Tuesday, November 29, 2011

100 Years ago Today: Women literally fighting for rights

The right to vote, the right to sit on juries, the right to practice many professions, indeed the right to engage in all aspects of public life were not just given to the ladies when they asked for them nicely. In fact those rights were not handed over after women demanded them. In fact they were not ceded to women until women had demonstrated that they were willing to fight for them. Yes, I know that in the end men voted to give women the vote but that was only after a long battle. Even today the political, social and economic forces in our society are predominantly male and the governments of countries that do grant the franchise to women seem to have no qualms at all in dealing with countries that do not allow women the right to vote. Or sit on juries. Or to work in the same professions as men. Or to drive. In some of the countries that most limit the civil rights of women are considered to be the closest allies of the United States.

I wonder, was it that experience of having to fight simply to be accorded the same basic rights as others in society that sensitized many of the women of the suffragette era to issues of animal cruelty? The women of 1911 weren't just handing out pamphlets and giving speeches in order to stop the cruel treatment of animals -- they were on the front lines of the fight putting themselves into harm's way for the stop the mistreatment they saw going on all around them.

For example, consider this story on the front page of the New York Tribune of November 29 1911:

ARMED, SHE HUNTS HUNTERS / Mrs. E. W. Murray Drives Men from Country Place
Mrs. Evelyn Wentworth Murray, of New York, who is an energetic member of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Anímals, and has caused numerous arrests in New York City and Somerset County among teamsters, helped her watchman chase three hunters from her country place today. She said the men deliberately shot at her her Italian watchman, Jack de Luci, when the latter attempted to drive them off her estate....Mrs. Murray gave chase to the men with a .38-calibre revolver as they fled across the fields....Mrs. Murray was followed by de Luci, who carried a pair of revolvers, and fired an automatic shotgun at the men.
Mrs. Murphy wasn't the only woman who was willing to risk her own life to protect animals as one can read in this article on page 12 of the New York Evening World of November 24 1911:

WOMAN FOUGHT MOB OF 2,000 TO ARREST DRIVER / Miss Campbell Tells How She Held to Horse While Crowd Struggled
   Miss Catherine Campbell, Secretary of the Bide-a-Wee Home, today told how she battled for an hour yesterday afternoon in front of her home....with a crowd of 2,000 persons, because she insisted upon arresting an eighteen-year-old driver for kicking his horse in the stomach.
   The crowd turned unexpected against the valiant woman and tried to take her prisoner away from her. She was dragged a block clinging to the horse's bridle. the animal was knocked down three times by the struggling mob, each time limping to his feet, with Miss Campbell still cling to his head.
Our foremothers did not, for the most part, life quiet sheltered lives in those "halcyon" days before women had the vote. It was only a few months since the Mayor of New York had stopped the practice of paying male teachers more (substantially more) than female teachers with the same qualifications. Of course the United States of 1911 was a dangerous place for many people. African-Americans were given little protection by and from officers of the law. There were few laws labor laws and safety regulations in work places were either non-existent or seldom enforced. "Eugenic laws" were becoming more and more popular and domestic violence was routine.

The "good old days" were not so good for many people. And things got better because individuals were willing to fight to make things change.

1 comment:

  1. Randy Newman wrote a song, a paean to the past, called 'Dayton Ohio, 1903' with these lyrics:

    Sing a song of long ago when things could grow
    And days flowed quietly
    The air was clean and you could see
    And folks were nice to you.

    Unlike his other songs, he didn't seem to be speaking tongue-in-cheek here. When the song was first released in 1972 and a friend of mine was extolling its virtues I remember asking him what life was like for women, for African Americans, for children, for the transgendered in Dayton, Ohio in 1903. What was the literacy rate? The distribution of wealth? What diseases had yet to be conquered? As you say, the good old days weren't all that good (nostalgia isn't what it used to be).

    The Kidd


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