- - Thursday, February 11, 2016


The story of the women’s movement for the 19th Amendment or — voting rights amendment — is well known, in terms of the dramatic public demonstrations — from picketing, parades, prison sentences and hunger strikers. But there was a softer side to the quest, exhibited exactly a century ago in the nation’s capital when suffragettes from 29 states inundated members of Congress with valentines.

That’s right. Valentines.

The missives were delivered en masse on February 13 so as to get publicity on Valentine’s Day in the next day newspapers. And the writers had to walk a fine line, for although the amendment, first introduced in 1848, had passed the House of Representatives several times over the years, it was the Senate that was the obstacle. So suffragettes directed their efforts — in original verse, of course — to both supporters and opponents. And because House members changed over the years, they didn’t neglect any possible yea vote.

The sweetheart of the proponents was Rep. Frank Mondell (1860-1939), a Republican from Wyoming, one of the sponsors of the amendment:

Oh, a young Lochnivar has come out of the West;

Of all the great measures his bill was the best

So fearless in caucus, so brave on the floor

There ne’er was a leader like young Lochnivar.

For some congressmen on the fence, as for instance, Rep. James R. Mann (1856-1922), Illinois Republican, the literary resort was to the reality side of the measure:

Circumstances often alter cases,

“Why don’t they stay at home?” he used to say.

Man sometimes finds it wise to shift his bases.

Would he have us stay at home election Day?

But the valentine could also reveal a veiled threat to the breakup of a relation: “You’re flirting with me darling,” began the verse to Sen. James Phelan (1861-1930), a Democrat from California. “But leave me still in doubt. You’d better be my Valentine. Or Look. A LITTLE. OUT!”

Some cards contrasted the manner in which a congressman supported all sorts of “pork” for his own region: “But Federal aid for women — No, indeed.”

The best verse was reserved for Rep. George W. Loft (1865-1943), New York Democrat, a candy manufacturer, who epitomized what Valentine’s Day was all about:

Who eats your famous sweets

By million pounds a year?

You’ve got just one guess — we women. Yes —

Your judgment, George, is clear.

We’re good enough to make you rich,

It’s now your turn at bat;

Be good enough to vote for us —

We’ll hold you, George, to that.

Put our amendment through — don’t wait —

Then you will be our candi-date.

No matter the valentines, it took Congress until June 4, 1919, to send the Nineteenth Amendment to the states. Ratification occurred on Aug. 18, 1920.

Thomas V. DiBacco is professor emeritus at American University.

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