The Struggle for Women’s Rights

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Edith Ainge
Edith Ainge

Congress designated March as Women’s History month in 1987. What does that mean? It means we remember, celebrate and learn from the women who fought for the rights we take for granted. Rights like owning property, having our own credit cards, custody of our children, access to legal contraception, safe legal abortion and the big one, the right to vote.

Prior to the Civil War women were leading the temperance movement. They saw what alcohol was doing to their husbands and fathers. It destroyed families. Women fought to limit its influence. They learned how to work together and take a stand. They learned how to influence lawmakers, rally public support and ultimately make a difference to make the change(s) they needed for a better life for themselves and their families. They applied all that experience to the suffrage movement, the right to vote. According to the “Making Women’s History in Southwestern New York State” website (www.sunyjcc.edu/womenshistory/): “In the early 1890s, Chautauqua County was home to the largest county organization in the nation dedicated to women’s suffrage. This distinction is but one highlight of the area’s rich women’s history. From the 1873 women’s temperance crusade in Fredonia to the annual women’s days held at Chautauqua and Lily Dale, events here inspired women near and far to claim a greater role in public life. These achievements remind us that history is made from the bottom up — by individuals at the local level.”

Fast forward to the 1960s and 1970s women were fighting for equal rights with men, contraceptive rights and the very controversial Roe v. Wade decision on abortion rights. The leaders of the movements were standing on the shoulders of the strong hardworking women of the 19th century as they used many of their strategies and tactics. Most recently we have seen the power of social media in bringing the Marches on Washington by both men and women, and the #metoo movement.

A few of the women from Chautauqua County and Jamestown that made changes in our lives today are:
Calista Jones (1823-1900) was a school teacher that fought for equal pay, $1/day, when she was asked to fill in for a male colleague. She won. She taught in the Jamestown schools for 50 years. She of course fought for the right to vote.

Kate Stoneman
Kate Stoneman

Kate Stoneman (1841-1925) also a teacher, was a suffrage leader, and most remembered for being the first woman in New York State admitted to New York State Bar and first woman to graduate from Albany Law School. She continued to teach school and maintained a law office in Albany for forty years.

Edith Ainge (1873-1948) A native of England, Edith came to Jamestown as a child. She took her fight for the vote to Washington, D.C. in 1917 and was promptly arrested with many other protesters. She was arrested 5 times over the course of the next couple of years. She reported the brutal treatment the women received, including losing over 20 pounds while in jail. All for asking for the right to vote.

Ellen Yates Miller
Ellen Yates Miller

Ellen Y. Miller (1882-1940) First woman in the state of New York to be elected to the position of County Clerk. She held office from 1919 until her death in 1940. At that time, she was serving her eighth term and had held public office longer than any other woman in the state’s history. She was opposed in only one primary. She also helped form a statewide County Clerks Association as well as being active throughout the County in various organizations.

Lucille Ball Morton (1911-1989) Lucille overcame many odds to do what she loved; performing. Her diligence paid off. She is known worldwide as an American actress and pioneer in comedy. As an entertainer and businesswoman, Ball continuously broke barriers for women in entertainment business. And as the pioneers before her, she mentored younger women on how to succeed.These brave women saw an injustice. They made it their life’s work to change the traditional system that created the injustice. We are grateful everyday for their dedication to making our lives better.