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Oklahoma Bar Association

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President's Message - April 2020

Why Do Suffragettes Wear White?

By Susan B. Shields

Have you heard this is an election year? News about the election is everywhere when you watch television, read the news, listen to the radio, turn on your computer or open your mail. In fact, I have been receiving so many emails and mail about the election that I feel like I have some new pen pals. I have great memories of taking my sons to vote with me when they were young. I also fondly remember walking down the street to vote with my parents as a child at their local polling place in our neighborhood in Bartlesville.

As a young woman, I did not appreciate that I would not have the right to vote without the women’s suffrage movement of the early 20th century. That’s one of the reasons why the theme of Law Day this year celebrating the 100th anniversary of the ratification of the 19th Amendment giving women the right to vote is very meaningful to me. The 19th Amendment reads:

“The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex.”

After Congress approved the 19th Amendment in June 1919, at least 36 states needed to vote to ratify the amendment for it to become law. Oklahoma was one of the original 36 states, voting for ratification on Feb. 28, 1920.

In the years leading up to the approval of the 19th Amendment, the women who lobbied for the right to vote in the U.S. and Britain were known as suffragettes. The suffragettes wanted a symbolic way to dress to show they were part of the cause, and they were also media savvy. These women selected three identifying colors to wear to events – purple to represent loyalty, gold as a nod to the sunflowers of Kansas where Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton campaigned (green in Britain to signify hope) and white to represent purity and virtue.

Suffragettes would often wear the purple and gold (or green) as a sash over a white dress at public events as emblems of the suffrage movement. Photographs in those days were, of course, in black and white, meaning that photos of a sea of marching women wearing white dresses provided a clear and bright contrast on the front pages of newspapers. So, when you notice women wearing white in today’s politics or at the polls – or perhaps at Law Day events – it is a symbolic way of recognizing the efforts of the suffragettes and the passage of the 19th Amendment.

As always, if you have a question, comment or suggestion concerning the OBA, please feel free to call or email me at susan.shields@mcafeetaft.com.

APRIL WELLNESS TIP

A good tip I am trying to incorporate is to not turn on the computer for the first hour after getting to work in the morning. This provides time for some productive and focused work without the distraction (and
stress) of checking emails.

Originally published in the Oklahoma Bar Journal -- OBJ 91 No. 5 (April 2020)