Should women have the right to vote?

September 15, 2012 | By Jim Stovall | Filed in: news.

Of course they should. What an absurd question.

One hundred years ago, however, it was not an absurd question. Nor were the following:

  • Should women serve on juries?
  • Should women be admitted to medical school?
  • Should women be allowed to own property?
  • Should women have a right to custody of their children if they were divorced?

One hundred years ago, reasonable people — both men and women — disagreed on these and other questions that today we would consider absurd and ludicrous.

And therein lies a problem — a problem we constantly have with our history. Because many issues have been decided (women’s suffrage, for one) and that decision has permeated our thinking, we look back on the debate and render a modern day judgment. In the case of women’s suffrage, that judgment is that those in favor of granting women the right to vote were right, moral and forward-thinking, and those against it were selfish, nefarious and corrupt.

By putting those labels on the “winners” and the “losers,” we miss the nuances and meanings of the debate. And we miss what it can really tell us about our culture and our history.

That’s one of the reasons that I have undertaken this study. (There are many other reasons, and I will outline some of those in subsequent posts.)

The debate over the franchise for women lasted for more than 70 years. It involved many of the great issues that have confronted American government and society since its founding. Some of the people involved were heroic (and not just those who favored it), and some were cowardly and cruel (and not just those who were against it).

It is, above all, a great story. Properly told, it can tell us a lot about ourselves.

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