My Musical Family - Joy Riggs

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A blog about my family's adventures in making and appreciating music.
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Votes for Women - Celebrating 96 years

Mon, 02/01/2016 - 12:46am
The U.S. presidential campaign has been on my mind lately. It’s not the one you might expect, given the barrage of news coverage on the eve of the Iowa Caucuses. I have been thinking about the election of 1920.

That was the first year that my great-grandmother Islea Graham Riggs was allowed to vote. She was 45 years old and had been an accomplished pianist and music teacher for nearly three decades. She had organized and participated in women’s music clubs in several different towns. She had given birth to four children and had lost two of them. Yet it was not until November 2, 1920, that she was allowed to do what so many U.S. citizens—men and women—now take for granted: cast her vote for president.

Islea and her husband, G. Oliver, were living in Bemidji when the 19th Amendment was ratified. Although I don’t have proof that she voted in the election, I can’t imagine she would have bypassed the chance. My guess is that she voted for the Republican candidate, Warren Harding.
Islea Graham RiggsThanks to coverage in the Bemidji Daily Pioneer, I can, however, provide details about another Bemidji woman who went to the polls for the first time that November: an 81-year-old woman named Lydia M. Ward.

The newspaper explained that Mrs. Ward was “a strong advocate of the G.O.P. and said she was going to cast her vote for Harding. Going to the polls to vote was no easy matter for Mrs. Ward at her age but she said she would not miss her chance if she could help it, especially after waiting for so many years to aid her party.”

With Mrs. Ward’s help, Harding defeated Democrat James Cox in a landslide.

Because engaged female citizens like Mrs. Ward and my great-grandmother paved the way for me, the only time I ever had to march for votes was in 1976, when my Brownie troop dressed up as suffragists and marched in a Bicentennial parade. I grew up feeling that I had just as much of a right to vote as anyone else, and I looked forward to being old enough to exercise that right.

This fall, my two oldest children, Louisa and Sebastian, will both be old enough to vote in their first presidential election. It is an exciting rite of passage, and I can’t imagine denying that right to one of them simply because of gender.

In honor of all the women who worked for the right to vote, and to encourage voters young and old to participate in the political process this fall, I present some of the lyrics from one of my favorite Schoolhouse Rock songs, “Sufferin’ ‘til Suffrage” (which, incidentally, first aired in 1976, the year I dressed up as a suffragist). Sing along if you know them!

Oh we were sufferin’ until suffrage. 
Not a woman here could vote no matter what age
Until the Nineteenth Amendment 
Struck down that restrictive rule

And now we pull down on the lever,
Cast our ballots and we endeavor
To improve our country, state, county, town and school

Right on! We got it now!

Since 1920 ... 

Sisters unite! Vote on!
Categories: Citizens

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