Group formed to promote centennial of women’s vote, rights for all

Suffragettes from New York, some on horseback, parade along Pennsylvania Avenue after hiking to the nation’s capitol for a demonstration in 1913. (Harris & Ewing photo: Library of Congress)

By Deborah Frontiera
Last year a group was formed in the Keweenaw Peninsula with the purpose of recognizing the importance of women’s suffrage everywhere and to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the passage of the 19th amendment to the U.S. Constitution; the amendment established women’s voting rights throughout the nation. riseUP is the group’s name and it works to educate and to inspire dedication to the fight for enforceable civil rights for all populations.
Cindy Barrett, publicity chairperson for riseUP, noted that while separate from the League of Women Voters, the two organizations have a lot of members in common.
Since the sunflower was adopted as a symbol of the original Women’s Suffrage Movement, riseUP chose it for its logo as well. Like women 100 years ago, riseUP members dressed in white and decorated their float for the 2019 Parade of Nations with sunflowers to begin to draw attention to their organization and to the centennial anniversary of voting rights for women.
riseUP will lead a parade on Saturday, August 15, to commemorate 100 years since the 19th Amendment officially became the law of the land. All supporters are encouraged to dress in white and carry signs with names of the suffragettes who made voting for women possible. The group also installed sunflower art at the corner of Fifth and Elm Streets in Houghton. More commemorative art will be installed in the area this spring. Suffrage-inspired art shows will also take place in connection with the Copper Country Community Arts Center Kerredge Gallery in Hancock. Post parade events are still in the planning stages.
A special exhibit will be housed at the Carnegie Museum in Houghton in March: Petticoat Patriots: How Michigan Women Won the Vote, a traveling display on loan from the Michigan Women’s Historical Center and Hall of Fame. Funding for this display is provided by the League of Women Voters of the Copper Country.
Other events include:
– Mar. 5, Carnegie Museum, Houghton, Petticoat Patriots, opening reception 6:30 to 8 p.m. Exhibit will run through the end of March.
– Mar. 15, St. Paul Lutheran Church, Laurium, 3 p.m., the Copper Country Chorale Concert celebrates women’s suffrage with The March of the Women, a song composed by Ethel Smyth, a leading British composer and suffragette who lived from 1858 to 1944.
– History of the Suffrage Movement, Mar. 19, a lecture by Dr. Laura Walikainen Rouleau, MTU, 6:30 p.m. social and 7 p.m. talk at the Carnegie Museum, Houghton.
– Equal Pay Day, Mar. 31. Wear red this day to symbolize the extra days women and some minorities work to catch up from being “in the red” due to lower pay than male counterparts.
– Women and Women’s Suffrage in the Copper Country: a display under development at the Carnegie Museum set to open in August.
Other events in April and beyond may be found on riseUP’s web site: riseupkc.org or find them on Facebook.
Barrett said there are still women who are not allowed to vote in some countries around the world. She noted this fact and recited a quote by feminist, poet and author Audre Lorde: “I am not free while any woman is unfree, even when her shackles are very different from my own.”
RiseUp is open to new members and meets monthly at 11 a.m. on the third Saturday of each month at Portage Lake District Library in Houghton. Women and men are welcome.

Members of riseUP wore white aboard their float entry in the 2019 Parade of Nations. The annual parade is sponsored by Michigan Technological University as part of its multicultural festival. (Roxanne King photo)

Women’s voting in Michigan has an interesting history. Before Michigan was admitted to statehood, women in Detroit could, and did, vote. They lost that right upon statehood. A vote to grant women the right to vote came up for the first time in 1912. While the popular vote was in favor, the results were thrown out because a group of men “double checked” some ballots and “disqualified” hundreds of votes.
A document produced in 1913 titled Why Michigan Lost the Equal Suffrage Amendment in 1912 suggests that the results of the vote were tampered with and many supporters of the women’s voting rights were not able to vote. Here are a few excerpts:
“All evidence appears to justify the statement that the equal suffrage amendment carried by a substantial majority of Michigan voters last November [1912] and that political manipulation nullified the will of the majority.” Some of the irregularities found at that time included: 10,000 uninitiated ballots in Wayne County, and 5,000 in Kent County; more ballots cast against the amendment in some precincts than there were voters in the precinct; ballots marked both “yes” and “no” in different colored pencils; not enough ballots sent to precincts in rural areas where support was strong; unused ballots not accounted for, and several other reasons.
Nationally, the Women’s Suffrage movement began back in 1848 at the Seneca Falls Convention on women’s rights. While those delegates passed several important resolutions, there was dissent on the issue of women voting. They feared they would be mocked for demanding it, and they were. Just as the movement was beginning to gain traction, the Civil War brought more pressing issues and following it, people focused more on black men than on women’s issues. This held back the movement for some forty years before a new generation took over.
Then in 1913, on the eve of Woodrow Wilson’s inauguration, a woman named Alice Paul organized a parade down Pennsylvania Ave. in Washington, D.C., with some 5,000 marchers, bands and floats. Thousands watched, including many men in town for the inauguration. Picketing of the White House followed with many women arrested on such trumped up charges as “blocking the sidewalk.” Many of them were horribly treated in jail.
On Jan. 10, 1918, Jeannette Ratkin, a Republican from Montana and the first woman to be elected to Congress, opened debate on the Susan B. Anthony Amendment, which would prohibit states from discriminating against women in voting. (Obviously, Montana was an enlightened state which had already given women the right to vote and participate in government.) Michigan was one of the first three states to ratify the 19th Amendment, along with Illinois and Wisconsin. But it took until August 18, 1920, for Tennessee to become the 36th state to ratify it, making the 19th Amendment law.
This was not the end of the fight, however. It took many more women working hard to encourage women to vote and time for women to change their view of themselves. Women who came of age before the amendment passed were much less likely to vote the rest of their lives. It took until the 1970s Women’s Movement with more women entering the workforce for many women to truly begin to see themselves as autonomous political actors and until the 1980s before women voters began to outnumber men in number and proportion, forming a voting block that politicians could no longer ignore.
Much of this was accomplished by the work of the League of Women Voters. This non-partisan organization at the local, state, and national levels “encourages informed and active participation in government, works to increase understanding of major public policy issues, and influences public policy through education and advocacy.” It was formed under the leadership of Carrie Chapman Catt (a long-time leader of the Women’s Suffrage Movement) about six months after the passage of the 19th Amendment. The Michigan chapter formed shortly afterward. The league takes positions on issues but does not endorse any candidates or parties, and has chapters all across the country.
Visit the riseUP web site for continual updated information, riseUPkc.org, and to become involved.

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