Not all US women were given the right to vote in 1920, despite leading courageous efforts to widen the franchiseby Dawn Starin / November 5, 2019 / Leave a comment
Throughout the US organisers are gearing up to celebrate the centennial of the 19th amendment, ratified in 1920. Touted as the law that finally gave women the right to vote, it is often forgotten, or maybe even ignored, that this law had very little effect on the wishes and requirements of those who did not fit into the categories of middle-class and upper-class white women.
In a 2018 New York Times op-ed piece, editorial writer Brent Staple warned that the importance of the passage of the 19th amendment should not be overstated. As Staples pointed out, memorials and celebrations frequently express inaccurate messages and continue to maintain historical wrongs in terms of racism. Organisers need to keep that in mind as they commemorate a skewed legality in which both racism and xenophobia reared their very ugly heads. Organisers and celebrants also need to remember that some of the women who fought for the right to vote gained very little, if anything, from this amendment.
One of those women was Mabel Ping-Hua Lee. She merits credit and deserves to be celebrated.
According to New York Congresswoman Nydia M Velasquez: “Mabel Lee’s life is the story of breaking down countless barriers at a time when women had few opportunities. Mabel Lee was a steadfast advocate for women’s rights and for the greater Asian American community.”
Lee, born in 1896 in Guangzhou, China, emigrated to the United States, where she became the first Chinese woman to obtain a PhD from Columbia University in economics; a community organiser who established classes for Chinatown’s residents in carpentry, radio and typewriting; a staunch advocate for Chinese-American rights and culture; and a progressive, significant member of the suffragette movement.
Maintaining that suffrage for women was essential to a successful democracy and urging the Chinese community to promote girls’ education and women’s civic participation, she campaigned non-stop for women’s rights. In 1912, just 16 years old, she took part in a parade with 10,000 other suffragists advocating for the right to vote. Lee, riding a horse, helped lead the parade. And as early as 1913, a very young Lee insisted that true feminism “is nothing more than the extension of democracy or social justice and equality of opportunities to women.”
Thanks to her time, energy, words and actions and the many members of the Chinese-American community…