History of fight for women’s suffrage taught at Consortium

Laurie Kozakiewicz, a lecturer in history at the State University at Albany, gestures toward posters as she speaks about suffragist Susan B. Anthony’s trial Saturday in Johnstown for the Elizabeth Cady Stanton Women’s Consortium. (The Leader-Herald/Eric Retzlaff)

JOHNSTOWN — The movement to push for women’s right to vote came in stages, including Susan B. Anthony’s conviction for daring to vote in the 1872 presidential election.

Before the passage of the 19th Amendment to the Constitution, “voting was not an appropriate thing for women,” said Laurie Kozakiewicz, a lecturer in history at the State University at Albany, in a talk for the Elizabeth Cady Stanton Consortium Saturday at the Fulton County Courthouse.

Women had few rights in general during the 19th and early 20th centuries, such as ownership and use of property and final control over children, she said. “Women were always covered by men—their fathers or husbands,” based in part in the perceived differences between males and females, she said. Women were supposed to be “nurturing and pious” and men “aggressive and physical,” she added, noting voting in those days was sometimes done in barbershops and saloon.

After the first women’s rights convention in Seneca Falls in 1848, at which Anthony was not present, the women’s suffrage movement focused on using the Declaration of Independence’s natural rights provision as a rationale, Kozakiewicz said.

That failing, the suffragists tried a new strategy—called the New Departure—of pushing the court system to apply the post-Civil War 14th and 15th Amendments to justify women’s suffrage. Those amendments were originally aimed at securing the rights of blacks.

Anthony’s deliberate flouting of federal and state laws by voting in 1872 was aimed at getting the issue before the U.S. Supreme Court, Kozakiewicz said. But her legal maneuvers, including getting a jury to nullify the laws, were thwarted in the court where she was tried.

After the court strategy failed, the suffrage movement entered a final phase that led to women’s right to vote. During the era leading up to New York granting suffrage in 1917 and national suffrage in 1920, women were increasingly involved in efforts to better lives in their community. “Their voice was needed in voting to do good things in the community—mothering the community” was an argument that worked, Kozakiewicz said.

By Josh Bovee

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