On August 18th, 2020 -- the 100th anniversary of women’s suffrage -- I will turn 18 years old. For the first time in my life, I’ll have the chance to vote in a presidential election. I certainly don’t take the opportunity to vote lightly, but how do I even begin to wrap my head around this decision? The whole world has been brought to a screeching halt with a global pandemic; schools and businesses have shut down and public transportation has largely been abandoned as we abide by stay at home orders. We’ve been quarantined for the past eight and half weeks already. As for the political situation, it’s vicious. I’ve been told that this upcoming election is one of the most complex presidential races in the history of the United States. So, what am I to think? What am I to do?
To answer this question, I often wonder what my Nana would have said. She grew up during the great depression, survived World War II and 9/11, battled cancer twice, and never complained. Shea was extremely proud of all of her grandkids’ accomplishments, and was excited for the opportunities that awaited her granddaughters in particular. She would’ve had the right to vote in 1947, but as a young woman with very little money she had limited opportunities. My Nana once told me she only had a few career options: secretary, clerical worker, or bank teller. However, she watched the great strides women have made over the decades and was encouraged about opportunities available to her granddaughters that she never had herself.
Reflecting on my Nana’s experiences prompted me to dig a little deeper. Before the pandemic shut down its doors, the historical society in my town launched an exhibit titled Something Must Be Done: Bold Women of Lexington. This is how I discovered the motto of the Women’s Suffrage Movement “Something Must Be Done.” I began to wonder this: if something needed to be done then, how does that apply to what must be done now? What did those bold women like my Nana have to overcome?
I found that in order to secure the right to vote, women had to be incredibly persistent; the women’s movement began in 1848, 72 years before suffrage was finally accomplished. The town of Lexington witnessed this brave perseverance with the passing of the Lexington suffrage banner. In November of 1912, the Lexington Equal Suffrage Association reconvened for their first meeting in which Caroline Wellington and fellow suffragettes presented the original banner to the association. Initially created for the Lexington Women's Suffrage League in 1887, the banner was now being handed down to a new generation of suffragists nearly twenty-five years later. This new generation would continue the decades-long fight for equal voting rights until its accomplishment just eight years later, using the banner emblazoned with the phrase “Something Must Be Done” as their symbol and guide.
The town of Lexington also watched the various setbacks over the course of this movement, including the failure of the 1915 referendum. The Lexington Equal Suffrage Association helped pin up 300 bluebirds throughout the town during the statewide campaign to grant Massachusetts women the vote. Despite their enormous contribution, the referendum failed with nearly 65% of men voting against women’s suffrage. Although this was a devastating defeat, victory was close. The bluebird remained a symbol of hope for Massachusetts women, and was even used to commemorate suffragist Lucy Stone’s birthday a month later.
As an 18-year-old today, it is easy to take the suffragists’ hard work for granted. In a few short months, I will fill out a ballot, feed it into a machine or put it in the mailbox, and my voice will be heard. A year ago I wouldn’t think much of it, if anything at all. However, this pandemic has become a wake-up call to me. Something must be done to stop the spread of the virus, to provide relief for those who are suffering, and to reopen not just the economy but the world as we know it. There is something that we can do. We can vote.
In the midst of a global crisis and a highly contested election year, we have the power to elect someone who will fight for what we believe in. This pandemic has unearthed the multitude and immensity of the issues we face as a country, ranging from environmental to economic to health care to social justice and more. This is our wake up call. Although we may feel powerless, each of us can still get involved by using our power to vote. The women of the suffrage movement knew just how important our votes are and how critical it is that each of us is heard. So this is our call to action - whether it is in a ballot in a ballot box or an envelope in a mail box, we must make our voices heard.
If my Nana was still here today, I know she would tell me to not lose hope. She would gently remind me that this situation is temporary, and that there are still many opportunities for me. Then she would tell me to use those opportunities because good things will happen. And she would be right.
History is in the making. The women of the suffrage movement persevered through many trials and setbacks, and so can we. Something must be done, something was done, and something will be done again.
-Amy Palmer, local student and guest author
"Something Must Be Done: Bold Women of Lexington" tells the stories of Lexington citizens who fought for what they believed in - whether it was British taxation, voting rights, or the institution of slavery. For more about the exhibit, visit our current exhibits page.
Find out more about suffrage bluebirds and get your own Bluebird of Hope here.
Featuring the voices of Lexington Historical Society permanent staff and occasional guest authors.