Streetlights on a Local Centenary

By John Hertz: (reprinted from No Direction Home 38)

Of course a wood ear
Grows on that trunk, city boy.
Learning’s everywhere.

California in November 1919 became the 18th State ratifying the 19th Amendment to the United States Constitution. Congress had passed it on June 4th. It would become effective if ratified by three-quarters of the States. Illinois, Michigan, and Wisconsin ratified it first on June 10th. Tennessee was the 36th and conclusive State in August 1920.

XIX. 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.

This was (18 Aug) six months after the hundredth birthday (15 Feb) of women’s-suffrage pioneer Susan B. Anthony (1820-1906). Her eightieth birthday had been celebrated at the White House at the invitation of President McKinley.

She became the first female citizen to be depicted on U.S. currency when dollar coins with her portrait by Frank Gasparro (1909-2000), 10th Chief Engraver of the U.S. Mint, were issued in 1979. President Carter, signing into law the Congressional bill authorizing them, said

I am particularly pleased that the new dollar coin will — for the first time in history — bear the image of a great American woman. The life of Susan B. Anthony exemplifies the ideals for which our country stands. The “Anthony dollar” will symbolize for all American women the achievement of their unalienable right to vote. It will be a constant reminder of the continuing struggle for the equality of all Americans.

The reverse of the coin continued Gasparro’s design for the reverse of the 1971 Eisenhower dollar, showing an eagle clutching a laurel branch in its talons displayed over a landscape of the Moon, with the Earth in the sky behind and thirteen stars, based on the Apollo 11 Moon-mission patch designed by astronaut Michael Collins (1930- ).

President Eisenhower had approved the first U.S. Space mission (1955) and signed into law the National Aeronautics and Space Act (1958). Anthony, it might be said, stood for the ascension of women into new space, renewing their strength, mounting up with wings as eagles, running not weary, walking not faint.

California had granted women’s votes as a matter of State law by referendum in October 1911. Among opponents the Los Angeles Times said (“Women-Made Laws”, 21 Jan 11 p. I-14)

women…. by their inferior physical strength … are unable to compete on an equal basis in any line of endeavor where ability is determined by sheer bodily prowess. All positions of physical power — such as in our police forces, our armies and our navies — will necessarily be filled by men. In other words the enforcement of all law must inevitably rest with men. No law … could be effectually upheld except through the willingness of men to uphold it. And no matter what words were written on the statute books of any State, if the physical power (which is the masculine power) behind it were withdrawn, the law would immediately become void and impotent.

This fallacy, arguing to cynicism, even to barbarity, contains its own refutation. Let’s set aside how cynical, even barbaric, is the notion that laws’ only potency comes from physical force – which is setting aside a lot: behold No law … could be effectually upheld except through … willingness … to uphold it.

Law operates when it is reasonable and people see it is reasonable. Of course some enforcement will be needed; but much more are wisdom and communication.

The inadequacy of physical force as a basis for law was expressed by a maxim attributed to Genghis Khan (1162-1227), if not earlier, You can gain a country on horseback, but you cannot rule it on horseback – i.e. cavalry, armed forces.

In fact we have learned a lot about physical prowess of women police, soldiers and sailors – powered aircraft were first used in war nine months after the Times article (Italians against Turks at Tripoli) – but, as Mark Twain might say (Life on the Mississippi ch. 44, 1883), that’s lagniappe.

There’s a Women’s Rights National Historic Park, seven acres in and near Seneca Falls, New York, established by Congress in 1980.

In July 1848 Jane Hunt (1812-1889), Mary Ann McClintock (1800-1884), Lucretia Mott (1793-1880), Elizabeth Stanton (1815-1902), and Martha Wright (1806-1875) meeting there decided to organize a convention “to discuss the social, civil, and religious condition and rights of woman”. Over 300 men and women attended, filling Wesleyan Methodist Church.

The Park includes the church; the Hunt, McClintock, and Stanton houses; a Visitor Center; and the Suffragette Press Printshop. A freestanding plaque outside the church says “First convention for woman’s rights was held on this corner, 1848”.

Stanton is regarded as the principal author of a Declaration of Sentiments read at the convention and signed by a hundred of those present. Following the 1776 Declaration of Independence – which had been signed by fifty-six – it began

When, in the course of human events, it becomes necessary for one portion of the family of man to assume among the people of the earth a position different from that which they have hitherto occupied, but one to which the laws of nature and of nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes that impel them to such a course.

We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men and women are created equal….

In a heated debate whether women’s suffrage should be included, Frederick Douglass (1818-1895) urged that it should, and it was.

All these people – Anthony, Hunt, McClintock, Mott, Stanton, Wright – Douglass – Collins – Gasparro – Carter, Eisenhower, Genghis, McKinley, Twain, Wesley – are worth attention.

Me and my shadow,
Or two, or three, as I walk
Under the streetlights


“a word worth traveling to New Orleans to get; a nice limber, expressive, handy word – ‘lagniappe’…. something thrown in, gratis, for good measure.”

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One thought on “Streetlights on a Local Centenary

  1. That commentary wasn’t just cynically barbaric, it was stupidly ignorant in its barbarity; had they forgotten that the Colt revolver was called the equalizer? And if Conan Doyle had an appreciation (albeit misnamed) for hand-to-hand eastern martial arts, one might have expected this writer, a generation later, to know of them (although possibly ~he did, and discarded them as part of the specific racism of the time/place).
    At least 25 years ago, a writer in The Nation observed that the LAPD acts like an occupying army rather than a public service; given the source, I treated the remark as somewhat exaggerated, but the seeds of that approach are here.

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