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Saturday, April 27, 2019

The 19th Amendment

Today, April 27, I'm once again telling the story of World War I's "Hello Girls" as if I was Marine City's Oleda Joure Christides.  The story is as much a story of women's history as it is that of World War I because it took 60 years for those women to finally gain their veteran's status promised to them when they initially took their oaths as soldiers.

When the Victory Parade was held in New York, the Navy recognized its Yeomanettes and let them march, but the Army refused, claiming the bilingual telephone operators were "contract employees", thus lacking veteran's status.  The Army insisted only males had been in the Army.

Part of the delay in recognition, beyond the Army's refusal to recognize the women after the war ended, included the many things taking priority in the United States.  Returning soldiers also sought their promised compensation which led to Bonus Marches or the Bonus Army during the Great Depression.

Why does this involve the League of Women Voters?

One of those matters, definitely a major issue in women's history, was giving women the vote.  This was more than just an issue in the United States.  Wikipedia's article on Women's Suffrage shows the changes internationally.  I was stunned when only recently I learned about Great Britain, "From 1918–1928, women could vote at 30 with property qualifications or as graduates of UK universities, while men could vote at 21 with no qualification. From 1928 women had equal suffrage with men."  In both the U.S. and around the world the movement, which had been growing since the 19th century, was strengthened by the role women took in World War I.

I'm particularly fond of the historic photo addressed to President Woodrow Wilson as "Kaiser Wilson" talking about how his post-war concerns for Germany's self-government (which did give all Germans the vote in 1918) ignored the twenty million women in the U.S. without the vote.

I have two books of newspaper front pages showing major events.  Neither Great Pages of Michigan History from the Detroit Free Press nor The New York Times Page One; Major Events 1900-1998 as Presented in The New York Times show the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution in 1920.  Somehow a constitutional amendment would seem like front page news.  Certainly the eighteenth amendment banning alcohol and the later 21st amendment repealing it received plenty of attention. 

On a personal level, many years ago I remember an elderly woman telling of the disparaging looks and comments made when, as a young woman, she proudly marched up to vote when it first became possible. 

Fortunately local newspapers recorded when Brigadier General Arthur Wolfe was finally sent to Marine City in 1978 to present Oleda with her long-promised official honorable discharge papers and Victory Medal.  At the time she was one of only 15 alive who served abroad.
It may not have made front page news, but like the 19th amendment, we need to recognize these important events in women's history and the contribution of women who went before us. 

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