For two decades, award-winning American historian and documentary editor Ann D. Gordonhas been on a quest to collect, preserve, and annotate the writings and speeches of two of America's most important feminists, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony.
Once women got the right to vote, they didn't consistently vote dry – in part because an unintended consequence of Prohibition (working in tandem with the social and economic aftermath of World War I) was that for the first time in U.S. history, drinking was no longer the exclusive provenance of men. Women held or went to parties where alcohol was served, and they also went out to speakeasies. The Women's Organization for National Prohibition Repeal turned the WCTU's home-hearth-and-health arguments right back at them, saying, "Children are growing up with a total lack of respect for the Constitution and for the law."
The pairing of women's suffrage and Prohibition always seemed to me like another quirky historical coupling, an example of the same group of people simultaneously favoring a critical common-sense idea (universal suffrage) and an unbelievably naïve, moralistic solution to society's problems (Prohibition).
Welcome to Lady Liquor, where, for the next two months, I'll be writing about the relationship between, well, ladies and liquor. Primarily. I'm interested in the ways women's attitudes about drinking -- and society's attitudes about women who drink -- have shaped history and pop culture. But it's pretty much impossible to talk about those things without also talking about other mind-altering substances (I'm looking at you, War on Drugs); I'd also be remiss not to talk about the relationship between booze and other social justice movements -- like the gay rights movement, which actually started in a bar.
Yes, Liz Lemon's evoking of the name Anna Howard Shaw made for some big laughs on the most recent episode of 30 Rock. But did you know that in addition to being funny (at least by association, and probably in real life as well), Shaw was also the first woman ordained by the Methodist church, a medical doctor, a published author, a decorated member of the National Council of Defense, a social justice activist, and a pioneer for women's suffrage? It's true!
As the year winds down the media stream is inundated with lists of political accomplishments, policy and presidential reviews and all of our hopes for 2010. Amid this maelstrom, I continue to remember that it was still in the last century that women were given the right to participate in the political process by voting and that the coming year's contests of candidates and legislation can, and should, be part of a modern feminist dialogue. In that light, today's Feministory focuses on a woman who worked tirelessly and radically through much of the twentieth century to secure equal rights for women: Alice Paul.