Just Cause Confronts Lost Cause

I have been reading extensively on the woman suffrage movement between the years of 1913 and 1920, as those dates correspond to the time frame of my second novel, a sequel to Hattie’s Place. I have yet to come up with a working title, and so I’m referring to the manuscript as Hattie 2. To recap from my blog entitled Writing Through Writer’s Block:

The story of Hattie 2 takes up in 1913, several years after Hattie’s Place leaves off. Hattie Robinson–now Mrs. Charles Barton–is learning to cope with the responsibilities of raising four stepsons, running an estate, and assuming the various social obligations which come with being married to one of the wealthiest and most powerful men in Pickens County, South Carolina. As happy as she is with her new life, she cannot deny the loss of identity she feels over giving up her teaching career and her relative independence as a single woman, to focus on family and home. Hattie needs a cause to believe in and promote. She soon finds one in the Woman’s Suffrage Movement.

When Hattie accompanies Charles to Washington, D.C., to attend the inauguration of Woodrow Wilson, a Southerner and the first Democrat to win the presidency since Grover Cleveland, she becomes a spectator in the Suffrage Parade down Pennsylvania Avenue, which has been strategically planned for the day before the inauguration. Hattie witnesses firsthand the elegance, courage, and dignity of the women, dressed in their formal attire, advancing their gold and purple banners, and leading the call for the passage of an amendment to the Constitution, granting women the right to vote. Hattie knows that she has found her just cause and pledges herself that day to join the national movement. 

The historical record confirms that seven years would pass between the Suffrage parade in Washington, March 3, 1913, and the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment, granting women the right to vote. Hattie would have been eligible to cast her first ballot in the 1920 presidential election.

Hattie’s right to vote came about despite the contrary actions of South Carolina politicians.

  • As early as 1895, delegates to the South Carolina Constitutional Convention voted down a proposal to enfranchise property-owning women with education.  https://archive.org/details/journalofconst00so
  • In 1913, when representative McMillan of Marion introduced a bill for an amendment permitting women to vote, it was laughed down by the members of the South Carolina House and unfavorably reported to the judiciary committee. (Sumter Watchman and Southron, January 27, 1915)
  • In 1915, representative McCullough of Greenville, introduced a bill to the House to submit to the electors in 1916, an amendment to permit women to vote in all elections. This time around it was met with silence in the chamber and referred to the judiciary committee. (Sumter Watchman and Southron, January 27, 1915)
  • In January of 1920, suffragists poured into Columbia for the debate by the South Carolina legislature on ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment. Despite the strong support of Beaufort legislator Neils Christensen, ratification was defeated in the House 93-21 and in the Senate 32-33. (A Brief History of Women’s Suffrage in South Carolina, League of Women Voters of South Carolina) http://lwvsc.org/files/suffrage.pdf
  • In 1969, forty-nine years after it had become federal law, the Nineteenth Amendment was ratified by the South Carolina legislature.  http://lwvsc.org/files/suffrage.pdf

Despite the hard work of numerous Southern suffragists like Hattie, most Southern states stubbornly refused to grant their women the right to vote. Georgia, Alabama, South Carolina, Maryland, Virginia, Mississippi, Louisiana, and North Carolina had all repudiated ratification before the Tennessee legislature said “yes” to the Nineteenth Amendment on August 24, 1920, providing the required 36 states to pass it into law. Patti Ruffner Jacobs of Alabama, spoke for her Southern sisters when she said:

It only remains for the outward and visible sign of our freedom to be put in the hands of Southern women by the generous men of other states, a situation which hurts our pride and to which we summit with deep regret but not apology. (Quoted from New Women of the New South, Marjorie Spruill Wheeler, p. 172)

The suffrage movement failed miserably in the South, despite efforts to the contrary. Why was this so? What prevailing political and social forces created a climate in Hattie’s South Carolina, where the notion of women organizing and working for political equality was ignored, dismissed as a far-fetched, and often deemed to be unnatural and against the laws of God? Judging by the coverage the movement received in the Southern press, it was hardly considered newsworthy.

To put in context what Hattie would have been up against in promoting her just cause of woman suffrage in 1914 South Carolina, I turned back the pages of history to the years prior to Hattie’s birth in 1889. As I read, and continue to read, about the years between 1861 and 1889–about the Civil War, the Reconstruction, and what came to be known as Redemption, or the overthrow of Radical Republican control of the South–the inextricably linked themes that continue to emerge are those of hard core advocacy for states’ rights and “The Lost Cause.”

I am beginning to understand that no matter how determined Hattie and her fellow Southern suffragists would have been to promote the just cause of woman’s rights, they would have always been thwarted by the determination of the white male politicians in power to preserve through state’s rights the principles of that Lost Cause. And, it should be noted that many Southern women were as dedicated to those beliefs as their men. History has already written that part of the story. Hattie’s story must be told within its context.

It seems that in every age, momentum for change is resisted by those in power and those who have the most to gain from maintaining the current order. That was certainly true in Hattie’s South Carolina regarding the issue of white male vs. universal suffrage. The tension between status quo and change provides one of the internal conflicts in the narrative of Hattie 2.

Another conflict underlying the story is a generational one. Hattie is eighteen years younger than her husband Charles, who was born in 1866, a year after the Civil War ended. Charles was greatly influenced by his father, who fought with General Wade Hampton’s cavalry in the Army of Northern Virginia. A child of the Reconstruction era, Charles’s experiences are colored by the aftermath of war that surrounded him– the physical devastation resulting from Sherman’s scorched earth tactics, on his march through Georgia and the Carolinas; the emotional tensions within families, where fathers and brothers had returned home as soldiers, defeated in war. Charles may not endorse it, but he fully understands the emotions and rationale for interpreting the Civil War as a Lost Cause, worthy of preservation.

By the time of Hattie’s birth, a quarter of a century has passed since Robert E. Lee’s surrender to Ulysses Grant at Appomattox. Unburdened by her husband’s memory of war and reconstruction, Hattie embraces the changes that the woman’s movement advocates with naive optimism, with little understanding or regard for the anti-sufferage arguments advanced by proponents of the Lost Cause.

As a result of their generational divide, Hattie sometimes interprets Charles’s views as narrow minded and intractable, at the same time Charles sees Hattie as impulsive and unrealistic. The tensions between status quo and change, and between understanding the past and embracing the future, run beneath the surface of all Hattie’s relationships, especially her marriage to Charles. Hattie 2 is the story of how Hattie Robinson Barton comes to terms with the existing conflicts in her life.

In four of my previous blogs, I shared a good bit of my research on the suffrage movement between 1913 and 1920. You can find the information in:

Themes of Strong Women and Empowerment

http://www.fortheloveofwriting.net/themes-of-strong-women-and-empowerment/

Dancing Backwards in High Heels http://www.fortheloveofwriting.net/dancing-backwards-and-in-high-heels/

Don’t Ever Underestimate the Power of a Woman

http://www.fortheloveofwriting.net/dont-ever-underestimate-the-power-of-a-woman/

Writing Honestly About the Past

http://www.fortheloveofwriting.net/writing-honestly-about-the-past/

In the next blog, I will share some of my research on the Civil War, Reconstruction and Redemption, which provides a context for the political and social attitudes influencing efforts to overturn the status quo in 1914 South Carolina, and for that matter the entire South, well into the 1960’s. A knowledge of this period prior to Hattie’s birth is a key to understanding the resistance to woman’s suffrage and why the movement failed in South Carolina.

I will also introduce two larger-than-life characters, Wade Hampton III and Ben Tillman, whose leadership in the preservation of States Rights and the Lost Cause, almost pre-determined the outcome of the suffrage movement in South Carolina.

 

 

 

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