Tuesday, August 12, 2014

I Wonder What Tillie Thought About Her Right To Vote - 52 Ancestors Challenge

Recently I read a blog post that caused me to step back and wonder.  Helen Holshouser wrote about her ancestor who was active in the Women's Suffrage Movement, culminating when the 19th Amendment to the U. S. Constitution was ratified in 1920.   (I'll link to Helen's story at the end of this post.)  After reading her story, I found myself thinking: How did the women in my family feel before and after they acquired the right to vote for their leaders?   Were they aware of the suffrage movement activities?  And how did they react, if at all.  
Actually, the struggle to attain the right to vote for women took nearly 100 years. Women such as Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony campaigned, wrote, gave speeches, were imprisoned and found whatever avenues they could to enlighten people and fight for women's suffrage.  Isn't it amazing that this movement took so long to be successful, let alone that it was necessary.  Who knows which of our ancestors supported in some way the groups and programs leading up to the success of 1920. 
Well, thinking of these times and the issues, it didn't take me long to connect the time frame to one person in my family.  In 1910 when Otillia "Tillie" Kuhn Weber  - 1913suffragettes were organizing protests and lobbying congress, my grandmother, Otillia "Tillie" Kuhn, was 19 years old.  She was 29 years old in 1920 when these activities succeeded in opening the voting booth to women.  No, I have no knowledge of Tillie being involved in any women's suffrage activities.  I can't know exactly what her feelings or her actions were.  But if we stop to take a closer look at my grandmother's life from 1910 to 1920, at the crescendo of the fight for women's right to vote, it could be interesting to contemplate what may have run through her mind.  
1910 - 1912:
Although some states and municipalities had taken action since the early 1800s to grant women the vote, in 1910 they were as yet denied that right on the federal level.  Tillie Kuhn was 19 to 21 years old from 1910 to 1912, the time frame when we now take it for granted that young people begin exercising their voting rights.  Tillie was fortunate enough in those early years to attend a year of business college.  And by 19 was employed as a bookkeeper at a retail dry goods store.  She lived with her family in the home where she was born on High Street in Indianapolis.   In this year when Tillie was a young working girl the first suffrage parade was held in New York City, organized by the Women's Political Union.  And by 1912 that parade grew to 20,000 suffrage supporters with a half-million onlookers.  1911 was also the year that the National Association Opposed to Woman Suffrage was founded, bringing more attention to the opposing views. 
Tillie would surely have been aware of these activities by reading the local newspapers and discussing events with her family and co-workers at the dry goods store.  She had three older sisters and one younger one, as well as her older brother, Charlie. In fact, Tillie's older sister, Lill, was employed as a saleslady at a dry goods store.  I am going to venture to say that the Kuhn family was informed of these issues of the day.  Perhaps Tillie and Lill walked to work together discussing their thoughts about suffrage events, or even how they might have voted.  Here's a retro piece published by the Indianapolis Star that helps paint the landscape of the suffrage campaign in Tillie's locale:
The right to vote for women in Indiana was a long, hard-fought battle that began in 1851 when a man ­-- Robert Dale Owen (founder of the New Harmony utopian society) -- advocated for women¹s rights at the constitutional convention held in Indianapolis.  His proposal went nowhere and it would be another 70 years before women in Indiana had the right to vote.  Suffragettes such as Amanda Way, Zerelda Wallace, May Wright Sewall, Helen Gougar, Dr. Amelia Keller and Grace Julian Clarke led the push for suffrage.  In 1911, the Woman¹s Franchise League of Indiana was formed and became a driving force for the right to vote. The women of Indiana held rallies, marches, participated in parades, and lobbied the government.
1913 - 1915:
In June of 1913, four months after she turned 22, Tillie Kuhn married Harry Weber in Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Indianapolis.  As far as we know she did not work outside the home after she married.  Their son, Bob, was born in May of 1914.  Establishing a marriage and her family probably became Tillie's main focus, if I could make a presumption.  But the push for women's suffrage was continuing wholeheartedly.  For instance, in 1913 Illinois became the first state to grant women presidential suffrage by legislative enactment.  And in March of that year preceding President Woodrow Wilson's inauguration, 8,000 suffragists paraded in Washington, D. C.  The explosiveness of the issue is evidenced by the abusive crowds that mobbed the marchers.  Some say that a faction of those against women's right to vote were wealthy and influential women who were afraid they would lose power when all women were allowed to vote.  The stature that they had attained through wealth was threatened.  (Follow the money!)
Speaking of the power of money, in September 1914, a bequest from Mrs. Frank Leslie, publisher of Leslie's Weekly, put $1,000,000 at the disposal of Carrie Chapman Catt for "the furtherance of the cause of woman suffrage."  As Tillie was maturing, becoming a wife and mother, the women's suffrage movement became more mature also.  The leaders kept their campaigns strong, working state by state and dogging their representatives in Congress.  However,  who knows if a young mother in Indianapolis who wasn't active politically had many thoughts about these efforts.  On the other hand, she must have  read updates in the newspaper she received each morning on her front porch.  Maybe she felt grateful for those who had the ways and means to be involved.  Seems logical to me.
1916 - 1920:
In March of 1916 Tillie gave birth to her second child, Rosemary Ethel Weber, my mother.  Things keep evolving for her; now she has a female descendant.  Did the right-to-vote movement take on a new meaning?  Did she have a keener interest in change?  At 26 years old her views on how the decisions of the leaders of the country and her community impacted her life may have been developing. 
The activity of the suffragists were still gaining strength as state after state secured legislative enactments and the National Woman's Party were arrested for picketing and sent to jail, creating martyrs for the cause.  On December 2, 1916, suffragists flew over President Wilson's yacht and dropped suffrage amendment petitions.  Again I'm wondering what Tillie Weber's opinion was of all of these events, especially of the women who went to jail for their commitments? 
The persistence of the women and men behind this cause resulted in President Wilson giving his public support of the federal woman suffrage amendment in January of 1918.  Then, on January 10, the House voted in favor of a suffrage amendment.  In September of that year the President addressed the Senate personally, arguing for women's suffrage.
If these activities hadn't yet brought the impact home for Tillie, it became personal when in 1919 Indiana also secured presidential suffrage by legislative enactment.  In the final stages of the fight, on June 4, 1919, the Senate passed the 19th Amendment with just two votes to spare, 56 to 25. The Constitutional Amendment contained the same wording drafted by Susan B. Anthony in 1878.  The 19th Amendment was ratified by the required 36th state on August 18, 1920 and signed into law by the Secretary of State on August 26, 1920.   
In these four years of tremendous advancement for women in the United States, Tillie Kuhn would have been raising her son and daughter.  Also, she and Harry moved into what became their family home of approximately 50 years at 2160 Singleton Street in Indianapolis.  Harry Weber was advancing in his career with Fletcher Trust Company.  And by December of 1920 Tillie had delivered another baby girl, Virginia.  There were a lot of demands on Tillie to occupy her waking moments.  Just about any political event may have been squeezed out of her thought process most of the time.  However, judging from my knowledge of the Weber family personalities I would imagine Harry and Tillie having discussions of these national and local events over dinner, or when they found a few moments time in the evening.   
Of course, all of my speculation and imagining is just that. There are most likely no more details to learn. But I have a new perspective on this momentous time of progress for women in the United States by traveling through it with Tillie Kuhn Weber.  Regardless of what her Lingiftopinions were or if she realized the full impact of these events, she had an intimate involvement by being there. 
Speaking of women in my life, I want to wish my sister, Linda, a happy birthday.  As she always reminds me, she's the youngest!  The relationship chart posted here traces her maternal line back to Tillie.  And I'm also posting a photo of Lin holding a photo of our mom.   I'm glad to have all of these ladies in my line.  Hope the entire year's a good one for you, Lin!
Otillia Kuhn relationship chart to Linda Niehaus.
Helen Holshauser's blog is Heart of a Southern Woman.  Here's a link to that thought-provoking blog on Women's Suffrage.
You may be interested in reading these related posts:
Happy Anniversary to Harry and Tillie (Kuhn) Weber
Tillie Kuhn Weber - Ladies In My Line
Copyright 2014 © Nancy Niehaus Hurley

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