Letters to the Editor

I fear we will go back in time

To the Editor:

In North Caroline we have a candidate for governor who is reputed to have said “I absolutely want to go back to the America where women couldn’t vote … We want to bring back the America where Republicans and principles and true ideas of freedom rule.”  

There’s a lot to unpack in that statement but what strikes me foremost is what it would mean to women.

In the beginning of this country American law was based on English Common Law wherein it was understood that the “very being and legal existence of the woman is suspended during marriage, or at least incorporated into that of her husband, under whose wing and protection she performs everything.” (Blackstone Commentaries)

It wasn’t until 1848 that women, chafing under that idea of servitude, organized to petition the government for the right to vote. Over the course of the next 70 years, a period in history marked by protests, arrests and hunger strikes, this request was repeatedly denied.  It was only due to the inclusion of western states, who throughout this time granted suffrage to women, that the nineteenth Amendment to the Constitution was ratified on August 26, 1920. But the right to vote was only the beginning of the fight for civil rights for women.

Fighting for the right to use birth control, to determine the size and timing of their families, became paramount. That and the right to work, doing away with discrimination in hiring practices, the right to work while pregnant and the right to equal pay for equal work were among the many social injustices addressed over the next century.  According to the “Timeline of Legal History of Women,” between 1920 and 2020, over 50 laws and Supreme Court rulings were passed that addressed the injustices under which women had lived.  These were decisions and laws that made it easier for women to have agency to be their own person.

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In 1971, before I married, my prospective mother-in-law encouraged me to open a bank account and get a credit card in my own name. However, it wasn’t until 1974 and the passing of the Equal Credit Opportunity Act that women were guaranteed the opportunity for both.

Born in 1920, my mother-in-law lived through all the legal and social changes which were responsible for her concern for me as a woman. She knew that the freedom to be my own person was not easily won and she encouraged my autonomy. I am glad she is not alive today to see women’s fundamental rights coming under attack and being threatened by this election.

We need to pay attention to what candidates say. If they can think it, if they can say it and if they are given the power, they can do it. The rights we think are enshrined in the law are never guaranteed. Witness the overturning of Roe v. Wade and the rumblings of outlawing birth control and other methods of family management. If all the means of reproductive control are taken away from women, as well as their partners, we could find ourselves back in the time before women could vote. My mother-in-law was right to be concerned.

Margaret Pickett


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