How a Social Movement Became a Norm: Colorado and woman suffrage

Twenty-five years ago in 1993, a group of Colorado women, including me, launched a commemoration of the state’s woman suffrage. Colorado was the first state to institute votes for women, and it was accomplished by a popular vote. In other words, by men voting to endorse the move!

            As I became involved with the project, I learned about the history of women’s political efforts. Seems to me in the West in general, women achieved status and power more easily than back East. Perhaps because the Homestead Act of 1862 allowed single, widowed, divorced, or deserted women to file for property. Perhaps because married women on homesteads and ranches had to assume men’s responsibilities and equal amounts of hard duties to keep the holdings afloat.

            In any case women’s rights came more quickly out here. In Colorado, the movement was helped a great deal by the silver crisis of 1893. Silver was devalued and other economic brouhaha occurred. Then it wasn’t just kindly thoughts on the part of men; it was financial desperation. So much for lofty goals like equality of the sexes.

            Regardless, the history of the women’s movement in the state is fascinating. The personalities, the strengths and weaknesses, the emotions stirred up make an exciting and educational account.

            Each iteration of feminism brings its own perspective, extremists, battles, losses, draws, and wins. Cobble together your own interpretation of what was significant, who was a heroine, who a villain.. However, it’s useful to remember any time members of a group are lumped together as identical, the more scope for errors. In the 70s, women protestors were known as “bra burners” when, in fact, this wasn’t a wide-spread phenomena. The respected rumor-debunker Snopes says, During a demonstration by feminists at the 1968 Miss America pageant, some bras — along with numerous other items — were burned when a trash receptacle was briefly set alight.” This was the only occurrence of the symbolic action.

            Another point: social change doesn’t occur overnight. Years ago, when my children were babies, my husband and I decided that family responsibilities were a benefit as well as a responsibility. We decided to alternate each of our stints at child and house care with employment to support us. This began as a one-year period but quickly extended to two, then five year rotations when we realized no one would hire us for any kind of decent wage if we constantly hopped in and out of jobs.

            The first five years were my assignment. Because a stay-at-home mom wasn’t unusual, no one blinked an eye. However when we rotated, the response changed. Upon learning my husband was trying his hand at writing, one woman congratulated me on letting him be “the creative one,” never acknowledging my struggles at scribbling. Other responses included sly comments about “an alcohol problem,” “lack of job skills,” or just general “no ambition.”

            None were true. The first step for our then-unusual transition was my husband’s. When the kids were very little, one day he offered to let me have an entire day a week to do whatever I wanted while he took care of house and children. I pulled out a piece of paper and toted up the number of hours I normally spent on my chores. When I realized the accumulative time was well over ten hours a day, seven days a week, while he was working eight hours a day, five days a week, I surrendered without a complaint.

            So just as women’s right to vote in Colorado was approved by men, my personal voyage to women’s lib was launched and sustained by a man, my husband.

            Is this often true of social change? It may be. Certainly the prohibition on slavery never would have occurred without the support of some white men. The

realization that children deserved protection from excessive labor and horrid conditions came from adults. If the #MeToo movement bears productive results, it will occur because people of all genders support it and come together in a spirit of good will.

* photo courtesy Denver Public Library Western History Dept.

 

 

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Bargain Book: Watch out for falling rock! A mountain town and its rugged mayor captivate a woman in search of a new life and love.

silhouette couple     Funny and frank, poignant and perceptive, when two people are “Falling Like a Rock,” they learn surrender sometimes means victory. My new women’s novel, Falling Like a Rock, at a special promotional price of 99¢ for a few days, in electronic version. Kindle or Barnes & Noble Nook.

Unloved and unemployed. That’s Elaine Svoboda, after she’s sacked, then flees across country to her boyfriend who drops her flat. Teetering on the abyss of disaster, she calls an old friend who invites her to a tiny mountain town with fresh prospects. There she meets rugged, hunky Joe Richter-Leon, mayor of Falling Rock.

Sparks fly immediately, but major obstacles make a new life on the ashes of the old appear impossible. Joe’s consumed with challenges like the dismal local economy and an impetuous sister. Elaine butts heads with him at every turn in the rocky road. Are her bungling attempts to help the problem? Or does she remind him of a greedy, selfish ex-wife?

Before they can build a new life on the ashes of the old, she must overcome a few obstacles like a broken ankle, an eating disturbance, his stubbornness, and her own fears. She’s smothering her hopes when a battle with a forest inferno illuminates their true feelings and desire.

The Days That the Rains Came Down

Floods of near Biblical proportions. Hardly. But that’s been the description of Colorado’s weather this September as deluges, torrents, surges, and crests inundated what normally is semi-arid country. While “100-year flood” is a fairly common description, ours this year has been more like a 500-year level.

Have people been taken by surprise? Certainly those who build on or travel over flood plains shouldn’t be. Yet we don’t normally expect waters to mount so high out of their ordinary channels that they escape bounds and cover nearby acres. It’s easy to think, “Well, we should build more wisely.” But we simply can’t anticipate every contingency.

I kind of like that. I like knowing people aren’t omnipotent, despite our illusions to the contrary, that the natural world exists beyond our control, and we’d better remember that. Still for reasons unknown, the public complains. “The storm sewage system is inadequate.” “The schools should have water-tight basements.” “Why aren’t there broader shoulders on mountain roads to catch the slides?”

It might be that our world has so few real challenges that we need natural disasters. Humanity hits its highs and lows at these times. We always hear stories of heroism and tragedy. The media has something to spotlight other than a film star’s marriages or the stock market’s changes. We all have a chance to think “what if” and chatter about a near-miss we’ve had. Like this one: I was going to drive to a mountain town with several friends on the first day of the rains. The downpour didn’t look that heavy along our route. My wiser companion pointed out that our highway went through mountain areas with steep, rocky, and bare slopes, and mud- and rock-slides could be a problem. We cancelled the trip. Sure enough, whoosh!, slides hit the route we would have traveled.

We should realize we can’t prepare for every single potential disaster. If we go with the flow a little more, and enjoy challenges as they come along, appreciating our participation in and survival of nature’s vagaries, we might approach my two-year-old grandson’s attitude. When he spotted the flood in his basement, he ran for his swim suit, begging his mom to take him down to the “Pool! Pool!”

Nosy Nelly Snoops With No Shame

The books that stick in my memory are those that have real people in real life situations, even if they’re fantasies or mysteries. They face problems, defeat them or are defeated by them, live, learn, change. I love immersing myself in their stories, and I laugh or cry with them. Years ago I rode the bus while reading A Tale of Two Cities, and tears streamed down my face when Sydney Carton faced the guillotine. I bonded instantly with a woman pouring over The Joy Luck Club while waiting for car repairs.

In other words, I’m a Nosy Nelly. This antiquated term means someone who’s so interested in other people’s business that she sticks her nose in everywhere. Since I don’t dare indulge myself by peeping in my neighbors’ windows, I restrict myself to books. Since my life has a finite limit and I’m not a time traveler, books let me make endless trips to fascinating eras and equally entrancing personalities. Since I’m not a millionaire, I don’t spend a penny on my voyages through books.

Visual artists enable their viewers to see things in a new way. They open their eyes. In the same manner, writers enable their readers to think about the world and life in new ways. They open their minds. So my cupidity* for knowing about the extraordinary lives of ordinary people brings me rewards in addition to entertainment. How could I learn how a soldier in Viet Nam dealt with the armed conflict except through The Things They Carried? Catch a glimpse of a future I hope we can avoid in The Hunger Games? Get a sense of an immigrant’s situation in London in the course of White Teeth?

I’m neither limited to a single lifetime nor restricted in any other way. That’s why I read.

*Cupidity: greed, strong desire

Elucidate, Elucidate!

Despite our lip service to valuing diversity, I find that one group continues to be held up to ridicule.  People with a higher education often can be identified through their speech and writing.  For some reason, responses to them are not infrequently derogatory, negative.  Even the names by which they’re labeled are belittling: egghead, four-eyes (based on the stereotype appearance with glasses), effete intellectuals according to one American vice president, bookworm, geek, know-it-all.  

Why is that?  We don’t call down talented athletes.  Outstanding actors, musicians, artists are praised and mentioned as good role models. Business leaders are quoted, courted and rewarded.  Can you imagine the reaction if you called a basketball star “spider legs” or a top model “mask face?”  

Yet folks feel perfectly free to scoff at an individual who makes use of an unusual word.  Do I sound overly sensitive?  Well, I am.  During a recent meeting, I said another member of the group could elucidate* the content of a paper we were reading. Whoops of laughter greeted my word choice.  

I’m old enough now to shake off that reaction, but I remember times growing up when I’d hide not only my vocabulary but also my obsession with reading and the positive reactions of teachers to my academic efforts.  I never thought of myself as particularly bright or skilled, but I slowly and painfully learned to do nothing to draw attention to my brain. 

Was it because I was a girl?  Maybe in those far-away days.  Things have changed somewhat.  Now little boys know without being told that reading and academics are more a girl’s province than theirs.  They are much more likely to be reluctant readers, and by the time they hit high school, then college, they’re opting out of education.  (See http://www.readingrockets.org/blog/55245/ for one point of view on the issue.)  

But regardless of sex, brainiacs shouldn’t have to struggle to be proud of themselves and their talents.  Hide their lights under a bushel.  Disguise their true selves.  

Sages of the world, would one of you elucidate?  Elucidate!  Just how did this state of affairs come to be and how can we change it?  

*Elucidate:  clarify, explain, to make clear especially through explanation