Header Ad

Header Ad

Friday, April 5, 2019

Paving the way – the story of a road trip for women’s right to vote


By Lorraine Glowczak

In 1915, three women drove across the country in an Overland Six automobile, from San Francisco to D.C. with the sole purpose of gathering and delivering over 500,000 signatures on a petition to Congress and President Wilson, demanding women’s right to vote.

Maine author, Anne Gass, retraced that trip with her husband in the summer of 2015 - 100 years after
Left to right Sara Bard Field (from Detroit), Maria Kindberg
and Ingeborg Klingstedt. photo credit goes to Library of Congress
the initial journey. She shared her own story as well as that of the three women who made the arduous trip in a presentation last Monday evening, March 25 at the Little Meeting House in Windham, hosted by the Windham Historical Society.

The trip was sponsored by the Congressional Union for Woman Suffrage (CU), a small but mighty group led by Alice Paul that was determined to win voting rights for women through an amendment to the U.S. Constitution instead of the much slower strategy, pursued for decades, of winning it state by state. The CU set up a booth at the Panama Pacific International Exposition in 1915 and spent months gathering signatures on a petition demanding an amendment to the U.S. Constitution enfranchising women.

However, there needed to be a way to get those signatures to President Woodrow Wilson and Congress in Washington, D.C. Paul decided that a cross-country road trip was the answer. This would permit gathering more signatures in the states they visited, and would also generate badly needed publicity for their cause.  

Paul asked a poet, Sara Bard Field and wealthy socialite, Frances Joliffe to represent the Congressional Union on that journey. “Unfortunately, Frances became ill and was forced to drop out of the trip almost right away- in Sacramento,” explained Gass. “Two Swedish immigrants from Rhode Island, Maria Kindberg and Ingeborg Kindstedt, had traveled by steamship to the Exposition and were already planning to buy a car and drive it back to Providence. They offered to drive the envoys and the petitions the 5,000 miles to D.C, getting there in time for the opening of Congress on December 6.”

As Gass explained at last Monday evening’s talk, “They traveled the Lincoln Highway. However, the term “highway” was much different at that time. In 1915, the ‘Lincoln Highway’ was little more than a cart track that would turn to a sea of mud in the rain. It was highly unusual for women to drive alone - but they were determined to do it and they overcame considerable hardship.”

Gass revealed the many obstacles the three women faced. “Notice the car is a convertible,” Gass pointed out the picture on the PowerPoint presentation. “They begin their road trip in September and were traveling east in early December. Obviously, they were going to face cold weather along the way.”

Author and speaker, Anne Gass
Gass also explained that they had three gas cans filled with water, oil, and fuel stored on one side of the vehicle because gas stations were not as plentiful and easily accessed as one would experience today on a cross-country trip.

She told the story of the three women driving through the Salt Flats of Utah on their way to Ibapah Ranch, where they were planning to stay that night. “They went through extreme heat, through dusty salt plains and had to stop to patch their tires a dozen times. Unfamiliar with the route, they’d hired a man who swore he knew the way,.”

Not as much help as expected, the hired driver got lost. With the help of two cowboys they found wrapped in their blankets at a crossroads, they finally arrived at the ranch early in the morning hours. “
The women continued across the U.S., enduring snowstorms, washed out roads and mud. “At one point, they got stuck in the mud  near Hutchinson, Kansas at 10 p.m. at night,” Gass said. “They had just passed a farm house, so they yelled for help with the hope that someone would hear them and offer assistance. Getting no response, Field, who had insisted on taking the short cut, was elected to walk to that house – in mud up to her hips in places– to ask for help.”

They discovered from two men they met later that day that their pleas for help were heard but ignored because, “If those women want the right to vote, let’s see if they can help themselves out of the mud,” is what the men said to the three feminists. Not impressed with their logic, Field rebutted, “Do you know how many times I’ve been up in the night to help a man who was ill and couldn’t take care of himself? This is not a matter of the right to vote, this is about common humanity.”

Despite their challenges, the road trip provided opportunities for signatures and education to the public, with Field informing those who gathered in town squares, etc. about suffrage and encouraging people to support voter rights.

Making it to D.C. in time and impressed by the size of the petition, the President expressed his admiration and said he would consider their demand. Although it took another five years, the 19th Amendment to the Constitution, finally ratified in 1920, opened the polls to women. The three women, plus the 500,000 signatures, helped pave the way for women winning the right to vote.

Anne B. Gass is the author of “Voting Down the Rose: Florence Brooks Whitehouse and Maine’s Fight for Woman Suffrage”, published in 2014. She is the great-granddaughter of Florence Brooks Whitehouse who led Maine’s branch of the CU, working closely with Paul, Lucy Burns and other well-known suffragists. Gass’s great-grandmother was present in D.C. to greet Field, Kindberg and Kindstedt after their long three-month trip.

Gass lectures regularly on Florence Brooks Whitehouse and Maine suffrage history at conferences, historical societies, libraries, schools, etc. She serves on the Steering Committee of the Maine Suffrage Centennial Collaborative, a diverse group of organizations from across the state working to promote the one hundred year anniversary of woman suffrage.

To have Gass speak to your group, contact her at agassmaine@gmail.com.


No comments:

Post a Comment

Your Comments Help Improve Your Community.