Friday, March 22, 2013

6 famous speeches about voting from The Eloquent Woman Index

Women today who have trouble getting on the program at professional conferences might want to take the don't-get-mad-get-even approach that Lucretia Mott and Elizabeth Cady Stanton took. They were delegates to an 1840 convention on fighting slavery, but found when they arrived that the women delegates weren't allowed to speak--so they came home and started a movement to seek votes and rights for women.

Voting's a recurring thread in the 100-plus speeches collected in The Eloquent Woman Index of Famous Women's Speeches--but these six speeches don't deal only with votes for women. I've put them in chronological order, so you can see the progress being made. As with all of the speeches in the Index, each of these posts includes the text, and, where available, audio or video, as well as concrete speaking lessons you can learn from them:
  1. Susan B. Anthony's 1873 speech "Is it a crime for a U.S. citizen to vote?" came during a court case after she was indicted for voting in a presidential election long before U.S. women were allowed to do so. Anthony didn't live to see women get the vote, but she got the ball rolling in dramatic fashion with this forthright speech.
  2. Emmeline Pankhurst's "Freedom or Death" speech in 1913 brought this British suffragette to the United States, in an effort to raise money and to escape another stint in jail. The British campaign for women's votes was more violent than its sister movement in the U.S., and Pankhurst explained why in this speech, noting "you cannot make omelettes without breaking eggs."
  3. Canadian suffragette Nellie McClung's "Should Men Vote?" speech in 1914 is among my favorites for its humorous approach. She staged a mock parliament to debate whether men should get the vote, using all the arguments they made against women voting--and showing them for the empty reasoning that they were, getting lots of laughs and winning the popular vote in this round.
  4. Coming right after American women earned the right to vote in 1920, this speech by Girl Scouts founder Juliette Gordon Low in 1924 folded voting into a list of activities a Scout might be expected to do to show "she is a useful and worthy member of her community." As scouting predated women's votes in the U.S., the speech demonstrates how the movement was ready to change as women's roles in society changed.
  5. Eleanor Roosevelt urged a specific kind of vote in her nomination-saving speech at the 1940 Democratic convention. Her husband had been nominated for a controversial third term as President, but conflicting factions put that nomination in danger. Telling the delegates "this is no ordinary time," Roosevelt won her husband the convention delegates' confidence and made an historic, ringing speech to boot.
  6. Fannie Lou Hamer's televised testimony before the Democratic National Convention conference committee in 1964 laid bare the violent struggle that blacks faced in attempting to register to vote. A little less than 100 years after Susan B. Anthony's speech, and a half-century after Emmeline Pankhurst, Hamer was back to talk in unflinching terms about being jailed for seeking the opportunity to register to vote. She echoed Anthony's "Is it a crime for a U.S. citizen to vote?" by asking "Is this America?" She had the platform that none of the other five women in this post had, however: Televised live, her testimony didn't get her a seat at the convention, but pushed voting rights forward by reaching a wider audience.
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