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Road to women’s voting rights passed through Valley

Presidential candidate Joe Biden made history last week by selecting a woman of color, Kamala Harris of California, to share the Democratic ticket with him. Now, just days later, Americans will mark another election milestone — this one with significant local ties.

Tuesday is the centennial anniversary of ratification of the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which gave women in America their full voting rights.

Like the long fight to win black Americans the right to vote — led in large part by recently departed civil rights icon and U.S. Rep. John Lewis of Georgia — women also fought for decades to earn the right to vote.

No, the women’s voting rights movement was not as violent and bloody as the one black people endured. But it was hard-fought, nonetheless. The women’s suffrage movement was sometimes met with persecution and prosecution. Suffragists fought a hostile media and anti-suffrage opposition that painted those involved in the movement as subversive and threatening to the established gender hierarchy.

And it was long and drawn out. The national women’s suffrage movement began in the late 1800s, and continued until becoming law Aug. 18, 1920.

Harriet Taylor Upton, an 1872 graduate of Warren High School, joined the suffrage movement in 1890 and devoted the next 30 years of her life to passage of the 19th Amendment, much of it from her northwest side Warren home office. During that time, she served as treasurer of the National Women’s Suffrage Association for 15 years and as president of the Ohio Women’s Suffrage Association for 18 years. Later, she was the first woman vice chair of the National Republican Executive Committee and was a founding member of the National League of Women’s Voters. The suffrage movement’s national headquarters was located in her Warren home from 1903 to 1909. Today, the home and gardens remain on Mahoning Avenue, recognized as a National Historic Landmark.

The daughter of Circuit Court Judge and eventual Congressman Ezra B. Taylor, Taylor Upton spent much time traveling with her father and later with her husband, attorney George Upton. She learned much about the law and made many contacts in D.C., including suffragist Susan B. Anthony.

After deciding to take up the cause, Taylor Upton worked with Anthony, attended hearings and organized presentations for legislators. According to the book “Harriet Taylor Upton’s Random Recollections,” Taylor Upton was present at almost every suffrage convention and event. She was in the Senate gallery when the 19th Amendment legislation passed, and she was in Tennessee when that state ratified the amendment.

In preparing to mark the 100th anniversary, Lindy Lucas, president of the Mahoning Valley Women’s Suffragettes, said this recently:

The Mahoning Valley Women’s Suffragettes’ mission is to empower women to make their voices heard strongly in the face of injustice, inequality, atrocities and making women aware of the strength, uniqueness and power they embody in changing the world through bold and clear communication.

Upton wasn’t just offering lip service to the women’s suffrage movement. She eventually served for 15 years as the first woman elected to the Warren Board of Education.

She also ran unsuccessfully in 1924 for a congressional seat. She assisted in the successful candidacy of Ohio Gov. Myers Cooper and assisted in the presidential election campaign of Herbert Hoover.

Indeed, Taylor Upton was an amazing, strong woman who fought with great tact and organization for her beliefs. Because of that, women like myself may cast our ballots without retribution for the men or women we believe will best represent us in elected office. Take a moment this Tuesday to think about that.

Then, come November, be educated and knowledgeable on the candidates and issues, and put your voting right to good use.

blinert@tribtoday.com

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