My mother was 15 years old in 1920, when the 19th Amendment became a part of our Constitution. Yet, it seems that this monumental event had little impact on her.
Mother grew up in east Texas, during the Great Depression. She often told my siblings and me that she and her mother had nothing. They were able to get work in a sewing room through one of Roosevelt’s New Deal Programs. While she knew hard times firsthand, she came to revere President Franklin D. Roosevelt for giving her a job, and a sense of dignity.
The years passed, but the sense of male domination stayed with her. As a child, I remember our family gatherings; there would be a big evening meal, and after it was over, the women and girls would clear the dishes off the table and make coffee. Then, the women would tell all of us children to leave the room with them. “It’s time to let the men folks talk and drink their coffee,” they said.
In 1960, I distributed posters for the Kennedy/Johnson ticket, but I was not quite old enough to vote under Texas law; in those days you had to be twenty-one. Even though the 1960 Kennedy/Nixon Presidential election was full of excitement, mother refused to vote. Her reply was always the same: “The men folks should vote. Women folks should not.”
Then, mother changed!
Upon my graduation from Baylor University in 1963, I was fortunate to secure a summer job with my local congressman — in his Washington office! Of course, he was up for re-election 1964, along with President Lyndon Johnson. Mother understood that the election meant something to me, her eldest child. At long last, my siblings and I succeeded in persuading her to vote that year.
I still remember her wonderful smile after she cast her very first vote at age 60.
She was to vote in every other election until she died.
Remembering how my mother came to vote, reminds me that simply modifying the law and amending the Constitution are not guarantees of change. Women got the right to vote a hundred years ago, but my mother still lived under what had been.
Slavery was abolished by the Constitution, and Civil Rights and Voting Rights laws were enacted. Yet the struggle to implement these landmark achievements is still in process. It has taken too long, but I think as time goes by, we will see change, after change, after change.
You see, it took time, but mother went to the polls.
Mr. West consults about political and environmental issues.