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Women's suffragists demonstrate in February 1913. The triangular pennants read "Votes For Women." (Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division)

I’m voting for my grandmother today. She died in 1985, and she never ran for any office outside the Garden Club, so I guess I have some explaining to do.

Katherine Lucille Glidden, born in Brooklyn in 1891, married Grafton Sherwood Kennedy in 1917. They had three children, one of whom was my father. By the time I met her, Kay had been given the nickname by which all her grandchildren knew her: Gagi, pronounced to rhyme with “groggy” – though she was anything but.

Katherine Lucille Glidden Kennedy, alias Gagi, with the author’s sister – also named Katherine, and also a voter, circa early 1970s. (Courtesy Photo)

In fact, Gagi was a woman of remarkably strong opinions, strongly and frequently expressed. As a child I was most fascinated by her views on food – despite decades of living in Massachusetts, she clung firmly to her recipe for Manhattan clam chowder – but as I grew older, it was her political fervor that seemed most striking. We often disagreed, but I never regretted arguing with her; her views were considered, mostly reasonable and always, absolutely, her own.

Which is why it was always incredible to me – and still is to this day – that, until she was 29 years old, she could not do something that most of us now take for granted. She was a woman, and so she could not vote.

“Women’s suffrage” has a kind of quaint, historical air, doesn’t it?

We picture ladies in white shirtwaists and Gibson Girl coiffures, picketing prettily in front of the White House (or, in my case, parading in London, because my first encounter with the word “suffragette” was the mother in “Mary Poppins”). There’s something almost silly about it; that “-ette” suffix does have a way of draining the seriousness out of almost anything. And yet it was, for my grandmother and for millions of women like her, a movement that asserted something she simply could not take for granted: that she was a full citizen of the United States, with all the rights a citizen holds.

Until she was 29 years old, my grandmother could not do something that most of us now take for granted. She was a woman, and so she could not vote.

What’s stunning about this, really, is how recent it was. Ladies, it has not even been a hundred years. Congress passed the 19th Amendment, granting us the right to vote, in 1919, but it was not ratified by the necessary 36 states until August 18, 1920. Even then, it was contested in many of the remaining states; Mississippi, for one, did not formally ratify the amendment until 1984. 1984!

I’ve taught a few college journalism courses in the last couple of years, and I’ve been dismayed at how many students tell me they’re not really interested in politics. (This makes me wonder why they’re interested in journalism, but that’s a topic for another day.) I’m especially dismayed to hear this from young women. It’s one thing for white property-owning men to take the vote for granted; they’ve always had it. But if, like me, you can’t check off all those boxes, how can you fail to check off the boxes — whichever ones you like — on a ballot today? How can you let our grandmothers’ — my grandmother’s — fierce assertion of their full humanity dwindle into complacent indifference?

And that’s why I’ll be voting today, as I do in every election, for my grandmother. I’m voting for Gagi. I hope you will too.

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Tags: Election 2012

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  • Louisa

    This is an important piece. Wish every young woman in America could read it today.

  • Noah

    I understand the sentiment of voting for someone you care about, but I see this as no different than a vote for Mickey Mouse or Mr. Peanut. You don’t want your grandmother to be president – even if you did she couldn’t perform the duties. Everyone loves their family, but if we all voted for our grandmothers the system would fail. Don’t waste your vote like that, your grandmother wouldn’t appreciate you squandering the right she fought for.

    • vicki

      Noah, she means she’s voting in honor of her grandmother, not literally writing her name on the ballot.

    • TrollFinder

      Noah = troll

  • Edi

    My grandmothers were both Swiss. Swiss women couldn’t vote until 1971 by which time my grandmothers were already quite old and set in their ways. I don’t think they ever voted. Yet I have voted in the U.S. my whole life as a matter of course without ever considered how different that experience is from theirs. Thanks for helping me to gain a new appreciation for the efforts of those who came before me.

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