Courage is often mistaken as insanity

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, September 10, 2008

I tell you what… all this talk of elections sure has folks stirred up. So when the e-mail came through with a subject line of “Why Women Should Vote,” of course, I had to open it.

When I opened the e-mail, I thought it was one of those forwarded things that usually say that something bad is going to happen to me in the next five minutes if I don’t forward it to 22 people. I’m glad to say I was pleasantly surprised — and thoroughly educated — when I opened it.

It was from a fellow reporter at one of our sister papers that put a perspective on voting that I had never considered — what it actually took to give me, as a woman, the right to vote.

It said, “To my women friends: ‘Courage in women is often mistaken for insanity.’

This is the story of our grandmothers and great-grandmothers; they lived only 90 years ago.

“Remember, it was not until 1920 that women were granted the right to go to the polls and vote. The women were innocent and defenseless, but they were jailed nonetheless for picketing the White House, carrying signs asking for the vote.

And by the end of the night, they were barely alive. Forty prison guards wielding clubs and their warden’s blessing went on a rampage against the 33 women wrongly convicted of ‘obstructing sidewalk traffic.’

”They beat Lucy Burns, chained her hands to the cell bars above her head and left her hanging for the night, bleeding and gasping for air. They hurled Dora Lewis into a dark cell, smashed her head against an iron bed and knocked her out cold. Her cellmate, Alice Cosu, thought Lewis was dead and suffered a heart attack. Additional affidavits describe the guards grabbing, dragging, beating, choking, slamming, pinching, twisting and kicking the women.

“Thus unfolded the ‘Night of Terror’ on Nov. 15, 1917, when the warden at the Occoquan Workhouse in Virginia ordered his guards to teach a lesson to the suffragists imprisoned there because they dared to picket Woodrow Wilson’s White House for the right to vote.

“When one of the leaders, Alice Paul, embarked on a hunger strike, they tied her to a chair, forced a tube down her throat and poured liquid into her until she vomited.”

The e-mail went on cite references to an HBO special entitled “Iron Jawed Angels.” In it, it shows Woodrow Wilson and others trying to persuade a psychiatrist to declare Alice Paul insane so that she could be permanently institutionalized.

The doctor told the men, “Courage in women is often mistaken for insanity.”

When one looks at politics today, it wears a different face than it did in the 1920s — primarily one wearing lipstick, designer glasses and artful highlights.

It is also a face that those women fought tirelessly for, and we women owe it to them to cast our ballots, whether they it be for mayor, vice president or president.

The right to vote is not a God given right for women. It is a right forged out of courage and a dedication to country.