Learning About Persistence in Women’s Lives
In our previous post, Kendra wrote about the life of Nannie Helen Burroughs and how she turned “no” into “yes” throughout her life. Persistence as it applies to women’s lives is one of the takeaways from that blog. And as I reflect on Nannie’s life, I remember the times in my own life that I gave in too quickly or thought that “no” meant “no.” Only later did I realize that “no” sometimes just means “not now.”
In seeking inspiration for achieving persistence, I’ve become interested in Nannie’s life and how persistence paid off for her. This led me on an unexpected path of tracing a series of events that created some of the influences on Nannie’s life and the lives of all of us — especially in relation to voting and other civil rights.
Here’s a Fun Story You May Enjoy Discovering as Much as I Have
On December 16,1773, in the growing evening darkness, more than 100 men boarded the Eleanor, Beaver, and Dartmouth ships in Boston Harbor. In what later became known as the Boston Tea Party, these men poured the contents of 342 tea chests into the water. (Stay with me…this really is relevant.)
As a tea drinker myself, I can’t even imagine how many cups that would have been.
Of course, you already know the tea dumping part of the story. But did you know the bigger story about tea, about how…
…America was Changed by Those 342 Tea Chests PLUS 5 Other Cups of Tea?
Earlier that morning in 1773, merchants and tradesmen Samuel Adams, Paul Revere, John Hancock, Patrick Henry, and others, met at the Old South Meeting House. There these Sons of Liberty voted against paying the English tax on tea. Instead they decided to dump all the tea as a visible and powerful statement of their unhappiness with England forcing them to comply with laws and taxes when they had been unable to influence them.
Throwing tea overboard was one of the early acts of defiance that led to the American revolution. Colonists used the tea to demonstrate their refusal to pay taxes without representation in government. That was persistence.
5 Cups of Tea … 75 Years Later
It’s July 9, 1848 and tea again is the focus of a revolution that was needed to have a voice in making the laws that they must follow. This time it was women that wanted change in American laws rather than English laws.
Imagine, if you will, a parlor in Jane Hunt’s home in Waterloo, New York. Looking around you see a red velvet sofa, a wall map of the 30 US states (it would be 111 years later before a map would show 50 US states), and five chairs encircling a polished wood tea table set with embroidered linen napkins, silver spoons, a bone china sugar bowl, cream pitcher, and teapot plus five matching cups and saucers.
The women arriving to fill those chairs were Martha Wright, her sister Lucretia Mott who was visiting, Eizabeth Cady Stanton from nearby Seneca Falls, and MaryAnn M’Clintock whose husband rented a home from Jane’s husband.
Jane poured the tea and after a bit of socially expected chit-chat, discussions quickly turned to moral and political injustices that women face in their everyday lives. But this time words were not enough for them. They agreed to hold a convention to advance the cause of women’s rights.
Jane brought paper and pen to the table and the women wrote an advertisement for the Seneca County Courier. The ad invited readers to Seneca Falls 10 days later, for “a Convention to discuss the social, civil and religious condition of women.”
7 Days After the Tea Party
Because women were not allowed leadership positions, the women had no experience organizing and running a large meeting. But they knew they needed to present a statement of purpose.
So when they met again, this time in the M’Clintock home. Elizabeth Cady Stanton and MaryAnn M’Clintock, using the Declaration of Independence as their model, wrote what became known as the Declaration of Sentiments. It said, for example:
We hold these truths to be self-evident that all men and women are created equal…
On July 19-20, 1848…
The Seneca Falls Convention ad attracted more than 200 women and men who, after much discussion over two days, passed the Declaration of Sentiments that argued for women’s right to vote, along with other points. But there was no immediate success. Words are just words. It took actions, education, and persistence before the 19th Amendment, which opened suffrage to women, became law.
Finally, Women to the Polls in 1920
It didn’t just take persistence. It took a lot of persistence over the following 72 years before women could finally vote in 1920. Many of the women who participated in the early days of the suffrage movement did not live long enough to ever get to vote.
On August 6, 1965…45 Years After 1920 When “Women” Gained the Right to Vote
I put the word “women” in quotes because it was only theoretical that the 19th Amendment meant both white and Black women could vote. In reality, it took 45 more years before the passage of the Voting Rights Act in 1965 that specifically lowered the barriers to voting for Black women.
And Back to Nannie Helen Burroughs
And so I find myself circling back to Nannie Helen Burroughs. She was just one person walking that long road to women’s right to vote. Earlier she walked the multi-year road to establishing a school for Black women and girls. And even before that, she walked the road to her own education.
It’s true that we “know” we need to persist to achieve our goals. But that is such vague advice. I find inspiration in reading about specific women who have persisted and succeeded.
I hope it helps you too.