Failure Is Impossible!
A worship service celebrating the 75th anniversary of the passage of the 19th amendment to the Constitution of the United States, granting women the right to vote.
Created by Sarah Barber-Braun and Joan Goodwin
The Unitarian Universalist Women’s Heritage Society
General Assembly of the Unitarian Universalist Association
Spokane, Washington — June 15, 1995
Hymnbook used: Singing the Living Tradition
Opening Words to be Read in Unison:
In the administration of a state,
neither a woman as a woman,
nor a man as a man,
has any special function,
but the gifts are equally diffused in both sexes.
One woman has the gifts of healing,
one is a musician,
another not a musician;
one woman is a philosopher,
and another is an enemy to philosophy.
The same education and opportunity for self-development
which makes man a good guardian or ruler
will make woman a good guardian or ruler; f
or their original nature is the same.
(from Plato’s Republic, Book V – included by Harriet H. Robinson in her Massachusetts in the Woman Suffrage Movement, 1881)
Take from the past not its ashes but its fire – Anonymous
Hymn #107 – Now Sing We of the Brave of Old
Narrator: In 1848, in full agreement with Plato, 300 people gathered at Seneca Falls, New York. A small ad announcing the convention was placed in the newspaper. ( Susan B. Anthony was in nearby Rochester, teaching school. She did not see the ad.) The gathering was the consequence of a friendship begun in 1840 in London at the World Anti-Slavery Convention, between the bride of a delegate and Lucretia Mott. Lucretia Mott, an American Quaker delegate, was denied a seat. None of the women delegates were seated. The bride, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and Lucretia Mott sat together in the gallery.
Lucretia Mott and Elizabeth Cady Stanton were the organizing energy for this new convention. The Seneca Falls Convention issued a new Declaration of Sentiments, modeled on the 1776 Declaration of Independence which, in spite of the admonition of Abigail Adams, had left the women out. The Declaration of Sentiments began:
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men and women are created equal; … Such has been the patient sufferance of the women under this government, and such is now the necessity which constrains them to demand the equal station to which they are entitled.
In entering upon the great work before us, we anticipate no small amount of misconception, misrepresentation, and ridicule; but we shall use every instrumentality within our power to effect our object. We shall employ agents, circulate tracts, petition the State and national Legislatures, and endeavor to enlist the pulpit and the press in our behalf. We hope this Convention will be followed by a series of Conventions, embracing every part of the country.1
Other women’s rights conventions did follow. In Cincinnati, Ohio, 1855, Lucy Stone spoke out.
Lucy Stone: The question of Woman’s Rights is a practical one. The notion has prevailed that it was only an ephemeral idea; that it was but women claiming the right to smoke cigars in the streets, and to frequent bar-rooms. Others have supposed it a question of comparative intellect; others still, of sphere. Too much has already been said and written about woman’s sphere. Trace all the doctrines to their source and they will be found to have no basis except in the usages and prejudices of the age. … Leave women, then, to find their sphere. And do not tell us before we are born even, that our province is to cook dinners, darn stockings, and sew on buttons.2
Narrator: A remarkable partnership was formed in the 1850s between Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony. (Stanton and Anthony both rise.) As Mrs. Stanton wrote:
Elizabeth Cady Stanton (to audience): In thought and sympathy we were one, and in division of labor we exactly complemented one another. I am the better writer; she the better critic. She supplied the facts and statistics; I, the philosophy and rhetoric … Night after night, by an old fashioned fireplace we plotted and planned the coming agitation; how, when and where each entering wedge could be driven.3 (to Susan B. Anthony): I will gladly do all in my power to help you. Come and stay with me and I will write the best lecture I can for you. I have no doubt a little practice will render you an admirable speaker. Dress loosely, take a great deal of exercise, be particular about your diet, and sleep enough. The body has great influence upon the mind. In your meetings, if attacked, be cool and good natured, for if you are simple and truth-loving, no sophistry can confound you.4
Susan B. Anthony (to Elizabeth Cady Stanton): Not a word written on that Address for Teacher’s Convention. … and what is worse, as the Lord knows full well, is, if I get all the time the world has, I can’t get up a decent document. So, for the love of me and for the saving of the reputation of womanhood, I beg you, with one baby on your knee and another at your feet, and four boys whistling, buzzing, hallooing Ma, Ma, set yourself about the work. … don’t say No nor don’t delay it a moment; for I must have it all done and almost commit it to memory … Now, I do pray you, give heed to my prayer. Those of you who have the talent to do honor to poor — oh! how poor — womanhood, have all given yourself over to baby-making; and left poor brainless me to do battle alone. It is a shame.5
Elizabeth Cady Stanton (to Susan B. Anthony): Say not one word to me about another convention. I forbid you to ask me to send one thought or one line to any convention, any paper or any individual; for I swear by all the saints that whilst I am nursing this baby I will not be tormented with suffering humanity.
Imagine me, day in and day out, watching, bathing, dressing, nursing, and promenading the precious contents of a little crib in the corner of the room. … I will do what I can to help you with your lecture.. You need rest too, Susan. Let the world alone awhile. We cannot bring about a moral revolution in a day or year. Now that I have two daughters, I feel fresh strength to work. It is not in vain that in myself I have experienced all the wearisome cares to which woman in her best estate is subject.
I will try and find time to grind out what you say must be done. In the past, we have issued all kinds of bulls under all kinds of circumstances, and I think we can still do more in that line if you must make the pudding and carry the baby while I ply the pen.6
Narrator: The women spoke out for the abolition of slavery as well as for their own rights, and they were encouraged to think that, once the Civil War was over and the slaves freed, the vote would be granted to them as well. However, the 14th and 15th amendments would enfranchise only the freed black men, not the women. Now the struggle went state by state as woman suffrage appeared on the ballot. Kansas was a primary battleground in 1867. Lucy Stone and her husband, Henry Blackwell campaigned to the point of exhaustion. To replace them, a spirked young Universalist minister, Olympia Brown, was recruited to leave her congregation in Weymouth Massachusetts and go to Kansas.
The Border Sentinel, Mound City Kansas, described Olympia Brown as follows:
With her talent and education, the Rev. Olympia Brown has great physical power of endurance, lately speaking two or three times each day in hottest weather, traveling from twenty to fifty miles each day with only an average of about four hours sleep, and her speeches from one to two hours in length, without apparently the least fatigue, and weighing only ninety-one pounds. Eloquent, hopeful and brave, with religion as the basis of all her actions, and piety her leading trait, she is the best pleader for woman that we have yet seen before the public.7
Women’s suffrage was defeated in Kansas, but Susan B. Anthony, eternal optimist, wrote to Olympia Brown: “Never was so grand a success — never was defeat so glorious a victory. … But don’t despair. We shall win. The day breaks. The eastern sky is red.”8
Hymn #157 – Step by Step the Longest March
Narrator: The following year, 1868, saw the passage of the 14th amendment, granting privileges of citizenship to all recently emancipated African American men. Frances Ellen Watkins Harper, an African American who had fought for women’s suffrage as well as abolition realized that — at least for the moment — women would have to wield their influence through the men. She described the way women might do this in a poem.
Frances Ellen Watkins Harper:
You’d laugh to see Lucinda Grange
Upon her husband’s track.
When he sold his vote for rations,
She made him take ‘em back.
Day after day did Milly Green
Just follow after Joe,
And told him if he voted wrong,
To take his rags and go.
I think that Colonel Johnson said
His side had won the day,
Had not we women radicals
Just got right in the way.9
Narrator In 1872, Susan B. Anthony made so bold as to go to the polls in Rochester, New York, to vote. Miss Anthony was arrested, taken to the city jail, and later charged with a fine which she refused to pay. She spoke out strongly in defense of her right as a citizen.
Susan B. Anthony: I stand before you under indictment for the alleged crime of having voted at the last presidential election, without having a lawful right to vote. It shall be my work this evening to prove to you that in thus doing, I not only committed no crime, but instead simply exercised my citizen’s rights, guaranteed to me and all United States citizens by the National Constitution beyond the power of any State to deny.
It was we, the people, not we, the white male citizens, nor we, the male citizens; but we, the whole people, who formed this Union. We formed it not to give the blessings of liberty but to secure them; not to the half of ourselves and the half of our posterity, but to the whole people — women as well as men. It is downright mockery to talk to women of their enjoyment of the blessings of liberty while they are denied the only means of securing them provided by this democratic-republican government — the ballot.
Though the words persons, people, inhabitants, electors, citizens, are all used indiscriminately in the national and State constitutions, there was always a conflict of opinion, prior to the war, as to whether they were synonymous terms, but whatever room there was for doubt, under the old regime, the adoption of the Fourteenth Amendment settled that question forever in its first sentence:
All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof are citizens of the United States, and of the State wherein they reside.
The only question left to be settled now is: Are women persons? I scarcely believe any of our opponents will have the hardihood to say they are not. Being persons, then, women are citizens, and no State has a right to make any new law, or to enforce any old law, which shall abridge their privileges or immunities. Hence, every discrimination against women in the constitutions and laws of the several States is today null and void, precisely as is every one against negroes.
We no longer petition legislature or Congress to give us the right to vote, but appeal to women everywhere to exercise their too long neglected “citizen’s right.” … It is on this line that we propose to fight our battle for the ballot — peaceably but nevertheless persistently — until we achieve complete triumph and all United States citizens, men and women alike, are recognized as equals in the government.10
Narrator: A note of weariness began to creep through the women’s brave words as they continued to stump the nation, encountering the same old opposition year after year. Here is what Elizabeth Cady Stanton, wrote to a friend in 1879:
Elizabeth Cady Stanton: I have been wandering, wandering … up early and late; sleepy and disgusted with my profession, as there is no rest from the time the season begins until it ends. Two months more, containing 61 days, still stretch their long length before me. I must pack and unpack my trunk 61 times; pull out the black silk trail and don it; puff my hair and pin on the illusion ruffling round my spacious throat, 61 more times; … eat 183 more miserable meals; sleep between cotton sheets under these detestable things called “comforters” — tormentors would be a more fitting name —61 more nights; shake hands with 61 more committees, smile, try to look intelligent and interested in everyone who approaches me, while I feel like a squeezed sponge; and endeavor to affect a little spring and briskness in my gait on landing in each town in order to avoid giving an impression that I am 70, when in reality I feel more like crawling than walking •11
Narrator: Sixteen years later, in 1895, Julia Ward Howe addressed the Equal Suffrage Association.
Julia Ward Howe: My Dear Friends: Once more you are called together in the name of a reform for which we and many others have labored and suffered through many years of hope deferred. … I suppose that at the outset few of the suffrage workers foresaw either the lerigth of the campaign or the breadth of ground which they would be called upon to occupy. In return for our patient maintenance of the peaceable contest, we have had the great instruction of learning how deeply our cause inheres in that of human freedom. … It is good for us to know that in seeking our rights we are seeking to forward the most vital interests of the community, which are placed in jeopardy by being withdrawn from the tender and watchful guardianship of the mothers, sisters and daughters of mankind.
In our own immediate domain we meet with many discouraging circumstances, and yet are cheered by indications of the progress, slow indeed, of the cause which we advocate. •• 12
Procession (Music: The Battle Hymn of the Republic)
Eleven women, each identified with the name of one of the 10 suffrage states plus the Alaska territory, move forward carrying among them a large U.S. flag (preferably one with 48 stars). The states are Wyoming, Colorado, Idaho, Utah, Washington, California, Oregon, Arizona, Kansas, and Illinois.
Narrator (during procession) : Gradually, state by state, women were granted the vote. By 1914 ten states plus the territory of Alaska had passed women’s suffrage. In Montana the suffrage campaign was spurred by a dramatic parade. Thousands of men and women from all parts of the state marched. A huge American flag was carried by women representing the ten states plus the territory of Alaska which already had full suffrage. A yellow banner identified states involved in campaigns, a gray one for partial-suffrage states, and a black banner for non-suffrage states. That year women won the vote in Montana, the 11th state to grant suffrage. 13 (after procession ends) : Another suffrage parade was held in New York City. Elizabeth Padgham, Unitarian minister in Rutherford, New Jersey, planned to march.
Elizabeth Padgham: When the first Suffrage parade was being planned in New York City I naturally was going to march with the Smith College Unit. I did not keep it a secret but thought little of it as affecting the church. However, it dawned on me that whenever I entered the room where the Alliance members were to hold a meeting the busy chatting would stop as I came into sight. Being at first a bit stupid, it didn’t come to me that they were discussing my parading. Finally, a group of the women came to visit and told me that I would disgrace the church if I marched in the Suffrage parade. The “disgrace” was said to be a quotation from one of the husbands. I felt sure they thought it would have more weight with me if a man said it. I told them I thought in time to come the church would be proud to know their minister was broad enough to walk in the first suffrage parade. In the back of my mind, I was thinking I would be asked to resign, but I wouldn’t back down even then. I did march, and the affair was never brought up again.’4
Narrator: The final phase of the movement took place during the first World War with Woodrow Wilson, outspoken opponent of women’s suffrage, in the White House. A new Woman’s Party, led by Alice Paul, took to the streets. Hundreds of women marched and picketed the White House throughout the bitter cold winter of 1917. They were arrested, imprisoned, and mistreated. Their action was very controversial, even within the ranls of suifragists. One of the pickets was Olympia Brown, then 82 years old.
Olympia Brown: The ballot is founded on the Declaration of Independence and based on democracy. The pickets are not hurting the cause of suffrage. They are not criticizing the president as so many people seem to believe, but are merely quoting him. … The women who have been arrested and sentenced to the workhouse are highly intelligent and prominent women…those who took part in the hunger strike are from prominent families. When the newspapers reported that they were being physically force-fed and confined to cells without ventilation…people demanded Congress start an investigation. President Wilson knew about the workhouse conditions but refused to do anything about them. We believe it is inconsistent to carry on a war in the interests of democracy abroad when we have no democracy at home.
We cannot say that the United States is a democracy as long as women cannot vote. We are being asked to give up our suffrage work until the war is over. Women were asked to do this same thing during the Civil War. They were told that as soon as the war was over and the Negro enfranchised, they would be given the ballot. But that did not happen. Instead, they were ridiculed for wanting to vote and we still do not have the ballot. We are being asked to do the same thing in 1917. We cannot afford to let the subject go by this time. If we do, women will have to begin the fight all over again. So much work and so much money has gone into the effort that it must be carried through.15
Narrator: Olympia Brown was one of the very few women of that first generation of suffragists who lived to see the final ratification of the woman suffrage amendment on August 26, 1920. A few days later, she told her congregation at the Universalist Church in Racine, Wisconsin, “It is worth a lifetime to behold the victory.”6
Many of our foremothers were among the first women to vote. I invite you to call out the names of the women who were, as far as you know, the first in your family to cast a ballot.
Naming of foremothers
Hymn # 109 – As We Come Marching, Marching
Narrator: On November 2, 1920, Alice Stone Blackwell, wrote to 92-year old Universalist minister Phebe Hanaford: “Dear Mrs. Hanaford: It gives me real pleasure today to think that you will be voting — although you have had that privilege since 1917, while I exercise it today for the first time. But in thinking of the women to whom we owe it, you come to my mind, and my grateful thoughts go out to you. Cordially, Alice Stone Blackwell”17
Alice Stone Blackweil was the daughter of Lucy Stone and Henry Blackwell, who lived and worked her entire life within suffrage, truly, a “suffrage daughter.”
Although Susan B. Anthony did not live to behold the victory, she kept the faith to the end. Her last words were “Failure is impossible!” She was right.
Note: With one possible exception, all women quoted in the service were Unitarian or Universalist. The exception, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, was most certainly a kindred spirit, and her descendents believe she had become a Unitarian by the end of her life.
1 Diane Ravitch, ed., The American Reader (New York: Harper Collins,
2 Ibid, 95
3 Mary-Ella Hoist, An Exploration of the Friendship of Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony (Boston: Unitarian Universalist Historical Society, 1987), 5-6
4 Theodore Stanton and Harriet Stanton Biatch, eds., Elizabeth Cady Stanton as Revealed in her letters. Diary, and Reminiscences (New York: Harper and Bros., 1922), 40
5. Ellen Carol DuBois, Elizabeth Cady Stanton/Susan B. Anthony:
Correspondence. Writings, and Speeches (New York: Slocken Books, 1981) 61-62
6 Stanton and Blatch, 50
7. Charlotte Cote, Olymi,ia Brown: The Battle for Equality (Racine: Mother Courage Press, 1988), 89
8 Ibid., 92
9 Frances Smith Foster, ed. A Brighter Coming Day: A Frances Ellen Watkins Harner Reader (New York: The Feminist Press of the City University of New York, 1990), 204
10 Ravitch, 160-164
11 Stanton and Blatch, 159-160
12 Florence Howe Hall, Julia Ward Howe and the Women Suffrage Movement (Boston: Dana, Estes, and Co., 1913), 212-214
13 Description from Ida Husted Harper, History of Women Suffrage (New York: Arno, The New York Times, 1909),VI, 366-367
14 Elizabeth Padgham, “Elizabeth Padgham – Minister”, handwritten autobiographical note, n.d., Padghani file, Unitarian Universalist Archives, Andover – Harvard Library, Cambridge, MA, 16
15 Cote, 160-161
16 Ibid., 193
17 ALS Alice Stone Blackwell to Phebe A. Hanaford, Nov. 2, 1920. Phebe Ann Coffin Hanaford Papers, 1848 – 1927, Nantucket Historical Association, Nantucket, MA.