The year was about 1905, as she recalled. A starry eyed red head sat quietly in the shadows to listen to the conversation between her mama and a woman named Susan B. Anthony. Around the light of a single lantern, two kindred souls talked excitedly about the promise of change in Rushville, Nebraska and all across America.
The little red head was my Great Grandmother Hetty Bell Haumont. Three years after watching her mama talk about gaining the right to vote, Hetty lost her mama in a buggy accident. The year was 1908 and my great grandma, age 11, was raised the rest of her days by her father and older brother.
Hetty finished high school and was privileged to attend college at Nebraska Wesleyan. As women continued to be moved by the work of Susan B. Anthony and many others, my Great Grandma never forgot how much her own mother had desired change in America, and soon joined ranks with the masses to push for the same. She broke ranks with some of her own family, friends and community. She pressed quietly and loudly at times. She never lost the faith that the dreams of her mother would come to pass.
Not many know that Susan B. Anthony spent a lot of time in Nebraska. Historians have uncovered a few photos and clippings and the stories passed through generations of Susan B. Anthony making whistle stops across Nebraska, both day and night. Word of her visits spread like wild fire, with young and old making the trek to the nearest rail way in hopes of catching glimpse of the woman who championed a cause near to their hearts. Susan had her work cut out for her in Nebraska. This state remained one of the last hold outs in changing heart and mind about a woman’s right to vote.
Do you know a woman who can remember the day where we didn’t have the right to cast our vote and be heard? I do. Another woman who lived up the road from me, passed recently at the tender age of 105. She was one of the first post-mistresses for the USPS and she remembers the year 1920, when the United States finally agreed to amend the constitution. She was eight years old when she got to witness history in the making.
There has been no other time in my adult life where I have heard so many women say that they will stay home from the polls November 6. So many discouraged souls who are weary of politics and the feud between blue and red. I too have thought that I could just as easily fill my day with plenty of activity and avoid the trip to my polling station 15 miles down the road.
But, my eyes wander to her each time I stand at my kitchen window. This woman, with her nerves of steel, whose auburn hair whipped behind her as she traversed the Nebraska Sandhills on her horse. The woman who pushed through the crowds in 1920 to let her voice be heard. The little girl who grew to be a woman with no mother, but never forgot the lessons she learned by candle light as a little girl. That any just cause, is worth the inconvenience and agony and pain that our ancestors endured to bring us this right and privilege.
And, I can’t. I can’t let my great grandma down. I can’t let MY 14, 10 and 3 year old daughters down.
And, neither can you.
I don’t have photos to prove that my Great-Great Grandma Althea Bell was personal friends with Susan B. Anthony. All I have are the stories told around the ranch table that have passed down to each generation, while we look at the token pieces that tell the story of the struggle to gain the 19th Amendment to the Constitution. For me, it is enough. And today, I will wear purple and vote.
I hope you will too.
Photo taken at our ranch in 1920…the first year women were permitted to vote in Nebraska. My great grandma raised Shorthorn cattle there until she passed at age 96.