Detroit suffragist, others paved way for Clinton

Maureen Feighan
The Detroit News

Philadelphia — Nearly 100 years after women won the right to vote, a new chapter in women’s history is being written as former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Thursday accepted her party’s nomination for president of the United States.

The 68-year-old Democrat is the first woman to lead the ticket of a major political party. Clinton took in the moment before she began her speech, appearing to get a little emotional at the podium as she surveyed the convention crowd before speaking.

“I’m so happy this day has come,” she said. “I’m happy for grandmothers and little girls and everyone in between. ... When a barrier falls in America, it clears the way for everyone. When there is no ceiling, the sky is the limit.”

The enormity of the milestone was embraced by her supporters at the Philadelphia hall.

Zina Kramer from Bloomfield Hills said Thursday she felt like she had a “front row seat to history being made.”

“After all these years that other countries have understood that a woman can lead and lead well, the United States is finally catching up,” said Kramer, who was a Clinton delegate in 2008 and was again this year.

Kramer said it was heart-wrenching in 2008 when Clinton released her delegates to then-U.S. Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois who had won the nomination.

Now, to witness Clinton become the first female presidential nominee, “it’s particularly emotional.”

In introducing her mom, daughter Chelsea Clinton described her mom as always putting her daughter first but taught her the value of public service.

She described how Clinton drops everything to FaceTime with her granddaughter and wrote her notes everyday when she was out of town as a child.

“I treasured each and every one of those notes,” she said.

Chelsea also touched on some of her mom’s failures, including her health care reform task force of the early 1990s.

“I saw it up close,” she recalled. “It was brutal. It was exhausting.”

But Clinton picked herself and kept fighting, Chelsea said.

“People ask me all the time ‘how does she do it?’ She never ever forgets who she’s fighting for.”

“...I hope my children will be as proud of me one day as I am of her.”

Clinton’s nomination also meant “almost everything” to Joy Williams, a Mississippi delegate.

Women “can finally feel equal and relevant and respected and honored,” Williams said.

U.S. Rep. Brenda Lawrence, D-Southfield, noted that in some countries, women still “don’t have a voice.”

This moment in history has roots stretching back to the suffragettes of the 1900s — and women everywhere should be proud, Lawrence said.

Arizona delegate Geraldine Emmett, 102 — who was 6 years old when the 19th Amendment was ratified — was one of the oldest attendees at the convention and recalled her own mother celebrating her right to vote.

“We all walked out in the middle of the street and cheered, like they’re cheering here — because my mother was going to get to have a say,” Emmett, honorary chairwoman of Arizona’s Democratic Party, told the Arizona Republic. “That was something.”

In Michigan, women fought for the right to vote for nearly 70 years before a state amendment was approved in 1918 granting suffrage to Michigan women, according to the Detroit Historical Society.

It wasn’t until 1920, when the 19th Amendment to the Constitution officially became law, that women across the country were finally given the right to vote.

The women’s suffrage movement in Michigan was championed by Clara Arthur of Detroit, who fought for women’s rights, helped build more than 130 playgrounds for children and “had all the qualities of a great leader,” as The Detroit News once described her.

There was a just one problem. She was a woman.

Arthur, who died in 1928, helped lead a campaign in 1912 to help Michigan women secure the right to vote. The ballot issue, voted on by all men, appeared to pass, before it failed under suspicious circumstances, according to the website Absolute Michigan.

But Arthur — who was born in New Brunswick, Canada, before moving to Detroit after marrying in 1882 — didn’t stop fighting for social justice.

Like Clinton, she also fought to improve the lives of children, according to the Detroit Historical Society.

Known as the “Mother of the Playground Movement,” Arthur chaired the industrial and child labor committees of the Michigan Federation of Women’s Club, and fought for stricter child labor laws.

Perseverance — a trait supporters say defines Hillary Clinton — may have been her biggest accomplishment.

“She could plan, and she could wait,” The News wrote. “Defeat did not confuse her; convinced that she could win, she kept on fighting until doubts were removed, the hesitant were assured, the stupid were outvoted.”

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