Byline: Randi Bjornstad The Register-Guard
With her flower-bedecked hat and severe gray dress held stiff by the steel-boned corset underneath, Tames Alan easily could have been one of the fiery suffragettes she portrayed Saturday during the "world premier" of her newest one-woman show, "Soldiers in Petticoats."
Her appearance was perfectly timed to commemorate International Women's Day, marked on March 8 for nearly a century to celebrate the struggles and progress of women throughout the world.
Although women throughout the United States officially won the right to vote in 1920, when the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was ratified, it was a right they'd had and lost before waging a 70-year battle to regain it, Alan told her surprised audience at the Eugene Public Library on Saturday afternoon.
"After the American Revolution, all could vote, men and women alike," she said. "Voting became a male `privilege' in 1787, when the Constitutional Convention made voting (laws) the right of the individual states. At that time, in every state except New Jersey, women lost their right to vote, and eventually it was taken away from them in New Jersey, too."
The reasons might seem laughable now - "One belief was that if a woman had too much education, she would get brain fever, which would lead to hysteria and eventually affect her reproductive organs," Alan said - but it took well over a century for women in this country to overcome the political and social barriers that held them hostage in their second-class citizen status.
In those early years, "once a woman was married, her husband owned everything she had - she literally became the property of her husband," Alan said. "Women couldn't borrow money, start their own business, or in some places even spend money without their husbands' permission. They bore their children, but they had no legal rights regarding them."
The leaders of the early women's movement - Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton - rose out of what they saw in their own lives.
"Susan B. Anthony was raised in a Quaker family, and Quakers then were the only (religion) who allowed women to speak freely in public," Alan said. "But when her father declared bankruptcy, even though his wealth had come through her mother's family, they lost everything; her mother had no claim to what had been her property."
Stanton, the daughter of a wealthy lawyer, became aware of the inequalities facing women by hearing about the plight of those who came to ask his legal advice, only to be told they had no rights of their own because the laws didn't protect them, recounted Alan, who lives in Washington state with her husband on a working farm and has been a living-history performer for more than 20 years.
"As a child, Elizabeth thought you could just rip those laws out of the books and make everything right," she said. After Stanton grew up and studied Greek, Latin and law, and her father's response was, "If only you had been a boy," the die of her activism was cast.
Fighting for the right to vote was a complicated affair, intertwined with definitions of citizenship for both women and black people and the parallel push by women for temperance in the use of alcohol.
The 13th Amendment to the Constitution abolished slavery, but it did not guarantee citizenship for former slaves. The 14th amendment guaranteed that all men born or naturalized in the United States were guaranteed citizenship, which effectively made women not citizens. …