. Constitution in 1919 (giving women the right to vote), but it required ratification by at least 36 states to become law. That happened on August 26, 1920 – Happy 100th Anniversary, Women’s Right to Vote!
Two of the central figures in the women’s suffrage movement were Alice Paul and Lucy Burns. They were best friends who worked together and played off each other’s strengths and weaknesses to become a powerful team leading the fight for the right to vote. Alice was a descendant of William Penn, raised with the Quaker conviction of service to others as her life’s purpose. She was modest and reserved, but with a steely determination that made her a formidable leader. In contrast, Lucy was vivacious and charming, a whip-smart Irish Catholic girl whose diplomatic skills were unsurpassed. Alice and Lucy met in a police station, after they had both been arrested for demonstrating for the right to vote. From all accounts, they couldn’t have been more different in their demeanor and personality traits, but they were both smart, driven, and passionate about improving the lives of women in America, and their friendship and partnership in the women’s suffrage movement garnered extraordinary results.
In 1916, after several attempts to secure the right to vote had failed, Alice organized the National Women’s Party with Lucy’s help. Alice’s strengths were in planning, tactical moves, and using her family’s connections to raise money to support the cause. Lucy’s strengths were in communications and organizing; she tirelessly gave speeches and wrote news bulletins for the media to spread the word for women’s suffrage. These two women were fearless - they were jailed many times for their activism, and they suffered horrible conditions in prison. While in jail, they organized hunger strikes to protest their brutal treatment, and when the authorities were afraid the women might die, they were force-fed through a tube by prison guards before they were finally freed.
Alice and Lucy understood their differences, strengths, and weaknesses. Lucy didn’t try to convince Alice to be a livelier speaker, and Alice didn’t try to convince Lucy to be a more militant negotiator. They recognized what was unique about the other and employed those attributes to further the cause of women’s suffrage. One could argue that if they hadn’t made each other feel seen or heard, the women’s suffrage movement might not have been as successful. Their friendship and partnership in fighting for something bigger than both of them is an example that all of us can follow.
Alice and Lucy were living in an extraordinary time in American history, when their relatively new country was involved in the first global war (World War I) and the industrial revolution was changing the way people went about their daily lives. Despite those difficult times, Alice and Lucy were able to make each other feel seen and heard, while also helping all women in America to have the legal right to be seen and heard. We can do the same in our own extraordinary time in American history, following the example of Alice Paul and Lucy Burns. Celebrate Women’s Equality Day by making someone else feel seen and heard today!