By JAMIE PARSELL
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
Susan B. Anthony would have been proud of West Virginian women. Anthony, an activist for woman’s suffrage, died in 1906, 14 years before the passing of the 19th Amendment. But in West Virginia, female voters outnumber male voters by about 60,000, according to a press release from West Virginia Secretary of State Natalie Tennant.
Tennant said women in West Virginia do not realize the power they have over the future in the Mountain State.
There are 660,000 female registered voters in the state, but only one women fills a seat in the state Senate, two females on the state Supreme Court and 21 women in the 100-seat House. Tennant is the only woman on the seven-member Board of Public Works.
During Anthony’s time, women were not a part of any elections.
But when asked if she thought women would ever be able to vote, Anthony said it was “inevitable.” But even Anthony could not have predicted the role of women in American politics.
Only a few early supporters of the women’s suffrage were able to see the 19th Amendment pass. The right to vote started before the Civil War. During this time, reform groups began appearing in towns and cities all across America. Many of these groups — anti-slavery organizations, temperance clubs, religious groups and societies — were led by women. Many groups began talking about women’s rights, but with the war, the movement lost steam. But after the passing of the 14th Amendment (citizenship and equal civil and legal rights to blacks and slaves) and 15th Amendment (the right for black men to vote), the discussion of equal rights for females became organized under the National American Woman Suffrage Association. In 1910, some Western states extended the vote for women. But other states — those in the south and east — resisted the change. World War I helped the campaign with the argument that women deserved equal rights, especially after working during war to support their husbands and families.
On March 5 and 6, the West Virginia Women’s Commission held Women’s Day at the Legislature. The two-day event encouraged women to become involved in their communities.
“I know what it’s like to balance work life with home life and as any woman will tell you, it’s not easy sometimes,” Tennant said. “I know a lot of times we focus on our families or our jobs, but I urge women to stay involved in what happens in their communities. Stay informed on the issue. Make sure you know who is running for office and vote for the person that best reflects your beliefs and values. Or you could run for office. Too many women are intimidated from throwing their hat in the ring when they can offer a unique perspective to the issues that we face.”
In recent elections, women have become the tipping point in many close races. Early women’s suffrage leaders would be proud. But why do women in the region vote? For Vonda Wilson, of Bluefield, the answer is simple.
“Women’s rights,” she said.
Erica Morgan, of Princeton, said the shift in the number of females voting can be attributed to jobs.
“You have more women out in the work force, whereas back in the ’50s it was mainly the men that ‘brought home the bacon.’ I think, too, women see more whole picture where men just see the bottom line,” Morgan said.
Princeton resident Rebecca Botts, the mother of three, said she votes because decisions affect future generations. She believes it is why other women head to the polls.
It has been a tough road since the first women’s suffrage movement; women have come a long way. In the 2008 election, 60.4 percent of the female population over the age of 18 showed up at the polls. Men? Just under 56 percent. In other words, 10 million more women than men voted.
In 2012, women showed up at the polls again. But this time, they also voted for their gender. There is currently a record number of females in the U.S. Senate. Another interesting twist on women in politics? The U.S. has its first all-female delegation — senators, House members and a governor — in New Hampshire.
Tennant wants West Virginian women to vote and create even more changes in the state.
On her website, she states, “ Generations of women worked tirelessly to gain suffrage. This is by far one of the most important amendments to the Constitution when it comes to voting, because it gave the right to vote to half of the population of the United States. If you are a female ... you have/will have the right to vote because a battle was fought for you in history.”