Sisters of Suffrage (SOS) coalition celebrates 100 years of women winning the right to vote.
Photos: Nicole Hamel
Illustrations: Megan Mericle
Villager Jill Moss Greenberg, the leader of Sisters of Suffrage (SOS) coalition, marvels that the deciding vote to ratify the 19th Amendment was cast by a young Tennessee state representative in 1920 after a 72-year struggle of women marching, educating and lobbying to win the right to vote.
“There’s a wonderful book called the ‘The Women’s Hour,’ by Elaine Weiss,” says Jill, which is being optioned into a movie by Steven Spielberg. The book tells the story of Tennessee being the last state needed to ratify the landmark amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
Women and proponents of the 19th Amendment wore yellow roses; opposers wore red roses.
“If it didn’t pass, it was going to be dead. It came down to the vote being tied, and one young legislator, Harry T. Burn, 22, was wearing a red rose and the opposition was counting on his vote,” says Jill. “The drama was so huge. He took out a paper from his pocket with a note from his mother, who asked him to vote in her honor, to vote for the suffrage amendment.”
Burn’s unexpected “yes” vote allowed the 19th Amendment granting women the right to vote to become a federal law on Aug. 18, 1920.
“I knew that a mother’s advice is always safest for a boy to follow, and my mother wanted me to vote for ratification,” Rep. Burn wrote in a personal statement explaining his decision, which was recorded in the House Journal.
“It shows the importance of mothers,” Jill says of Burn’s deciding vote. “And it dawned on me that the 19th Amendment was passed 100 percent by men, it was passed by all the state legislators, passed by the U.S. Congress, all of which were 100 percent male at that time because women couldn’t vote.”
The SOS group is a conglomerate of several women’s organizations in the area, including the League of Women Voters, Daughters of the American Revolution, Sigma Beta Sorority, American Association of University Women, Political Moderates Group of The Villages, and the Enrichment Academy in The Villages.
The group had planned to be involved in centennial parades, exhibitions and educational events to celebrate the 100-year anniversary of the 19th Amendment, yet COVID-19 curtailed the activities.
“Nationally, the suffrage centennial has extended its celebration through 2021,” says Jill, adding that SOS plans to be involved on the local scale to honor suffragists’ achievements with several events and educational programs.
“These women gave up a normal life to be ridiculed, hassled and disrespected for a cause.’”
“As co-chair of the SOS Education Committee, I’m looking forward to working with our local Lake and Sumter County schools to make sure students understand the work that the suffragists did to secure the right to vote for women in the United States. This is important history,” says Rosella Valentine of Leesburg, adding that those who started the movement in 1848 did not live to see women vote.
“It was a hard-fought struggle,” adds Rosella. “I admire women like Susan B. Anthony, Alice Paul, Elizabeth Candy Stanton and Ida B. Wells, who over the years organized, marched and fought so hard for a right they knew they deserved every bit as much as any man. These amazing suffragists were often willing to be force-fed and jailed for the ‘crime’ of wanting to vote! Can you imagine that?”
Quilter Eva Rice of Leesburg has created a 3’ x 6’ banner honoring women’s suffrage. It is filled with 36 stars representing each state that ratified the 19th Amendment. She hopes the banner will be part of SOS displays.
“If I could, I would tell the suffragists, thank you for your determination, perseverance and achievement. I am so grateful that you fought for the right to vote I have today,” says Eva. “It is important to spread the word how we, as females, gained the right to vote. These women gave up a normal life to be ridiculed, hassled and disrespected for a cause.”
Katina Stephens of Bushnell says SOS is composed of women grateful for the sacrifices of women from over a century ago; the earliest efforts were started in 1848.
“The women suffragists of 100 years ago are certainly to be admired.’”
“Our SOS group is a modern reflection of our foresisters in that we are a group with diversities in professions, ages and nationalities that respect each other’s differences and celebrate our similarities,” says Katina. “We have bonded as a sisterhood from our love and desire to educate and keep alive the heroic acts of all the brave suffragists from the 1920s and earlier.”
“The women suffragists of 100 years ago are certainly to be admired; courageous women of strength who were willing to die for what they believed in,” adds Avon Hambrick of Wildwood. “I am so honored to sit with present day Sisters of Suffragist who bring knowledge, wisdom, unity, laughter, education and opportunities to the table and they bring these traits with passion.”
Women’s Right to Vote
Passed by Congress June 4, 1919. Ratified Aug. 18, 1920.
The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.
Florida showed its support for women’s suffrage by belatedly ratifying the 19th Amendment on May 13, 1969.
Villagers in SOS share their views
Village of La Zamora
“I wonder how those dedicated ladies continued their perseverance and fortitude when everything seemed against them and then also surviving World War I and the Spanish Flu pandemic,” says Noni. “They were persistent and courageous as it took many decades of lecturing, marching, lobbying and even being jailed to finally accomplish their goal.”
Noni’s advice to others: “Please remember to vote…it is our right and important duty.”
Village of Pine Ridge
“The fight for the right to vote was long, but the women did not give up … To the suffragists from the past I say a most heartfelt THANK YOU. Women would not have the opportunities they have today had the suffragists given up.”
Mary says several women have influenced her in her life, including her mother and female administrator, who was her mentor.
“I would be remiss not to mention Ruth Bader Ginsburg,” adds Mary. “In addition to the groundbreaking work she did for equal rights on the Supreme Court, I am inspired by her acceptance of those who disagreed vehemently with her own opinions. It is helpful to think of her in these days of political divisions.”
Village of Dunedin
“I was blessed to have two very independent grandmothers, both raised families alone. They taught me to think independently, question wrong actions and attitudes and to never give up. When I consider they were both born in the early 1880s, and all the limits women were afforded, their struggles to provide for their children and even run their own business was remarkable feat. I have to admire their tenacity and drive to put food on the table and provide housing for their children,” says Dorothy.
“National leaders since the 1920s have stood up to the ridicule and sexism to pave a way for myself, my daughter and my four granddaughters. My we all claim the mantra, ‘she persisted’ and continue to speak up, march and petition to further the cause for women’s rights.”
Village of Fernandina
“I recognize that I stand on very broad shoulders of women who have gone before me and I wanted to help celebrate 100 years of their strength and tenacity. Under Jill Moss Greenberg’s very capable leadership, SOS has focused on revealing the accomplishments of such trailblazers as Susan B. Anthony, Carrie Chapman Catt, Mary Church Terrell, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Alice Paul, and Sojourner Truth among many others. These women began opening doors for women to become more than wives and mothers,” says Jill.
“Just in my lifetime I have seen career opportunities for women expand way beyond being a teacher, nurse, secretary, or airline stewardess to potentially being elected to president of the United States or to corporate leadership.”
Village of Santiago
“The right to vote did not come as a gift from above. They (suffragists) fought for it for 72 years and never gave up. They were the original resisters and per sisters. Neither wars nor pandemics stopped them from fighting for what they believed,” says Beth. “My immigrant grandmother, who was so proud of her citizenship, made sure she voted in each and every election.”
Beth adds: “I would say three things to early suffragists. No. 1. Thank you, No. 2. We stand on your shoulders, and No. 3. We will continue the fight as voting rights is a right that cannot be taken for granted. We owe it to those who are still meeting challenges to lift them up.”
Village of Santo Domingo
“Public figures like RBG (Ruth Bader Ginsburg) paved the way for women to get credit and to buy a house in their own name, without their husband, to play a sport, to consent to medical treatment without approval from their husband, etc. I remember the days when I couldn’t get credit in my name. I also remember the days when Anheuser Busch failed to hire me for an operations research job (even though I passed all their math tests) because they were concerned how I would get along with the guys at beer break. Today they can’t do that thanks to RBG and others,” says Sue. “I have also been influenced by women who have broken the ceiling in medical research and blessed to be able to work with them.”
Village of Hemingway
“I am co-president of the League of Women Voters of The Villages/Tri-County area. Our organization was founded 100 years ago with the goal to educate women on the issues so they would be prepared to exercise their new voting rights at the polls…It is wonderful to come together with other like-minded organizations so we could work together to make an even bigger impact in getting the attention this (19th Amendment) celebration deserves.”
Gail says The League of Women Voters plans to screen a portion of the PBS special “The Vote” to be followed by a panel discussion featuring three of SOS members at 1 p.m., March 16, 2021 at Everglades Recreation Center in The Villages.
Village of Sanibel
“There are a couple of reasons that I love being a part of SOS. The first one of course is the opportunity to learn more about what the suffragists went through so that all women can vote. I’ve enjoyed using that right for all of my adult life. I had no idea what these women went through for me to have the right to vote as there was basically nothing about the struggle in my history or civics classes,” says Kathy. “The Sisters of Suffrage consists of a brilliant and diverse group of women. I feel lucky to be among this group and I’m looking forward to learning even more about the struggle.”
Village of Rio Grande
“As I tell my students at The Enrichment Academy: ‘We walk on floors we never swept. We waltz through doors we never opened.’ We owe so many women so much. The suffragists gave us not only the vote. They gave us the freedom to begin dreaming about what real equality could be, and what we could become.
They endured so much: ridicule, insults, imprisonment in filthy, rodent-infected cells, the torture of forced feedings, and yet they persisted. Three generations of women fought for 72 years.
Carolyn reflected on women who not only impacted her life, but for all women.
“I think of the suffragists, the women who pioneered in the law like Sandra Day O’Connor and Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and the women of the 1960s like Betty Friedan and Gloria Steinem, all of whom truly changed our lives.”
Village of La Zamora
“This give me a way to pay tribute to my grandmother, Martha Cain, who is my hero,” Catherine says of being in SOS. “She was the first female to serve as president of the student council in college. She spoke several languages and donated her time helping tutor children who were hospitalized with polio for extended periods. She gave to many charities and we learned of this only at her funeral as they sent representatives to pay tribute.”
Catherine marvels over the tenacity of the women of the suffragist movement.
“They had a lot of guts and sheer determination to involve themselves in activities which were unpopular at the time,” she says. “They had to put up with the repercussions at home with their husbands as well as any retributions from social circles. They cared more about the future and what it may bring for others than the pain it caused them personally. To me, that is just as significant as a soldier who volunteers to serve his country.”
If she could talk to the suffragists, Catherine says she would thank them for their service to society and for paying a price for progress.
“We won’t let you down,” she says. “We stand upon your shoulders today and our work will make it possible for the daughters tomorrow to have a more fair world.”
Catherine credits her father for shaping her progressive values.
“He taped many inspirational sayings to that shared bathroom mirror so we would read them as we brushed our teeth each morning. Those sayings stuck with me and I enjoy seeing my brothers carrying that practice forward with their children.”
Once the pandemic ends and the centennial celebration can proceed, Catherine says she anticipates being active with her SOS peers.
“I look forward to inspiring younger women to know the price that was paid for their rights today and to get them energized to carry the torch into the future,” she says. “There remains much work to be done.”