Last of All Suffrage Conventions
With February of 1920 the suffrage program reached its interorganization climax—the annual suffrage convention scheduled for Chicago February 12-18. Not only was this to be the last of all suffrage conventions; far and wide it had been heralded as the Victory Convention. Although the end of the suffrage struggle had not yet come, everybody felt sure it would come in 1920, and the National American Woman Suffrage Association was forehanded enough to go part way to meet the final victory.
Far from side-tracking the ratification campaign to make way for convention activities, those activities were used to point and push the campaign.
“Suffragists hear this last call to a suffrage convention!” so read the call that was to assemble the suffrage hosts. “Of all the conventions held within the past fifty-one years this will prove the most momentous. Few people live to see the actual and final realization of hopes to which they have devoted their lives. That privilege is ours.... Let us tell the world of the ever-buoyant hope born of the assurance of justice and the inevitability of our cause which has given our army of workers unswerving courage and determination which has at last overcome every obstacle and attained its aim.”
From Maine and from Florida; from California and from Texas, and from all the States between the women streamed into Chicago in the wintry February weather. The city, the whole country, was ice-locked and snowbanked, but spring was in the hearts of the suffragists. Never where women had come together had there been a gathering so gay—and never one so feelingly motivated by the sense of solidarity that holds organizations together. Handclasps seemed to mean more that February than they had ever meant before. Women looked into each other's eyes and saw old, endearing memories of long, hard work together leap to life. They were facing new things, new affiliations, separate ways, but the recognition of what the old things, the old supreme affiliation, the old way together, had done for them, singly and collectively, rested on them with a poignant inner compulsion. They could not shake it off. It dominated their merry-making. It made them stop one another in corridors and in corners to whisper, “To think that we shall not meet again like this—not next year, not ever!”
“Ours has been a movement with a soul,” said the president of the suffrage association to the assembled delegates, “a dauntless, unconquerable soul ever leading on. Women came, served and passed on, but others came to take their places, while the same great soul was ever marching on through a hundred, nay, a thousand years; a soul immortal, directing, leading the woman's crusade for the liberation of the mothers of the race. That soul is here today and who shall say that all the hosts of the millions of women who have toiled and hoped and met delay are not here today and joining in the rejoicing that their cause has at last won its triumph.
“Oh, how do I pity the women who have had no share in the exaltation and the discipline of our army of workers. How do I pity those who have felt none of the grip of the oneness of women struggling, serving, suffering, sacrificing for the righteousness of woman's emancipation.
“... be glad today. Let your voices ring out the gladness in your hearts. There will never come another day like this. Let your joy be unconfined and let it speak so clearly that its echo will be heard around the world and find its way into the soul of every woman of any and every race and nationality who is yearning for opportunity and liberty still denied her sex.”
She closed with a parody on Kipling's poem, “If,” which read:
We kept our heads when all about us Were losing theirs and blaming it on us; We made allowance for the doubts of men And kept our faith though they were scornful then. We were lied about yet did not deal in lies, We were hated yet did not give way to hating; We did not look too good nor talk too wise, We waited and were not tired by waiting. We heard the truths that we had spoken Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools; And watched the cause we'd given our life to broken, Yet bravely built again with poor cheap tools. We held on when there was nothing in us Except the will which says Hold on; Thus for sixty years marched on the suffrage soul And felt no doubt to reach the final goal. Thus filled we up each fleeting minute With sixty seconds' worth of distance run; And now ours is the Earth and everything that's in it, Rejoice, applaud, be glad—you've won!
A ribbon, attached to the clapper of a bell hung in the middle of the convention hall, was pulled by a woman holding the other end of the ribbon. Other women with other ribbon ends pulled. The bell pealed forth. The woman's hour was striking. At the sound old staid traditions were flung to the winds. Cheering and singing, delegation after delegation got to its feet and began marching. Women were sowing their political wild oats. They seemed suddenly to discover what men long since discovered—that the true purpose of a political convention is to make a noise. The high hall rang with their racket. For a long time it was a question whether they would ever be quiet again.
While convention celebrations and festivities were mounting to high tide there came, one by one, the announcement of ratifications in New Jersey, Idaho, Arizona and New Mexico, bringing the total number to 32. The Washington League of Women Voters wired: “The women of Washington send greetings to the Victory Convention. We were a pioneer State, the fifth to be enfranchised. Therefore we resent the disgraceful humiliation put upon us by the stubborn refusal of our Governor to listen to our united demand for a special session to ratify the Suffrage Amendment.” Immediately a telegram was sent by the convention to Louis A. Hart, Governor of the State, which read: “Washington is now the only enfranchised State which has taken no action toward ratification of the Federal Suffrage Amendment. Thirty-five ratifications are assured in the immediate future. The nation has been informed for many years that Washington approves woman suffrage. It therefore looks to you to call an immediate session of your Legislature and once more announce Washington's endorsement of woman suffrage by ratification of the Federal Amendment.” Through the Associated Press the telegram went to the newspapers of Washington.
The Governors of Connecticut, Vermont, Delaware and West Virginia were also urged by wire to call sessions. And there was a lively exchange of telegrams with the Ratification Committees in these States. The convention ordered telegrams of thanks sent to the Governors who had called special sessions and to the chairmen of the National Committees of the two dominant parties, Will H. Hays, Republican, and Homer Cummings, Democrat, who had rendered continuous and able support to the campaign. Telegrams were also sent to Governors who had not called special sessions urging the call.
A ratification banquet on St. Valentine's evening filled to overflowing the largest banquet hall in Chicago. Banquets had long been a feature of suffrage campaigning but never had there been one to tell a story like this. High upon a balcony was a huge old-fashioned Valentine with lacy frills and a big red heart in the middle. Two little maids upon signal pulled back the red silk curtains, leaving a space large enough for a person to stand in and make a half length portrait with the heart for a frame. Then in verse the States which had ratified were introduced one by one and a prominent State suffrage leader appeared in the frame and, in humorous verse, told the story of the victory. There were salvos of applause and sudden bursts of State songs as Illinois's gaily attired State delegation sprang upon chairs after the State's story had been told by its living valentine. Tears of joyous happiness glistened in many an eye as incidents in the long struggle were brought to mind, or half-forgotten memories awakened. Eloquent speeches thrilled, flags waved, cheers and unexpected bursts of song reverberated through the vast hall.
Outstanding among the convention's features was a beautiful and solemn service in memory of Dr. Anna Howard Shaw, whose magic voice, now stilled forever, had been the inspiration of every previous convention for thirty years.
The one-hundredth anniversary of the birthday of Susan B. Anthony, greatest of all suffrage leaders, was especially commemorated by a program of brief speeches which collectively told the whole wonderful story of the emancipation of women from 1840, “The Age of Mobs and Eggs,” to 1920, “A Portent of Victory.” Another program told the suffrage story in pictures. Another in a Living Procession of Victories, a simple, beautiful and effective pageant. At a Pioneers' Luncheon the reminiscences of the workers of early days were told and many a woman whose name was familiar to all suffragists, but whose face was unknown to later workers, was there to share in that last organized tribute.
But in spite of such programs the convention did not expend all its energies on looking backward, nor its time in enjoying the triumph of the moment. It carefully planned for every emergency in the uncompleted ratification campaign, and it effected the organization of the “League of Women Voters” with a new national board distinct from that of the suffrage association. To this new body the National American Woman Suffrage Association's auxiliaries in all the ratified States were transferred by their representatives, and a program of education in citizenship for new voters and legislation for the protection of women, children and the home was adopted. Before the convention ended the phoenix of a new organization, with fresh ideals, aims and program, had arisen from the old.
Pronounced the most wonderful of all suffrage conventions during the seventy-two years of the struggle, the convention came to an end. The women who had worked side by side for a generation separated and went to their homes in the forty-eight States, some to throw themselves with ardor into political party organization work, some into the legislative program, some into citizenship education. But the National Suffrage Association's officers and the members of the Association's auxiliaries in those States whose Legislatures had not yet ratified the Federal Suffrage Amendment, bent anew to the suffrage task.