The young wife and mother always seemed to be getting into trouble simply because she was so fiercely independent.
She came with her new husband from upper New York State where her parents had attempted to raise a “lady” who never defied convention at a time when that meant something (in fact too much) to most people. But her upbringing just didn’t seem to “take” once she became old enough to be exposed to life as it really is.
Her staunchly conservative mother and father were almost glad to be rid of her when she informed them that she was marrying her fiancé and moving away. The couple was being relocated to Akron, Ohio by the company he worked for and all her father could say in exasperation was, “God help Ohio!”
After a few years in Akron the couple, with a new son, was forced to move yet again by that same company to a better position not too far away where they stayed and raised a family.
The year was 1916. Alice Mayhew (she insisted on keeping her maiden name) constantly embarrassed her husband by voicing her opinions about whatever injustice she became aware of....the recent enforcement of a “Draft” supporting the insanity of what was then called “The war to end all wars” in Europe.....WWI. (After that one they began numbering them.) She lamented the treatment of black people; of Native Americans (like everyone, including themselves at the time, she called them Indians). She spoke out about the apparent entitlement of the wealthy; the state of our public school systems; the quality of medical care to the poor. Everything she found unfair, and probably still would if she were with us today, became another reason to dissent.
But she was most loudly outspoken about a woman’s right to vote.....the “Suffragist Movement”.
Clear back in April of 1850 the first Women’s Rights Convention was held in the little town of Salem, Ohio coincidentally just twenty or so miles from where Alice now lived, and IT was attended by over 1000 people...incredible since that was a time when everyone living around such a small agricultural town were “spread out” and traveled by horse and buggy (if they even had a buggy). But other than a few meetings, parades and very minor conflicts with authorities, not much has progressed legislatively here in Ohio since then. So Alice and her lady-friends decided to do something rather drastic....and did they ever!
Now Lewis, her husband, usually kept quiet when she spoke up in public, not because he was hen-pecked or submissive in any way, but because he truly loved this woman, HIS woman, exactly as she was....even IF she couldn’t keep still about any injustice to ANYbody. But this was just too much!
“You’re going to do WHAT?! I’m simply not going to allow MY wife to make a public spectacle of herself like this!! ....ALICE! THIS FOOLISHNESS HAS TO STOP!!” ......... And on it went until the wee hours and both were exhausted. Alice seemed to eventually defer to her husband’s manly authority. But like many of their disagreements, it didn’t end there...just the discussion of it.
‘Maybe Lewis was right.’ she now thought as she sat perspiring in the hot mid-day sun fanning herself while wearing the bulky neck-to-ankle dress, thick stockings, high-buttoned shoes and foolishly flowered wide-brimmed hat.
She and her three fellow “Freedom Fighters” had chained and pad-locked themselves to hard, straight-backed wooden chairs which they had carried wordlessly with heads held high from the county courthouse lobby. Now they sit outside of the entrance of that huge stone building (not quite blocking the door for legal reasons) drawing attention to their cause. And there they’ve sat since early afternoon the day before yesterday.
For almost forty-eight hours the four of them chanted, they pleaded for women’s rights, and they sang songs until their voices were hoarse. And while doing all this they also had to ignore pleas from frustrated police, judges and local politicians of all kinds. Newsmen and their photographers urged them on for the sake of the story, but other men of all types (and some women too) taunted, harassed, and even called them names. And of course these fine people did NOT scold the various groups and clusters of naughty little boys who joined in as they copied the adult men.
More than one preacher with grandiose and self-righteous anger shouted incomplete passages from the Bible about a woman’s responsibility to “know her place” or she would surely serve eternity in Hell. The four women’s only concessions were the acceptance of “Privacy Breaks” when they were replaced by another “conspirator” until they returned....that and a few bites of food, with occasional sips from an offered container of cool water.
Finally, at a previously and secretly agreed upon time, the ladies were unlocked and released from their chains by their companions and everyone returned their chairs to the lobby. That is everyone except Alice, who quietly spirited her chair away to a delivery truck which one of the ladies had procured for their transport from her husband’s business. Once inside the truck, when asked why she stole the chair, she replied, “My bottom now OWNS this damned piece of wood!!” and no one said anything more about it.
As I write this, I’m sitting in my living room writing it in longhand to be later copied onto my computer. I often do it this way rather than just sitting in my study staring at a blank screen trying to decide what to type. As I began to comfortably let my thoughts drift and wander, my eyes fell upon that same old wooden chair now sitting in my kitchen accompanying the small utility (bill paying) desk. Granny Alice gave it to me many years ago when Grandpa Lewis died and she moved in with Mom and Dad back in 1968. At that same time, while still a senior in high-school and working a full-time job, I moved into my first apartment making room for her (but that’s a bunch of other stories).
Anyway, at the time of her moving in and me moving out she told me the story of the chair, why it meant so much to her, and how she’d be pleased if I took it to help furnish my new place asking only that I take good care of it for her. She lived with Mom and Dad for about ten more years often asking me how her chair was doing.
Ya know, I’ve always loved women. I love the way they act, look, smell, and even think (when I can understand them). But what I NEVER understood was how mature adults of either gender could have put up with things like not having the right to have a say, even a vote, in their own destinies....that not being TOO different than the way women are treated in most Mid-Eastern countries today.
Maybe it was because my father was raised by Grandma Alice and her tolerant and open-minded husband Lewis that Dad taught me that everybody’s opinion, and the rights that go with those opinions, NEED to be carefully paid attention to or our culture and system of government utterly fails. In other words, and in this example, when the input of women is excluded or ignored, it seems that most men, by their very nature, can only be controlled by fear of very harsh, strictly enforced law, or severely fundamentalist religion. And isn’t that exactly what is going on in the Mid-East today? It’s unfortunate that those men interpreting both their law and religion are so primitive and ruthless.
Here in the United States we should be specifically appreciative of the American voting process and what THAT means to all of us. It is the foundation of our form of government and should be MOST important to us as ABATE members.
We think of ourselves as Freedom Fighters in this organization. We fight for distinct rights relating to a particular lifestyle, and I’m very proud of what we do. But ya gotta admit, those women, fighting tremendous adversity for their very right to even vote, well, they musta had lotsa balls. I bet Granny’s up in Heaven rearranging the way things are done right now LOL!