When your birthday falls on the day your country officially recognized women’s right to vote, you feel a particular pull to the 19th Amendment. And this year, I felt a pull to spend my birthday visiting Seneca Falls, New York, where the first convention for women’s rights was held in 1848.
The beautiful town is just an hour from our house, and I had never seen the Women’s Rights National Historical Park or the National Women’s Hall of Fame.I knew the boys might not last long on the tours, but we could at least take a few minutes to honor the women and the men who worked for equality.
We hadn’t even made it inside the national park building when the boys heard the fountain. They raced down the stairs and onto the lawn to see the Declaration of Sentiments etched in stone with water washing over the top.
Nearby was a sign that thanked the men who had worked alongside the suffragists, and we stopped to talk about how smaller, less powerful groups of people always need others to see them as valuable ‚— always need others to speak up on their behalf to people in power.
I told this to the two boys who have the advantage of a strong family, a safe place to live and access to education. And I say it as often as I can.
Then, I turned to Benjamin and I told him how Harry T. Burn, a state legislator in Tennessee, had planned to vote against allowing women to vote, but he received a letter from his mother urging him to change his mind. Benjamin’s eyes grew wide when I told him that Burn voted in favor of the 19th Amendment for his mother and millions of other women.
We walked on, snapped pictures and read story after story of bravery and courage. All the while, I thought of that mother’s letter. I thought of how overwhelming it must have felt to try to amend the Constitution. How frustrating it must have been to know in your heart that you were so much more than property and equal in the eyes of God.
But no matter how complicated the issue, it always comes down to one, doesn’t it? One person sharing her story. One person listening.
Burn could say that women didn’t have a right to vote, but he couldn’t look at his mother’s face and say that she was not worthy of the vote.
It was true in 1920, and it’s true in 2017.
We aren’t facing a constitutional amendment this year, but we are facing plenty of things that tear at the seams of our country. We’ve turned the volume up high on all sides of the political aisles, and we can barely hear ourselves think, much less hear the holy stories of others.
When the issues get large, we should get small. When programs and policies get beyond our comprehension, we should get close enough to remember that God loves us all.
One person talking. One person listening.
It has moved us forward before, and I know it will move us forward now.
— Marketta Gregory is a former religion reporter who can’t stop writing about what is sacred and holy. She is a native of Oklahoma but makes her home in Rochester, New York, with her husband, two crazy boys and one very vocal Pomeranian. Find more of her writing at SimplyFaithful.com or check out her book, “Simply Faithful: Finding the Sacred in Everyday Life.”