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Justice Bell Foundation 2020 © 

Philadelphia's 1920 Celebration of the 19th Amendment

On September 25, 1920, Katharine Wentworth Ruschenberger took her seat on the platform stage and watched thousands of people fill Philadelphia’s Independence Square. Today marked a celebration of the Nineteenth Amendment to the Constitution that gave women the right to vote. She was to here to speak about the featured “guest of honor,” the Justice Bell.

Two nieces of Susan B. Anthony were in attendance as were leaders of the suffrage movement. Speakers included Mrs. Maud Wood Park, national chairman of the National League of Women Voters and Dr. M. Cary Thomas, president of Bryn Mawr College.

After community singing and a concert by the police band, Philadelphia Mayor Moore opened the day’s events with a speech at 3:00 pm which was followed by an invocation by Rev. Frederick R. Griffin of First Unitarian Church of Philadelphia.

Then, Governor Sproul of Pennsylvania spoke saying, “To my opinion, this is one of the four greatest occasions in American history. The first was the declaration of independence; the second, the adoption of our Constitution; the third, the wiping out of slavery, and fourth, the accomplishment of equal rights for women.”

The Evening Public Ledger newspaper had announced under the headline “Justice Bell to Peal Tidings of Woman’s Victory,” “The women of Philadelphia will proclaim the political emancipation of themselves and their American sisters at a great victory jubilation in Independence Square this afternoon.  “Just as their great-great grandfathers had in 1776 rang out joyful tidings of their independence of Great Britain, the American sisterhood today will toll the “Women’s Justice Bell” proclaiming “liberty throughout all the land unto all the inhabitants thereof.”

Katharine must have thought back on how long it took to arrive at this day. It had been 72 years since the Seneca Falls Convention led by Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Mary Ann M'Clintock, and Lucretia Mott in 1848.

Forty-eight years had passed since Susan B. Anthony registered and voted in New York and was promptly arrested, put on trial and fined in 1872.

It had been thirty years since the American Woman Suffrage Association and the National Woman Suffrage Association joined forces to form the powerful National American Woman Suffrage Association in 1890.

Seven years ago, on March 3, 1913, the day before President Woodrow Wilson’s inauguration, a suffrage parade of ten thousand people organized by Alice Paul and led by Inez Millholland riding a white horse, marched down Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington D. C. The parade had diverted the nation’s attention from the inauguration due its size, the pageantry, and the resulting scandal when mobs brutally attacked the women while the police turned away.

Only three years ago, in 1917, Alice Paul and other members of the National Women’s Party began picketing the White House. Known as the Silent Sentinels, she and hundreds of women suffered terrible abuse, with more than 500 arrests, numerous assaults and beatings, and even cruel forced feedings once the women had begun a hunger strike to protest their incarceration.

Finally, two years ago on January 10, 1918, the House voted in favor of the suffrage amendment. It took until June 4, 1919 for the Senate to pass it, with the same wording that Susan B. Anthony had introduced in 1878. When Tennessee became the 36th state to ratify on August 18, 1920, the 19th Amendment was added to the Constitution on August 26, 1920.

As Carrie Chapman Catt, president of the National American Woman Suffrage Association reported: "To get the word 'male' in effect out of the Constitution cost the women of the country fifty-two years of pauseless campaign... During that time they were forced to conduct fifty-six campaigns of referenda to male voters; 480 campaigns to get Legislatures to submit suffrage amendments to voters; 47 campaigns to get State constitutional conventions to write woman suffrage into state constitutions; 277 campaigns to get State party conventions to include woman suffrage planks in party platforms, and 19 campaigns with 19 successive Congresses."

 

No one would ever be able to claim that a woman’s right to vote had not been hard-won over many years through the efforts, struggles, and blood, sweat, and tears of hundreds of thousands of women.

And now, Katherine stood on a stage as her beloved Justice Bell took a place of honor, a day when the clapper would be freed to ring for the first time.

It was only five years ago that Katharine had come up with the idea of having a women's Liberty Bell tour all 67 counties in Pennsylvania, its role being to bring attention to the state referendum that would give the women of Pennsylvania the right to vote. Cast on March 31, 1915, she paid $2,000 for it and christened it the Justice Bell. It was identical to the Liberty Bell in every aspect except for the added engraved words “Establish Justice,” and it didn’t have a crack.

As Katharine stepped forward to begin her speech, she beckoned her niece, Catherine Wentworth, to get ready to ring the bell 48 times, once for each state. Women from every state took their places around Independence Square ready to begin their procession to the stage. Women and men in every county and many states would be ringing their own bells in celebratory solidarity throughout the day.

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