Thank you very much. I'm very glad to be here at Hobart and William Smith Colleges. Of course, I'm glad to be anywhere where I get to finish a sentence without being interrupted.
I think probably some of you do recognize me as typically the lone woman on The McLaughlin Group, which is a public affairs show but it's really more like a televised food fight. It's the only show where you're expected to speak before you think, and interrupting each other, being generally rude, calling each other names is all considered part of good television today.
The show is the creation of John McLaughlin. He is a former Jesuit priest, and he actually got his training in the classroom. He once told me that the best, the most memorable teachers are those who project themselves as characters, and I know he did that in the classroom. He taught in a boy's prep school in Rhode Island and Connecticut for many years and he would arrive in his black flowing robe with a black velvet rope tied around the middle, a homburg and white gloves. Every classroom had a beadle--it's an Anglican church term for the person who follows behind the bishop with the incense. On The McLaughlin Group Pat Buchanan was the original beadle. The secular equivalent is really the hall monitor. John would take the homburg off, hand it to the beadle and then with a great flourish remove the white gloves, finger by finger, always adding a sense of drama to whatever he did. And I must say in his television show, which has now been on the air for more than 20 years, he's one of the few people who can make subjects like NATO enlargement or the trade deficit with China exciting with his signature cries of "Wrong!" or "On a scale of 0 to 10, with 0 being absolutely wrong and 10 being moral certitude," he's injected a lot of fun, I think, into the public debate.
The show is really fashioned like a men's locker room. It's informal with lots of competitive conversation, and my husband used to say that there was a lot of towel-snapping and one-upping of each other. It's not a style of conversation that women feel comfortable with. When I was first dropped onto the set I felt like I was in a totally alien world. They would occasionally let me speak and then they would simply go back to what they were doing. It wasn't until Bob Novak, who was one of the original panelists--a conservative columnist, known in Washington as a Prince of Darkness--when he would wave his finger in my face and say "Eleanor Clift and people of her ilk," his willingness to insult me, right to my face, finally made me feel like I was one of the crowd. They show no hesitation now to take me on. And I have certainly learned how to interrupt on the show, because if you didn't interrupt it would simply go by without you, and I still struggle to hold the floor. As soon as I get two sentences out I can see the guys begin to levitate out of their chairs--they're ready to lunge. Somebody once said "The McLaughlin Group without Eleanor is like a foxhunt without the fox."
Now I must say the show rarely goes by that I don't say "Let me finish" or "Excuse me" and it'll probably say "Let me finish" on my tombstone.
But I have learned as a woman on television that you have to keep a smile on your face. If you have even a neutral expression you get all sorts of mail, people wondering why you're so angry. And I must say the smile on my face is not always heartfelt, but part of my staying power on the show I think is that I'm a good sport and I don't take, or I don't appear to take, it too seriously. I feel like I'm one of those plastic dolls that you knock down and they pop right back up, and I think I don't give up. And occasionally I land a good blow of my own, and so that is always satisfying.
And so I think as a woman in this male power world I have always taken an interest in women in politics. Women in politics are another example of women struggling to be heard and women who are under-represented. And so I have written a lot about women in politics. I think that's why about two years I got a call asking if I wanted to write a book on the 19th Amendment. And I have to admit I wasn't entirely sure what the 19th Amendment was. I thought maybe it was Prohibition—that was the 18th Amendment—and it was repealed. I knew very little about this period of our history. Even though I owe my profession and my job as a reporter to what I would call the contemporary women's movement –from the early 1970s—which, frankly, to college students today might as well be the early suffragists. And the contemporary women's movement is almost a vague memory for many people today.
I started working at Newsweek as a secretary. A gender discrimination suit was brought against the magazine in the '70s, thanks to the activism of Gloria Steinem, Betty Friedan and others. Newsweek created internships for women at the magazine and a system of affirmative action goals and a timetable to allow women already at the magazine to become reporters. And the women who brought the suit, people like Nora Ephron, Ellen Goodman, Susan Brown Miller (who wrote a book about defining rape as violence and not sex). Nora Ephron was "Sleepless in Seattle," Ellen Goodman a famous well-read columnist. And they were all agitating for a chance to write, and the gender boundaries were so strict then that the answer was "No" until they did get a lawyer. The lawyer was Eleanor Holmes Norton, who today represents the District of Columbia in Congress. When then-editor of Newsweek saw Eleanor Holmes Norton, who was then pregnant with her first child—she happens to be African American—she was surrounded by the women of Newsweek, who for the most part were the daughters of well-connected, mostly Republican politicians and businessmen. And of course Nora Ephron's parents were Broadway playwrights. He thought to himself, maybe we'd better settle out of court. Katherine Graham, who headed the magazine then--Washington Post owns Newsweek—when she was told of the lawsuit she said, "Which side am I supposed to be on?" as she was a woman and she was management.
This was my history and how I got my opportunity. I really had no idea how much our founding sisters had done almost a hundred years earlier. The fight for women today, the fight for women to gain the vote in this country was a 72-year struggle—it went from 1848, began here in Seneca Falls, and didn't culminate until 1920 with the passage of the 19th Amendment. And during much of that time the majority of women did not particularly care about getting the vote, or they were openly hostile toward suffrage. The thinking was that women, at least in the early part of this movement, had enough to do just to run a household and they didn't really want to take on more public duties outside of the house. And the rationale that was perpetrated at the time was that women would just vote like their husbands anyway, and if they didn't vote like their husbands they would just cancel out their husbands, so why create all this extra paperwork? And that argument held for quite a long time.
The word suffrage itself is so off-putting. It comes from the Latin word suffragium which means "to vote." The suffrage movement I think has really been relegated to a sidebar in the history books--a sidebar that shows very stern-looking women staring out at you—not somebody you necessarily would want to get to know any better. So I think the suffrage movement has really been the stepchild of history. And yet these women engineered the greatest expansion of democracy in a single day that the world has ever seen.
Their fight has all the twists and turns of a modern thriller. There was racial conflict as the movement divided over whether to support the extension of the vote to Negroes after the Civil War and to withhold it from women. Many of these women had been here—they could trace their ancestry back to the Revolutionary days and they really resented the fact that many of them also were college-educated and that freed black slaves were given the vote and they were told to wait. They thought they had a deal with President Lincoln to press for women's suffrage after the Civil War in exchange for them suspending their suffrage activities before the war. But Lincoln got assassinated, of course, and his successor Andrew Johnson was a southern Democrat, conservative, not sympathetic to women's suffrage and so they had to wait. And the frustrations over being forced to set aside their hopes and dreams really led them to accommodate racist views in order to win Southern support. It's an accommodation that of course we've seen in our politics for quite a long time. But I think it's been difficult for women to look back--we want to put these women on pedestals and in many ways they belong on pedestals, but they were also very human. And some of the accommodations they made made me uncomfortable, and I prefer to think they did it because they thought the goal was worth reaching and that racism really wasn't in their hearts.
But I focus on two sets of founding sisters—first Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton. They started it all and the first women's convention was held right here in Seneca Falls. Susan B. Anthony wasn't part of it, though. She was working in the temperance movement. She wanted to rid the country of the evil of alcoholism. It wasn't until she'd done all the work to organize a temperance convention and they wouldn't even let her speak that she took the advice of her good friend Frederick Douglass, who said "the ticket of admission to a democratic society is the right to vote" and she of course became an advocate of suffrage.
But on that July morning, a weekday morning in 1848, 300 people showed up at that little tiny structure—you can see what remains of it—and you can see what an overwhelming event it must have been for that time. Bu the partnership between Susan B. Anthony and Cady Stanton—what attracted me to learn more about it is these two women were so different. Anthony was this stern schoolmarmish teacher—she was a teacher—she never married—she was all angles and severity in her physical appearance. And Stanton was round and jolly and at the end of her life she weighed either 200 pounds or 300 pounds, depending on which book you read, and she had seven children and Anthony would get so irritated at her that she would keep having these babies which interfered with their suffrage activities. In Anthony's memoirs she writes about walking by the Stanton household, which I visited today, and seeing the boys playing on the roof and debating whether the baby would bounce if you rolled him off the roof. Now if you look at this house, which is there, there's a window that opens right out on the roof, and the roof is quite flat. It's very easy to imagine the boys out there playing with the baby.
These two women had an extraordinary partnership for like 50 years and I think of them as poetry and prose—Stanton injected the creativity and the big ideas and Anthony was the disciplinarian who went out and executed the ideas. And their partnership really was a wonderful thing to behold, but they both died before their vision could be realized.
And their less well-known successors—Alice Paul and Carrie Chapman Catt—are the two women who pushed the 19th Amendment through to passage and ratification. And unlike the earlier sisters, Anthony and Stanton, Alice Paul and Carrie Chapman Catt did not get along, did not like each other. There was a great deal of tension in their relationship. They were a generation apart, with Catt being the older one. And I write about them "Catt was what you would call the head moderate, and Alice Paul was the head radical." So the movement really divided, following these two factions. Catt was the tactician. Eleanor Roosevelt called her the most organized woman she had ever met. She didn't like confrontation. She thought women could get the vote simply by out-organizing the opposition, state by state—and that had begun by the time the 19th Amendment passed. I think 11 or 13 states had given women the right to vote in federal elections and many more in state elections.
In many ways, though, Catt was also ahead of her time. Her first husband died pretty soon into their marriage and left her with a tidy little inheritance. And when she married for the second time she negotiated a pre-nup, which allowed her four months of every year to work on suffrage. She was the first in her class at Iowa State, and she went on to become school superintendent in three years, which was a record accomplishment for a woman in that time.
But Iowa was still the frontier and they needed women and they needed to attract women. I think of Carrie Chapman Catt as a sensible frontier woman. She went on to found the League of Women Voters. The League I think is very much in her tradition.
Alice Paul, younger, again, by a generation, really captured my imagination. She was a bold young woman who really had a sense of marketing. She had graduated from Swarthmore, in 1907, and she had advanced degrees from the University of Pennsylvania and she went abroad to study, to London. The avant-garde subject then, for women, was social work. So she was in London and she was a good Quaker girl. There was nothing to suggest that she was going to become radicalized, but in London she came under the influence of a woman named Emmeline Pankhurst, who was the leader of the British feminist movement. Young Alice was arrested, radicalized, and when se comes back to the States in 1911 she looks at the suffrage movement in this country and it's nowhere. I mean the women are being feted at various events and they're very respectable but they're nowhere near getting the vote. So she decided that what needs to be done is to take on the party in power—Democrats. And she organized the first protest of a Presidential Inauguration. And when Woodrow Wilson arrives in Washington in 1913, he arrives at Union Station and he looks around and he says "Where are all the crowds to greet me?" And he's told, "The ladies are over on the Avenue and the crowds are there watching the ladies." The Avenue was Pennsylvania Avenue. What Alice Paul had done was organize a parade of 8,000 women: women in their factory uniforms, their academic gowns, in their nurses uniforms, and at the front of the parade a woman described as the most beautiful suffragist ever on a white horse with wings—the warrior princess. And it got great reviews in the New York Times, but the headlines were "100 Area Women Taken to Hospitals," because lining Pennsylvania Avenue were a lot of men who were all souped up about this possible change in the social order and they jeered the women, they threw tomatoes, they threw lighted cigarettes, they tripped the women and it turned into quite a melée.
The chief of police in the District of Columbia actually lost his job over this. There were Congressional hearings. Helen Keller was among the marchers, and it was written that she had become so disoriented that she was unable to speak that night at Constitution Hall. It was a huge event. And Alice Paul was secretly pleased.
Carrie Chapman Catt was horrified. She though the British hooliganism had come to America's shores. But Paul understood that the parade had won the sympathy of the American people and put suffrage back on the front pages. Now this particular event, this parade, is beautifully dramatized in the HBO movie "Iron-Jawed Angels," which came out right around the same time as my book "Founding Sisters," and we did publicity together. I did a makeover for the suffragists, making them seem much more contemporary, so that women today could understand their lives. But HBO took it one step further—five steps further—and Hilary Swank plays Alice Paul and she plays her as a beautiful, bold young woman who would be comfortable on the set of "Sex and the City." "Iron Jawed Angels" is available on DVD. Anjelica Huston plays Carrie Chapman Catt. It's really a good movie and I recommend it very much.
The protest parade was just the beginning of it. For almost the entire Wilson presidency, the suffragists kept up a vigilance outside the White House gates. They called themselves the Silent Sentinels and they stood out there in cold weather, they would stand on heated bricks, they would be arrested for short periods of time, they would simply come right back to picket. These were upperclass women who, if they weren't picketing, they'd be having high tea somewhere. Wilson initially thought it was sort of amusing and he would tip his hat as he would go out the White House gates. But World War I and America's entry into the war was building and Wilson pretty soon got annoyed when the women would hold signs taunting him that he was denying democracy to 20 million American women at home while American boys were fighting and dying to spread democracy in Europe. So Wilson finally orders a crackdown and the women are held in jail for longer periods of time and it really turned ugly. The women called themselves political prisoners, they went on a hunger strike, they were treated quite brutally, and they would smuggle out their story on little scraps of paper like Martin Luther King out of the Birmingham Jail.
When they refused to eat they were force-fed, and that's where the phrase iron-jawed angels comes from. There's an iron clamp put over your mouth and they would pour raw eggs down your gullet and people would retch and get quite sick, but I guess it was better than starving. It was a pretty gruesome procedure, and again, these were upperclass women and their husbands were donors to the Wilson campaign. So after a time, quite a long time, Wilson finally capitulates and he initially pardons all the women and expects that they will be grateful. They say, "We're not grateful at all, we didn't do anything wrong." He finally sends suffrage to the U.S. Congress as a war measure, and the Democratic Congress initially turns it down—an extraordinary rebuff to a Democratic President by a Democratic Congress. The Republicans, not surprisingly, won the election and took over Congress in 1916, so then Wilson tries to call a lame duck Congress so that the Democrats would get credit for passing suffrage, because by now it's become popular.
And the Republicans block it because they don't want the Democrats to get credit so not until the new Republican Congress is seated does suffrage finally go through. And yet there's still plenty of drama left because a constitutional amendment then needed to be ratified by 34 states. And it comes down to Tennessee, a southern state that is not sympathetic to suffrage and the vote is deadlocked in the House which means the measure is about to be defeated, when the youngest member of the House, a 24-year-old, stand up and say that he has decided to switch his vote from opposing ratification to supporting it. Young Harry Burn—he changes the course of history. He explains that he'd gotten a telegram from his mother that morning urging him to support ratification to be a good boy. There's actually more to it. He supported ratification, but his district, Mouse Creek Tennessee, was opposed. And he was torn between doing what was right for himself and for his college-educated mother, who read seven newspapers a day, or his rural constituents. And so he finally went with his mother and his own instincts. But he needed a bodyguard when he would go back home. He did get reelected once and that was it. But he's a big footnote in suffrage history.
I think this whole saga, again, which takes so many years, is really an example of how reform is made in this country—slowly, with some very difficult compromises and driven by powerful personalities and by the unsung works of a lot of ordinary people who you don't hear about. But you could go into every community in this country and you could write a biography of the various women who were instrumental in the suffrage movement because they were everywhere.
But almost as soon as women got the vote, they took it for granted. Voting rates in this country dropped precipitously, which is a reality that Carrie Chapman Catt, who lived to be 86 years old and died in 1947, she really despaired about it. I was struck by one of her last public statements, when she said "Women have suffered an agony of soul which you can never comprehend so that your daughters might inherit political freedom. That vote has been costly—prize it."
Now today, I suppose, it's a luxury that we can have the vote and treat it so casually—that we don't have to picket to get the vote or to secure the vote. The politics of today are so different, I mean today when we talk about a potential woman president nobody laughs. It looks like it could become a reality at some point in the near future. We've had two female Secretaries of State, a female Attorney General and a female National Security Advisor. These were all unheard of not that many years ago and these were all once dominantly male positions.
And if I would date this push toward moving up in politics, I look back, it's now 15 years since the well, not quite 15 years, 1992, 13 years, since the year of the woman when a record number of women were elected to Congress and I remember some male member of Congress remarking that there were so many women on Capitol Hill the place looked like a shopping center. And it was Pat Schroeder who was then the longest serving female member of the House, the dean of the House, she commented back, "I wonder where he shops that Capitol Hill looks like a shopping center because the men still outnumber eth women quite dramatically." I guess what do we have, 15, 14 or 15, women in the Senate and the percentage is about the same in the House, I think we have maybe seven female governors out of 50. The men still outnumber women by quite a lot but we do have three states—Maine, Washington State, California—where you have two women senators in each and in Washington State there's even a female governor. Nonetheless, the calculations are at the rate we're going, it'll be 200 years before we reach parity in the House of Representatives.
And you know, it seems to me that the first suffrage movement they had a clear goal to give women the vote. The contemporary, in my mind, movement of the '70s wanted to open the professions and the various professional schools to women and that's all been accomplished. You wonder where we go next. I went to a birthday party for Betty Friedan not too long ago—she's in her 80s now--and somebody asked her "What do we do next?" Betty Friedan is rarely at a loss for words but she sort of threw out her hands and it took a while for her to respond, and her response was, "We did it."
The obvious barriers have all been knocked down and I think it's really hard to define feminism today or to identify a women's movement. Yet women have a great deal of clout within both the major political parties. In 1996, if only men had voted Bob Dole would have won that election. Bill Clinton won because he had a 16 point gender gap—that many more women voted for him than men. It's the gender gap that really elects and keeps Democrats in office. When that gender gap is narrowed, as George W. Bush did in 2000, when he campaigned as a compassionate conservative and had his picture taken with a lot of school children and reversed his party's stand from wanting to abolish the Department of Education to wanting to put more money into education, he won a lot of women in 2000. And the Gore gender gap was much less than the Clinton gender gap, another in 2004, when the Bush campaign really emphasized concerns about national security. The so-called security moms voted for then-president Bush and the Kerry gender gap was a lot smaller than the Gore gender gap. So when Republicans close that gender gap they win.
Women are the crown jewel of this electorate and really do decide who's going to be President. When you look at George W. Bush and his unpolished folksiness I think it's really worked for him as a politician. And I think he's done much better among women than many Republican politicians. But he's not on the ballot in 2008, although his brother Jeb might well be.
I went to a dinner party recently that had Republicans and Democrats from Congress—members of Congress—and a group of journalists and the conversation inevitably turned to 2008. I was actually surprised to discover that there was general agreement among Democrats and Republicans that Hillary Clinton is the "nominee-in-waiting" (and that was the term that was used) for 2008 and one of the male participants at this dinner party, actually a journalist, described Hillary as "Ronald Reagan circa 1978." Reagan was seen by the Washington establishment as too old, he was a great B actor, he had orange hair, he could never be elected and of course we saw the power of the Reagan candidacy and the Reagan presidency.
And so the feeling is that Hillary could well be the next President although there was an equal sum of feeling in that room that she was too polarizing to win and she would bump her head at 46 percent but there was also agreement that Hillary had what was called "big room charisma"—that she can go (she has "little room charisma" too I might add)—but that she can command a large audience and when she walks into a room people know it. And there are not that many plausible Republicans on the Republican side who could do that. John McCain could do it, Rudy Giuliani could do it, Arnold Schwarzenegger. Each one of them for various reasons could not—Schwarzenegger because he's foreign-born, Giuliani because he's pro-choice and pro-gay rights, and John McCain probably because he's too much of a maverick—it's be difficult for any of the party's stars to get through the Republican primaries. And so, 2008 will ultimately come down to two people. And nobody's perfect and so the consensus around this dinner table of some pretty seasoned political journalists is that "don't count Hillary out, that she's a very formidable candidate that the Democrats have."
On the Republican side, after all the men were dismissed, the talk turned to Condi Rice—Condoleezza Rice—and this took place right after Condi Rice's successful tour to Europe when she was in the leather jacket or whatever it was and spike heals and she charmed everybody and she looked like she was really enjoying it. The feeling in Washington had been that she was an academic, she was a staffer, that she really wasn't cut out to be the star. Well, she fell into that role pretty easily. And there was a feeling again among these political observers that maybe George Bush is cultivating somebody. It's widely though that Dick Cheney is not going to run—typically your vice president succeeds you. Cheney has said he's not going to run, he's got a serious heart condition, he's an unlikely candidate. So who is Bush cultivating? His brother? That seems a little bit much of stalling the dynasty, well, maybe it's Condoleezza Rice.
I think in the end we all concluded that it's unlikely that Condoleezza Rice would run on her own but if she were paired with any Republican she could double the Republican share of the African American vote from 10 percent to 20 percent and that would be the election right there.
New, as I look at these two prominent, dominant women, Hillary Clinton and Condoleezza Rice, and I listen to what they're saying, Hillary Clinton has made some statements about abortion in recent months where she has basically repeated what her husband said in 1992 when he said "abortion should be safe, legal and rare." She basically gave a variety on that thinking and she also said we should find common ground with the other side, that we shouldn't let this issue be divisive. And I listened to what Condoleezza Rice said right after her successful European tour, where on one of the shows she described herself as "mildly pro-choice." Now I don’t know exactly what that means, but it's not what her party is looking for. But it may be what the country is looking for. And so I think both these women in their own way are positioning themselves for a national candidacy.
We live in an age of intensely partisan politics. And so I want to wrap up this talk and take you back to the suffragists. It seems to me the electoral prize of the White House may belong to the candidate who can identify the issues that cross party lines and cement loyalty. The way the founding sisters did almost 100 years ago when they gathered around the issue of the right to vote. I don't know what the comparable issues are, but I think that both Hillary Clinton and Condoleezza Rice have begun the journey of finding their way to a conversation with the voters. That's how you win in this country, if you can have a conversation with the voters and create a narrative of your own life story that somehow has a universal appeal to voters so that they will trust you.
"Women and Politics?From Suffrage to Hillary." Eleanor Clift, Newsweek contributing editor
April 18, 2005