Reclaiming the Mocked Suffragette

Ducking stool for suffragettes. Image courtesy of Mentalfloss.com.

We have all heard of the girl who asked what was the difference between a Suffragist and a Suffragette, as she pronounced it, and the answer made [by] her [was] that the ‘Suffragist jist wants the vote, while the Suffragette means to get it.’

From 1914 journal Suffragette of the British Women’s Social & Political Union (WSPU). Quoted in Time.com.

When the women’s suffrage movement grew large and loud at the start of the 20th century, a British journalist mocked the suffragists by changing the ending of their label to the diminutive “ette.” The Brits, under the radicalized Women’s Social & Political Union (WPSU) founded by Emmeline Pankhurst, grabbed the insult and took it for their own. In one WPSU journal, Pankhurst changed the soft “g” to a hard one, emphasizing that they aimed to GET the vote.

Across the pond, American suffragists hated the change and, to this day, there’s some annoyance from historians that the distinction isn’t understood. Depending on which reference site you access, the term is either derogatory or explanatory. For example, the U.S. National Park Service says that the term is viewed as “offensive” and not used, while a British Library service explains that suffragists were “peaceful” while suffragettes were “militant.”

As we celebrate the 100th anniversary of women winning the right to vote in the United States and revel in triumphant pictures of the sashed marchers, I found it interesting to look at how they’ve been insulted over that same period. The surprising part was how mockery can sometimes be transformed to admiration, using some of the same words or pictures.

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The Jefferson Paradox: 168 Words

John Trumbull, “Presenting the Draft of the Declaration of Independence,” 1818.

He has waged cruel war against human nature itself, violating its most sacred rights of life and liberty in the persons of a distant people who never offended him, captivating & carrying them into slavery in another hemisphere or to incur miserable death in their transportation thither. This piratical warfare, the opprobrium of infidel powers, is the warfare of the Christian King of Great Britain. Determined to keep open a market where Men should be bought & sold, he has prostituted his negative for suppressing every legislative attempt to prohibit or restrain this execrable commerce. And that this assemblage of horrors might want no fact of distinguished die, he is now exciting those very people to rise in arms among us, and to purchase that liberty of which he has deprived them, by murdering the people on whom he has obtruded them: thus paying off former crimes committed again the Liberties of one people, with crimes which he urges them to commit against the lives of another.

Clause deleted from the Declaration of Independence

Fans of Broadway shows may recognize those opening words–he has waged cruel war– and hear a lush breeze of violins rise in a syncopated “beautiful waltz” in a song about molasses, rum, and slaves. Slavery was nearly abolished as an American practice–at least, it was proposed to be abolished by Thomas Jefferson before the country became these united states.

But Jefferson also owned slaves and fathered children with one of them, who was 15 when the relationship began. The statesman who argued so passionately for the morality of individual liberty did not entirely practice what he preached. There are nuances worth examining in this paradox, little-known facts that should be included in the conversation. To either stick him on a pedestal just because he wrote the “Declaration of Independence” or join the ubiquitous bands of protesters pulling down statues just because he was a slave owner seems overly simplistic. If we are going to judge historical figures, we should include as much of the picture as we know.

Portland has already opted to topple Jefferson, the slave owner. Photo by Joy Bogdan.
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Let’s Evolve the Decade

red dice changing year to 2020
Yes, it is time to close this decade. Photo at military.com

I am absolutely positive that on January 1, 2000 I made a point of explaining to everyone how it was not the new millennium.  The correct way to count the beginning of decades and millenniums is on year one, you see, so everyone was confused. The New York Times and The Farmer’s Almanac backed me up on this, and, while common knowledge was throwing ticker tape and blaring trumpets and partying like it was the end of 1999, common knowledge couldn’t hold a candle to fact and correctness. Only one problem.

I was wrong.

So was/is the Times and the Farmer’s Almanac and the US Naval Station and what will be the tsunami of nitpickers and fact porn purveyors who are about to begin that drumbeat again. I’ve already seen a few Facebook posts that begin with “Look, people…” It’s seductive, almost irresistible, but you can hold fast. Facts are more flexible than we might think.

This is absolutely the end of the 2010s, as I will literally explain below.

Anno Domini Was a Figment of Denis’ Imagination

Here’s the issue at hand. When the calendar was created–and it was created, it’s an artificial construct rather than being a natural phenomenon like atoms which had to be discovered–when the calendar was created, assumptions were made. As the many articles being written this week will tell you, the monk Dionysius Exiguus in 525 created a labeling system of years because people were using all different dates for their own purposes. (Dionysius stands for Little Denis, by the way, which is why a monk would be named after the Greek god of drunkenness and debauchery).

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What to Expect for Christmas

‘Tis the season, right? What is it a season for? This week’s Share Your World has made me consider what happens in December–

Long Lines

Lines at the mall, lines for parking spaces, lines at the post office, grocery, freeway exit… it’s a wonder that there aren’t more instances of Holiday Rage. People are more tolerant than usual, except for line cutters… grrrr… bring back public stocks for line cutters! To me, lines at Christmas most often mean people want to get things for other people, which means lines are rooted in good intentions. That can’t be bad. Except for line cutters, who need to go back to kindergarten.

photo from Getty images

Christmas Cards in the Mail

Do you enjoy receiving Christmas cards through snail mail? 

Love getting cards. And letters. It’s going out of style. I especially enjoy getting the photos of people’s kids who are growing up so fast. I like holiday letters, too, because even writing more than one paragraph or 500 words is going out of style. I send long rambling letters, and if you got one and you didn’t like it, sorry. Usually, people say positive things which compels me to write the following year. The long letters are what got me started writing these blog posts. If you don’t do it, there’s no black mark against you, but if you do, ten brownie points. I got a card today from a volunteer agency, which was nice, especially because it was personally signed. Yay cards!

photo by kajmeister

Requests for Money in the Mail

It used to be catalogs filled the mailbox this time of year, but I think charitable solicitations are starting to outnumber them. Unfortunately, this is a case where No Good Deed Goes Unpunished. Give generously! But when you have to give your address, which you do for tax purposes, then you’ve sealed the fate of your mail carrier and your recycling bin during December. Guilt is powerful, too. Tossing them out always reminds me of the characters in “A Christmas Carol”…”At this time of the season, we think of those less fortunate….” and Scrooge says, “Are there no prisons? are there no workhouses?” or something like that…. *shudder*. Hmmm. Maybe it’s time to cough up a little more money to the local food bank…

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Fa-la-la-la-la Is No Accident

Piano music The Christmas Song

Christmas is the one holiday that has its own music. In fact, music is so much at the core of Christmas celebrations that three of the top fifteen best-selling singles of all time are Christmas-themed, and public venues start playing carols right after Halloween, two months early. Think about it; no other American/western European holiday involves theme music.

I realized this fact last night while attending the second holiday concert of this season, listening to a stream of sublime medieval motets and “Marian polyphony” by Chanticleer. As they sang dozens of songs about mangers and Magi, I tried to think of songs for Halloween or Thanksgiving, and they are rare, ancillary, afterthoughts. In the religious elementary school I attended as a child, Easter and Christmas were considered equally worth of pageantry, and we performed songs for parents in both. But few people would now sing “Go to Dark Gethsemane” or “Christ the Lord is Risen Today” while shopping for chocolate bunnies in March.

Music is a fundamental part of the Christmas experience, as old as wassailing and gift-giving, almost as old as snow and the change of the seasons.

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