The Spark

the Voice of
The Communist League of Revolutionary Workers–Internationalist

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.”
— Karl Marx

A Woman’s Right to Vote:
Hard Won

Sep 18, 2023

It’s 2023 and women still have the right to vote. This amendment to the Constitution was ratified in 1920, but women had been raising the question since the 1820s. Almost 200 years ago some outspoken women, for example, the famous Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, as well as Marie Louise Baldwin, who was both Native and French, and a black teacher, Frances Ellen Watkins Harper, asked why women could not vote. At the same time, other reformers questioned why black people were still enslaved.

One hundred and ten years ago, in 1913, women marched in Washington, D.C. for women’s suffrage, on the day before Woodrow Wilson’s inauguration. At least five thousand women marched for suffrage along Pennsylvania Avenue, led by Alice Paul and the National American Woman Suffrage Association. They were attacked by an angry mob of men, and the police told the women to go home. Some women were hurt; 100 went to the hospital.

The suffrage movement lacked support from the start. Susan B. Anthony had already proposed a national amendment for suffrage in 1878. But the men in Congress had other priorities, like ending the Reconstruction of the South and turning Southern black people over to the terror of the KKK.

Even in the 1913 suffrage parade, the issue of how black suffragists were welcomed, or more to the point not welcomed, remained. Many white women could not overcome the prejudices they had learned against black people, and against poor people and immigrants.

The year before, 1912, there was a much larger suffrage parade in New York City, and it was not attacked. One of its leaders was a young Chinese woman, Mabel Ping Hua Lee, who had come to Brooklyn in 1905 to study. She brought a delegation of Chinese women to the 1912 New York City suffrage march.

Ms. Lee faced a large amount of discrimination in the United States, but she continued to agitate, pointing out in a 1915 speech, "No nation can ever make real and lasting progress in civilization unless its women are following close to its men…. that nation is badly handicapped which leaves undeveloped one half of its intellectual and moral resources."

Ms. Lee hit the nail on the head.