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#Women2020 #ReadThePaper

There’s a lot going on these days to distract us from our history lessons, while we’re creating history with our experiences with the novel coronavirus. Today we get back to celebrating the fact that back in June of 1919, Congress passed the 19th Amendment, and the amendment was ratified in August of 2020. That was an experience for the whole country, for sure, but especially for women.

Let’s look back at the experiences of several women of that time period: one, a mother suffering from a physical ailment; one, a business owner who offered a curious treatment for the suffering; and others, who were busy doing the work of achieving the ability to vote in federal, and not just state and/or local elections. Interestingly, all are captured being supportive of other women. A good idea then, and a good idea now.

In the look back, we’re including two old newspaper articles, and the transcriptions are provided below each one.

The Suffering

Evening journal, April 20, 1920, Page 21, Image 21, (Wilmington Delaware)

LETTER FROM MRS. BRUCE – Tells Remarkable Story of Sickness and Recovery.

Brooksburg, Indiana – “When I was a young girl I clerked in my father’s store and I lifted heavy boxes which caused displacement and I suffered greatly. I was married at the age of eighteen and went to a doctor about my trouble and he said if I had a child I would be all right.

After three years twins came to us and I did get all right but three years later a baby boy came and I was troubled again. I could scarcely do any work at all and suffered for four years A neighbor told me about Lydia E. Pinkham’s Vegetable Compound and I took it for a year or more. Now I have a baby girl and do not have any female trouble. You can do anything you like with my letter to help others.”

– Mrs. J. M. BRUCE, R, F. D. 3, Brooksburg, Ind.

The makers of Lydia E. Pinkham’s Vegetable Compound have thousands of such letters as that above –  they tell the truth, else they could not have been obtained for love or money. This medicine no stranger-it has stood the test for more than forty years.

If there are any complications you do not understand write to Lydin E. Pinkham Medicine Co. (confidential), Lynn, Mass.]

Mrs. Bruce, with her (likely uterine) displacement, seemed to gladly offer her support to Lydia Pinkham, and suggested that Lydia Pinkham’s Vegetable Compound was at least partially responsible for her recovery. Not an easy illness to treat at the time, and one not likely given the deserved attention at a time when most physicians were male.

The Healer

So what about this Lydia Pinkham? According to The Embro Project Encyclopedia, she was a businesswoman who started making her herbal remedies in her home kitchen during an economic downturn in 1873. The ingredients of her vegetable compound initially included black cohosh, fenugreek seed root, life root, pleurisy root, and, you can’t make this up, unicorn root. Raise your hand and giggle if you just learned that unicorn root is a thing. If you’re in a room with someone else and they’re looking at you funny, just share the blog with them and wait for them to raise a hand and giggle. Oh, and the original recipe also included 20% alcohol. She said it was there to preserve the ingredients. Raise your hand and giggle if you question that.

Moving right along, Pinkham’s company advertised in newspapers and magazines, offering relief to women from their “female problems.” Some people called her a quack, but she had the last laugh because a modified, modern version of her original recipe is still on the market today. Of course, this is Don’t Duck History and we actually like quacks, so there’s that. You should read more about Lydia here.

The Suffragettes

Next we have the unidentified woman and shero in the 1920 article below, supporting other women by circulating flyers, and clearly being both proud of and unbothered by the fact that she spent some time in jail for her work supporting women’s right to vote.

Evening journal, April 20, 1920, Page 7
(Wilmington Delaware)


Special to The Evening Journal.

DOVER, Del. April 20 – Just, before the convening of Court here yesterday, two suffragists of the National Women’s party strolled into the courtroom distributing circulars of today’s suffrage meeting. When one of the women stepped into the prisoner’s dock thoughtlessly, she was informed by one of the lawyers in court, that she was in the dock, to which she replied, “Oh that does not hurt me, I have been in a prisoner’s dock before and what is more than that, I have served time in jail, see my badge.”

At this she displayed one of the prison door badges worn by several of the National Party workers who have been here during the session of the Legislature.

As members of the National Woman’s Party, and subsequently, the National American Woman Suffrage Association’s (NAWSA), Congressional Committee and the Congressional Union for Woman Suffrage, some women took what was considered a more militant method of supporting women, and a few of them are pictured below. Like the “girlfriend on a mission” above, these ladies looked like they did not give a…hoot. Or a rat’s patootie. Whatever. Just look at their facial expressions. “By any means necessary” was in their vocabulary.

Library of Congress photo title:
“Helena Hill Weed, Norwalk, Conn. Serving 3 day sentence in D.C. prison for carrying banner, “Governments derive their just powers from the consent of the governed.”
“Mrs. Helena Hill Weed of Norwalk, Conn., was a graduate of Vassar College and Montana School of Mines. She was a geologist, a daughter of a member of Congress, and a vice-president of the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR). She was a prominent member of the Congressional Union for Woman Suffrage and the NWP. She was one of the first pickets arrested, July 4, 1917, and served three days in District Jail. In January 1918, she was arrested for applauding in court and sentenced to 24 hours, and in August 1918 she was arrested for participation in Lafayette Square meeting, and sentenced to 15 days. Doris Stevens, Jailed for Freedom (New York: Boni and Liveright, 1920), 369.”
Library of Congress photo title:
“Miss [Lucy] Burns in Occoquan Workhouse, Washington”
“Lucy Burns, of New York City, who with Alice Paul established the first permanent headquarters for suffrage work in Washington, D.C., helped organize the suffrage parade of Mar. 3, 1913, and was one of the editors of The Suffragist. Leader of most of the picket demonstrations, she served more time in jail than any other suffragists in America. Arrested picketing June 1917, sentenced to 3 days; arrested Sept. 1917, sentenced to 60 days; arrested Nov. 10, 1917, sentenced to 6 months; in Jan. 1919 arrested at watchfire demonstrations, for which she served one 3 day and two 5 day sentences. She also served 4 prison terms in England. Burns was one of the speakers on the “Prison Special” tour of Feb-Mar 1919. Source: Doris Stevens, Jailed for Freedom (New York: Boni and Liveright, 1920), 356.”

Last, but not least, there were the suffragettes who did not identify as white, and often are left out of the conversation of women’s suffrage history. We are all about including the untold stories, and are grateful for institutions like the National Museum of African American History and Culture and the National Park Service, who are leading the way to not ducking history, in a big way, well, because they’re big. Below is a glimpse from their writings about some of these lesser-known sheroes. You can read more about the next five, here.

Mary Ann Shadd Cary
Founder of an antislavery newspaper in Canada, who later went on to be a lawyer
Frances Ellen Watkins Harper
Abolitionist and poet
Marry Church Terrell
Co-founder of the the National Association of Colored Women, and its first president
Nannie Helen Burroughs
Educator, founder of the National Training School for Women and Girls in Washington, DC
Daisy Elizabeth Adams Lampkin
1915 President of the Lucy Stone
Woman Suffrage League

The National Park Service calls attention to Chinese suffragist, Dr. Mabel Ping-Hua Lee. Though she was active in the cause at the age of sixteen, the Chinese Exclusion Act (1882-1943) made her ineligible for citizenship, and therefore not eligible to vote until 1943.

Dr. Mabel Ping-Hua Lee

In addition, there is Teresa Villarreal in Texas, a Mexican native, who had two publications: La Mujer Moderna (The Modern Woman) and El Obrero (The Worker). Both included women’s suffrage in their writings. The National Park Service has made information about her and many others available in their online resource, The International History of the US Suffrage Movement.

Teresa Villarreal
Publisher, women’s and worker’s rights supporter

Bottom line, we can look at history and see the importance of women supporting women. Support through writing letters (today that may be a favorable online review), purchasing goods and services from woman-owned businesses, providing goods and services to women, etc. What others can you think of? Do your research, and do those, too! Most importantly, celebrate women in 2020 and beyond, and celebrate their right to vote.

*****The mission of the Don’t Duck History program is to promote and facilitate the learning and sharing of American history, along with its personal and social implications, and to highlight the history of Americans whose stories are not often presented in traditional American history textbooks.

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