A century of suffrage

Women from all walks of life participated in Florence’s Centennial Women’s Suffrage Parade on Aug. 26. The parade started from the Lotus Restaurant parking lot in Historic Old Town Florence, progressed down Bay Street and ended at Siuslaw Pioneer Museum. There, Last Resort Players and the John Quay Heritage Players, based in Siuslaw Pioneer Museum, read speeches from notable suffragettes.

Florence unites for women’s right to vote

Aug. 29, 2020 — Honks and cheers rang out along Bay Street in Historic Old Town Florence Wednesday afternoon as a line of women, children and supportive men walked united down the street, holding signs that read, “Vote for Women” and “Equality for Women Now!” in celebration of the Centennial of Women’s Suffrage.

Yellow and purple were the colors of the day, both being symbolic of the suffrage movement, while participants were encouraged to dress in contrasting white, mimicking the attire suffragettes wore in order to stand out against the crowds of dark suited men who historically blocked their ability to vote.

The local celebration drew a crowd of roughly 70 people at Siuslaw Pioneer Museum following the parade. There, Leonora Kent, the facilitator of the event, began by thanking the crowd for coming to celebrate 100 years since the passage of the 19th amendment, “passage” being an important word choice.

“Women were not ‘granted’ the right to vote. They fought for it effortlessly and won,” said Kent.

She then introduced the first of seven historically dressed women from the Last Resort Players and John Quay Heritage Players, all adorned with wide brimmed hats, hoop skirts and buckle shoes. The women performed excerpts of speeches from just a few of the many influential leaders of the suffrage movement.

The first performer, local actor and singer Maree Beers, reenacted a speech by Frances Ellen Watkins Harper, an African American suffragist who spoke at the 11th National Woman’s Rights Convention in 1866.

“You white women speak here of rights. I speak of wrongs,” Beers declared. “I, as a colored woman, have had in this country an education which has made me feel as if I were in the situation of Ishmael, my hand against every man, and every man’s hand against me.”

Harper died in 1911 after a lifetime of women’s activism and only nine years before the passage of the 19th amendment, which granted women the right to vote.

However, there were still many discriminatory policies in jurisdictions throughout the U.S. It wasn’t until the Voting Rights Act was passed in 1965 that Black women were guaranteed their right to vote.

After the reenactments, Diane Neale led the crowd in singing “The Battle Hymn of Women,” accompanied by Chris Lewis on the piano, to the tune of “The Battle Hymn of The Republic.”

The song, which was first sang in 1971 at a women's liberation march, began, “Mine eyes have seen the glory of the flames of women’s rage / Leapt smoldering for centuries, now burning in this cage. / We no longer will be prisoners in the same old gilded cage. / That’s why we’re marching on.”

Shirley Nelson from the Florence League of Women’s Voters wrapped up the speeches and signing by reminding people about the importance of being an informed voter.

“It’s important that we not only having the ability to vote, but also that we be educated voters,” she said.

Nelson emphasized that every vote counts and, as a reminder of that, all the women were wearing yellow roses. She explained that the significance of the yellow roses dates back to an important historical moment when Tennessee voted to ratify the 19th amendment, securing the three-fourths majority needed to put it into law nationally.

According to Nelson, supporters from both sides of the fight lobbied in Tennessee that day by wearing either yellow or red roses; supporters of suffrage wore yellow roses in public, while the anti-suffragists wore red roses. The vote came down to one young senator who had a last-minute change of heart and replaced his red rose with a yellow one.

Florence’s suffrage celebration ended with a dance performance by the Dancing Divas, all dressed in empowering women’s costumes such as Rosie the Riveter. They danced to The Chick’s “March March.”

“The performers were great and the parade was great, and I’m just glad it worked out so well, despite the wind,” said Sue Sweatt, one of the participants.