Oakland County Honors Women’s Right to Vote

 

Oakland County Honors Women’s Right to Vote

(Crystal A. Proxmire, June 14, 2019)

Pontiac, MI- Delia Bixby Leddick would wait until her grandchildren got home from school on election days so she could take them with her to the polls to watch.  These memories came to County Commissioner Gwen Markham of Novi’s mind when she was invited to be among the speakers at a celebration honoring the 100th anniversary of women’s suffrage in the United States.

Markham’s grandmother was born in 1891.  In 1911 she and other young women in the graduating class of St. John’s wrote about a topic of debate at the time – why women should be allowed to vote.

She was 28 years old before she was able to cast her first ballot.  She never forgot how important that right was, and she never let her family forget either.

The Friday morning anniversary ceremony was held on the lawn of the County Commission building, with a giant gold, white, and purple flag draped down the building’s facade.

State Representative Brenda Carter of Pontiac explained the meaning of the colors of the flag.  Purple stood for loyalty.  White was for the purity of the cause.  And gold symbolized light, “the torch that guides our purpose,” Carter said.

Suffragists sewed a star for each state that ratified the Amendment in the US Constitution.  Once three-fourths of the states ratified it, it would become the law of the land.  The flag has 36 stars.

Carter also shared that her sorority – Delta Sigma Theta – had been on the front lines of the suffragist movement.  “These black women marched with the women.  Back when women were marching for our rights, we were fighting for our rights as well,” she said.

In 1848 the first major conference for women’s rights was held, and the “Declaration of Sentiments” was written as the female equivalent of the Declaration of Independence. Oakland County Prosecutor Jessica Cooper brought a copy of this historic document down from her office for the occasion.  “We the People means we the whole people,” Cooper said, quoting Susan B. Anthony.  “This Women’s Declaration of Independence is on my wall and it has been since day one next to the United States Constitution.

Several women shared stories about why equal access to democracy is important to them.

Senator Ruth Johnson of Holly recalled having to work under a boy’s name delivering newspapers as a child, because girls were not allowed.

Former League of Women Voters Oakland Area President Geri Rinschler shared the history of the ratification process, educating attendees about the decades’ long fight of stepping forward and being pushed back.

State Representative Mari Manoogian of Birmingham spoke of the stereotypes women in politics face, including the idea of the “angry woman” voter.  “Of course women are angry. Women are also compassionate. Women are also excited.  Women have all kinds of feelings, because women are human,” she said.

Oakland County Clerk asked that the memory of those who were imprisoned or beaten in the fight for equality not be just symbolic.  “The best way we can honor these women who fought for our right to vote is to turn out to vote in every election,” Brown said.  “I’d add that women need to run for office… When women are at the table, the conversation changes. I would argue that the vocabulary changes.”

County Commission Vice Chair Marsha Gershenson of Bloomfield Hills leads the committee behind this event and others that are coming up to honor women’s suffrage. She told guests that the celebration of women’s right to vote carries on for an entire year.  Other activities will include a poetry contest, a movie screening, traveling exhibits, and a contest for kids to help design the “I Voted” stickers in the March 2020 primary election.

Several communities have also adopted anniversary proclamations and are flying the suffragist flag.

Keep up with upcoming events on the Oakland County Times Event Page.

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