Nearly a century ago, a parade in Washington, D.C., helped create a surge in the women's suffrage movement.
At the time, the movement to gain women's right to vote had “kind of stalled” after years of efforts and needed a boost, at least on a national level, said Vera Moore, with the Tyler Alumnae Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta public service sorority.
“Women from countries that had enfranchised women held the place of honor in the first section of the procession. Then came the 'pioneers' who had been struggling for so many decades to secure women's right to vote,” the website states.
“The next sections celebrated working women, who were grouped by occupation and wearing appropriate garb — nurses in uniform, women farmers, homemakers, women doctors and pharmacists, actresses, librarians, college women in academic gowns.”
“Harriet Hifton of the Library of Congress Copyright Division led the librarians' contingent. The state delegations followed, and finally the separate section for male supporters of women's suffrage. All had come from around the country to 'march in a spirit of protest against the present political organization of society, from which women are excluded.'”
Ms. Moore said suffragists knew there would be media in town for the inauguration, with a lot of people available to participate.
“As it turns out, there were a lot in town for the inauguration, but not all were supportive of women's suffrage. Many of them used abusive language as women marched. To some degree, (the people) being ugly to them was the best thing that could have happened. A lot of people took offense because of the way that they were treated, and those who hadn't supported them started (to),” she said.
The event will be commemorated next month during a reenactment march hosted by the Tyler Alumnae Chapter of the Delta Sigma Theta. The event also commemorates the 100th anniversary of Delta Sigma Theta, which was founded in January 1913.
Ms. Moore said it was founded “based upon a commitment to public service and social action,” and after its founding, the first thing it participated in was the women's suffrage march.
“We feel that it is important to be committed to public service,” she said
Vicki Betts, professional librarian at the Robert R. Muntz Library at The University of Texas at Tyler, said women's suffrage up north started as early as 1848 with the Seneca Falls women's rights convention in New York. But for Texas, it began after the Civil War.
Suffrage was defeated in 1868 at a convention, and the 1875 Texas constitution did not allow “idiots, lunatics, paupers, felons and women” to vote, according to Ms. Betts' presentation on suffragettes of Smith County.
Then in the 1880s and 1890s, women began to join clubs, study groups and “make plans to improve their communities and protect their families,” but they were “patted on the head or ignored entirely” when voicing concerns, the presentation states.
That's when Mary Louise McKellar Herndon, also known as “the grandmother of … suffrage in Tyler,” got involved and at one point worked toward getting a bill introduced in the Texas House, and in 1913 helped organize the Smith County Equal Suffrage League, according to the presentation.
“Her family became prominent and wealthy. She was a (Baylor University graduate and) big officer in the Women's Christian Temperance Union, and she couldn't vote,” Ms. Betts said.
Years later, she said white women could vote in Democratic primaries only, meaning they could vote if they could afford the poll tax and were Democrats.
“If you didn't fit into those categories, if you were not white, you could not vote until the 1920s when the final amendment went through,” she said.
Ms. Betts said there was not a suffrage march in Tyler, and no one chained themselves to a fence or tree like in the nation's capital.
Instead, they were bringing in speakers and “appealing to logic,” she said.
“They (had) to convince men that women should have the right to vote, so they brought in a number of speakers to speak in town and at local communities,” she said.
Ms. Herndon's daughter, Elizabeth Herndon Potter, said, “There seems to be opposition to giving women the right to vote because it is claimed they would spend too much time upon matters apart from the home. I think it would be much better if we had suffrage and had legislative matters for the women to think of instead of having them play bridge,” according to Ms. Betts' presentation.
Ms. Betts said what really strikes her is how long suffragists had to work for women to get the right to vote.
“They would push and then get defeated, and it just kept going. They just had to stick with it a long time,” she said.
Longtime Mixon area resident Navoleine Roddy, who is in her early 90s, said she remembers studying this history.
“They just gradually came to the conclusion that they ought to have the right of the men as far as voting, and they should because they were citizens and paid taxes,” she said.
“I wasn't around to do anything for it, but had I been, I would have joined in the movement of it because it just doesn't seem like anything but right.”
However, she said her mother, whom she described as a “home lady” and “family person,” never was interested in getting involved in anything like that, but when she got the right to vote, she used it.
“Now, we have (women) leaders in national government. Had they not gotten the right to vote, I don't think that ever would have happened,” Ms. Roddy said.
Dee Brock, board member with the League of Women Voters of Tyler/Smith County, agreed that it is important to commemorate women's suffrage.
In fact, she said the women who succeeded in passing the 19th Amendment are the people who started the League of Women Voters.
“They recognized that getting the right to vote didn't mean anything if you didn't get out and vote, so they served (in the league),” Ms. Brock said.
She said the league, a nonpartisan group, also has always recognized that women's suffrage would not have been accomplished without support from men.
Tyler residents are invited to celebrate all of those players at next month's march reenactment.
“Those women went through a lot in order to secure the right to vote. We owe them gratitude,” Ms. Moore said. “We want all women in the community and men as well (to join). … We're just inviting everyone to come out and join us. When you look at the vote nowadays, you see how important the female vote is, and it all started back then, and we want to commemorate that.”