Suffragette March marks 100 years of women’s right to vote

State dignitaries unveil the historic marker on Dover’s The Green commemorating the passage of the 19th Amendment that gave women the legal right to vote in America. (Special to the Delaware State News/Gary Emeigh)

DOVER — They walked for 10 minutes, while celebrating the successful push for a woman’s right to vote 100 years ago after decades of prior struggles.

Wednesday’s Suffragette March on The Green covered a lot of ground indeed.

The gathering highlighted the arduous journey toward casting a ballot through the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution ratified on Aug. 18, 1920, and certified just over a week later on Aug. 26.

On state and national Women’s Equality Day, about 35 women dressed in 1920s-style outfits took part in the 90-minute event organized by the Delaware State Federation of Women’s Clubs (DSFWC).

Members of the General Federation of Women’s Club marching around Dover’s historic The Green to mark the 100th anniversary of women being allowed to vote in America. (Special to the Delaware State News/Gary Emeigh)

Near a newly unveiled historical marker next to the Old State House, Dr. Reba Hollingsworth said she first voted in 1948 and has cast her ballot in every election she’s been eligible for since “from school board on up.”

Regarding the women’s right to vote Dr. Hollingsworth said “It’s late coming because if you look at the Constitution it says all people have a right to vote.

“Well you see we were discounted as people not only as Black women but as women period. I just think it was a mistake from the beginning in 1776.

“This now is something we’re celebrating because we want people to understand the struggle women had in order to become equal if you will. I happen to realize that positive and negative equal the truth.”

General Federation of Women’s Clubs member Carolyn Forbes, of Marydel and her 12-year-old granddaughter Grace DiAntonio, of Dover, reading a copy of the 19th Amendment. (Special To The Delaware State News/Gary Emeigh)

Three more related markers will be unveiled in Wilmington, Delaware City and Georgetown.

Delaware’s drive to ratify the 19th Amendment was especially prolonged and not completed by the General Assembly until March 6, 1923. While the State Senate voted to affirm on May 5, 1920, the House adjourned on June 2 without further being taken that year.

The continuing struggle for suffrage was intense and multiple Delaware women were arrested and jailed for actively supporting the cause.

Members of the General Federation of Women’s Club preparing for march around Dover’s historic The Green to commemorate the 100th anniversary of women being allowed to vote in America. (Special to the Delaware State News/Gary Emeigh)

Harrington’s Annie Melvin Arniel, a factory worker, was arrested eight times and served 103 days in jail, according to Delaware Heritage Commission Chair Dick Carter. Delaware’s Florence Bayard Hilles and Annie Magee served federal prison time after being arrested for picketing the White House and were later pardoned by President Woodrow Wilson.

Such history must not be lost on the next generation, Dover resident Rosemary Staniszewski said prior to the march.

“Teaching younger people history is so important because they are not aware of what wasn’t and what is now,” she said.

“They just take it for granted.”

And the mission to increase women’s equality is hardly complete, DSFWC President Rita Hollanda said.

DFWC Delaware State President Rita Hollada, of Selbyville, addressing crowd that gathered on Dover’s historic The Green, to commemorate the 100th anniversary of passage of the 19th Amendment to the constitution which guaranteed women the right to vote. (Special to the Delaware State News/Gary Emeigh)

“It’s definitely improving,” she said.

“We see more and more women CEOs, we see more in politics or course and now there’s a vice presidential candidate and woman of color but we still have a glass ceiling and may still feel some discrimination, so we’re still fighting.”

What’s important now, Dover resident Nancy Gardner said, “is to see that every voter who is eligible gets every possible opportunity to vote whether it’s in person or by mail, and they get to exercise their right.”

Dressed in a replica brown World War I soldier uniform, Dover’s Ryan Schwartz held a sign “I fought for democracy over there so march over here.” It was a tribute to armed forces members who supported the suffrage movement after returning from Europe.

“I believe it’s important to show that while this was a movement that was led by women it wasn’t exclusively a women’s movement,” said Mr. Schwartz, the First State Heritage Park interpretive programs manager.

“They did have allies, they did have support and I think that’s an important component that people today need to see as well.”

The Green area was the focal point of the debate over suffrage and ratification debate, since the Old State House was the site where Delaware’s legislators determined its fate. There were hundreds of pro- and anti-suffragists who arrived to amplify their beliefs, Mr. Schwartz said.

Women’s Equality Day

In a virtual ceremony, Gov. John Carney signed a proclamation recognizing Wednesday as Women’s Equality Day, joined by members of the Women’s Suffrage Centennial Committee.

During the presentation, committee member Dr. Hollingsworth recounted the history of the suffrage movement and noted that “well educated Black women and free women were encouraged to participate in the progressive organizations that were trying to get the rights for not only women but Black women and men as well.”

Black women participated in the women’s rights convention held in 1848 in Seneca Falls, New York, starting an impactful presence in the hard-fought push for equality on many fronts, Dr. Hollingsworth said.

Centennial committee chair Jackie Griffith, director of Government and Community Relations at Delaware State University, said more events are upcoming and should be completed by April 2021. Joining her during the virtual presentation was committee member and Secretary of State Chief Deputy Courtney Stewart.

Ms. Griffith touted the womensvote100.org/delaware website and an interactive component designed to reach school-age children.

More related information is also available online at de.gov/womenvote100.

General Assembly Majority leaders Rep. Valerie Longhurst and Sen. Nicole Poore, who sponsored House Resolution 21 that created the Women’s Suffrage Centennial Committee, participated in both the virtual session and historical marker dedication.

On Wednesday, U.S. Rep. Lisa Blunt Rochester issued a statement that read, in part:

“The introduction, passage, and ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment was a truly transformative period in our history.

“From Seneca Falls, to the halls of Congress, to the floors of state legislatures — achieving its final adoption was a truly incredible feat by truly incredible suffragists and their allies. These women advocated, marched, fought, and died for their right to make their voice heard at the ballot box.

“A century later, our work is far from over. While we have made major advances toward granting a true franchise to all of our citizens, much of that work has been clawed back in recent years.

“And so today, on the centennial of its adoption, let us celebrate and commemorate the truly remarkable work of the women who came before us, let us acknowledge how much further we have to go to ensure that every citizen in this country — regardless of race, sex, station, history, or means is able to exercise their right to vote — and let us recommit ourselves to the hard work of securing that most sacred democratic right.”