March is Women’s History Month. How many of you knew that? I’m thinking fewer than should. We all know Black History Month is February, and many of us know April is Poetry Month, but for some reason Women’s History Month isn’t well known.
I’m thinking it may be because so much of women’s history isn’t known. It’s been suppressed in favor of men’s account of women’s history. I found it interesting, for instance, when I happened upon this little tidbit of women’s history on a trek around my hometown:
I did a little research on Emeline. Her name is alternately spelled Emmeline and Piggott or Piggot or Pigot or Pigott—even once in a newspaper clipping about her arrest “Eveline”. There are many stories about her, including that she “entertained” Union soldiers while her brother-in-law carried contraband to Confederate troops, that she ate a letter when she was arrested instead of turning it over to Union soldiers, and that while she was jailed an attempted assassination by chloroform failed because she broke a window to breathe through until help arrived.
It’s interesting to me because in some places, these stories about Emeline are referred to as legends and in other places are reported as facts. Even here on the sign, it says “According to local tradition”. That’s almost equivalent to “Once upon a time”. But Emeline was not a fairytale. She was a real woman, and, regardless of politics, she suffered for a cause she believed in.
It got me thinking about what women went through to get the vote. Until a few years ago I’d believed they marched peacefully, well-dressed and carrying banners because that’s what the school history books depicted. The reality is less appetizing, though. A few years ago I read about “the Night of Terror” when suffragists were beaten and tortured. A little shocked, I did more research.
Suffragists were badasses. Seriously. They didn’t just stand around with polite placards saying please let us vote until reasonable white men decided to give them the nineteenth amendment. There was property damage, rude signs and screaming at the president and Congress. Incarcerated women went on hunger strikes and were force fed with rubber tubes.
No doubt they were told at some point not to be so emotional.
I wonder if today’s men would dare to tell them to “smile more”.
My point is, you won’t learn about most of women’s history in schoolbooks. “Women held protests on the White House lawn and were given the right to vote in 1920” is about all you’ll get there. What women need to remember is that for decades women fought for the right to vote. They fought with much more than just orderly parades and when saying please failed, they didn’t hesitate to declare all out war.
Should we allow that history to be repressed? Shouldn’t we be teaching it to our daughters?
Infamous suffragist leader Lucy Burns, on the third day of a hunger strike following her imprisonment on the Night of Terror, was tempted with fried chicken to break her strike. With contempt, she said, “They think there is nothing in our souls above fried chicken.”
There is so much more in the soul of women than what we’re given credit for by the history in schoolbooks. I may not agree with Emeline Pigott’s politics, but I do think she carried iron in her soul, and I believe she deserves the credit for that. Her story should not be relegated to the same level of history as fairytales. Whatever happened to her while jailed, or while she was “entertaining” Union soldiers, it is part of women’s history and women’s history isn’t fried chicken. It’s iron and blood and suffering and triumph. And we should never forget that.