Monday, September 10, 2012

Connie Schultz on What it Means for Women to Vote

Connie Schultz is one of my favorite writers and it pains me that so few women know who she is or have read her masterful, often poignant columns.

In 2004, in her Cleveland Plain Dealer column, she wrote a piece for women called,"And You Think It's a Pain to Vote".  It went viral, but Connie didn't always get the credit for it.  It traveled far and wide via emails and blogs and comments, credited to "Anonymous", if at all. 

Connie herself often got her own piece in emails from other women who found it compelling enough to send along but who had no idea that the person they were sending it to was also the person who wrote it.

The article was reprinted in 2007, in her book, "Life Happens: And other Unavoidable Truths".

In September, 2008, she put it out there again, prefacing it, not with a lament that it hadn't always been attributed to her, but with a call for bloggers to spread it far and wide.

Yesterday, she repeated it on her Facebook page and now I'm repeating it here.  With attribution:

 And You Think It's a Pain to Vote
By Connie Schultz

The women were innocent and defenseless. 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 helpless women convicted of "obstructing sidewalk traffic." 

They beat Lucy Burn, chained her hands to the cell bars above her head and left her hanging for the night.

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, 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. 

For weeks, the women's only water came from an open pail. Their food--all of it colorless slop -- was infested with worms. 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. She was tortured like this for weeks until word was smuggled out to the press. 

So, refresh my memory.

Some women won't vote this year because, why exactly? We have carpool duties? We have to get to work? Our vote doesn't matter? It's raining? 

HBO's "Iron Jawed Angels" is a graphic depiction of the battle these women waged so that I could have my say at the polling booth. I am ashamed to say I needed the reminder.

There was a time when I knew these women well. I met them in college -- not in my required American history courses, which barely mentioned them, but in women's history class. 

That's where I found the irrepressibly brave Alice Paul. Her large, brooding eyes seemed fixed on my own as she stared out from the page. 

Remember, she silently beckoned. Remember. 

The HBO movie is now available on DVD. I wish all history, social studies and government teachers would include the movie in their curriculum. 

I want it shown on Bunko night, too, and anywhere else women gather. I realize this isn't our usual idea of socializing, but we are not voting in the numbers that we should be, and a little shock therapy is in order. It is jarring to watch Woodrow Wilson and his cronies try to persuade a psychiatrist to declare Alice Paul insane so that she could be permanently institutionalized. 

And it is inspiring to watch the doctor refuse. Alice Paul was strong, he said, and brave. That didn't make her crazy. 

The doctor admonished the men: "Courage in women is often mistaken for insanity."


My own mother was one of those women who believed her one little vote wouldn't count, so why bother?  My mother was a woman who believed with her whole heart and soul that women should be equal to men, that women should have all the workplace rights as men, that women should go for the gold if that's what they chose to do, that women's reproductive rights were nobody's business but their own--but she could not be budged from her notion that one vote didn't matter.  I wonder if this would have convinced her?  Nobody talked much about the suffragist movement back then, and we weren't faced with a concerted effort--as we are now--to take us back to those days, so I would like to believe she would feel differently about her vote today.

I would like to believe that all women would recognize what's happening today and get out there and make their voices heard, in their communities, in the media, in the halls of government, and in the voting booth.

(In case you didn't know, Connie Schultz is married to Sherrod Brown, Democratic senator from Ohio.  I love them both for their large hearts.  I'm glad they found each other.)


  1. This may be seen as a bit frivolous but it does include some of the stuff you talk about: Bad Romance: Women's Suffrage. And I found it very moving. And the song is so damn catchy!

  2. So clever and memorable! And yes, that song is catchy. Thanks so much for sharing.

  3. My mother was staunch worker for womens right to vote. She made sure that as soon as I could register to vote, I would. She volunteered for Democratic Headquarters in Cuyahoga County, was a congressman's secretary, and won the Sheveko Award for the Young Democrats. She was my hero and I hope all women get out there to vote this November. Remember we all need to get out and stand up for our rights to vote. If we don't, we can't complain about the government you get.

    1. For me it was my dad who made me see how important it was to vote. He was born in Canada but became a naturalized citizen during the war, when he went to work for the tank arsenal in Michigan. He used to take me into the voting booth with him from the time I was a little girl.

      GOTV is going to be key this year. More people sit it out than get out and vote, and I suspect the percentages of the sitter-outers among women is the highest. If we don't do anything else, we have to convince everyone, especially women, that their vote not only counts, it's essential.

  4. For anyone in the Los Angeles area, on October 24 there will be a free screening of the documentary "California Women Win the Vote." CA women won that right in 1911, before the 19th Amendment. This film tells the story of how they did it. There will also be a Q&A with the filmmaker after the screening. For all the reasons why this post is here and Connie Schultz reposted her essay, this film is important to watch. Info on the screening is at There will be free refreshments too!

    1. Thanks for sharing. I've put it on my Facebook page, too. Wish I could be there. I hope it's a huge success.


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