Posts Tagged ‘Anita Pollitzer’

On this day…

June 4, 2010

June 4, 1919, the U.S. Congress ratified the 19th Amendment giving women the right to vote. Over a year and a half later Tennessee became the 36th state to ratify the amendment making it law. It almost didn’t happen. Thanks to a young woman from Charleston, S.C. the battle was won on a Tennessee morning in August of 1920.

Anita Pollitzer was the daughter of a merchant in Charleston who went to Columbia University in New York City because the College of Charleston was all male. While there she met Alice Paul, the great suffragette. Anita immediately saw the importance of working towards women’s suffrage and joined Alice’s group of activists. It was Alice’s idea to picket the White House to pressure President Woodrow Wilson to support their efforts. They were the first group to do so. They were jailed and went on hunger strike. When the press found out that Alice and several others were being force fed it led President Wilson to relent and ask Congress to support a 19th amendment to the Constitution that would give women the right to vote. It wasn’t a completely selfless gesture however as the US was embroiled in WWI and women were needed to fill jobs vacated by fighting soldiers. Congress ratified the amendment on June 4, 1919. It now needed 36 states to ratify before becoming law.

In August of 1920 Tennessee was scheduled to vote on ratification. It would be the much needed 36th state if the vote succeeded. Alice Paul sent Anita there to lobby. Anita had spent that year traveling the country as the premier lobbyist for the amendment. When she arrived in Tennessee she discovered that the legislature was evenly divided between supporters and opponents. It was her job to find a ‘swing’ vote. She had done her research and put her sights on Harry Burns to lobby to switch sides. She met with him and made an eloquent case for the economic and moral reasons to vote in favor. He wouldn’t budge.

The morning of the vote all of the white male legislators filed into the chamber. Half went to one side and the other half were seated across from them. Just before the vote was called a Western Union messenger boy ran into the chamber and delivered a telegram to Harry Burns. Harry opened it, read it, folded it and put it into his pocket. He then got up out of his seat and crossed the room to join the supporters of the amendment which was then ratified by a one vote margin.

The telegram was from Harry’s mother. Anita had gone to see her to plead her case. Mrs. Burns said in her telegram to her son, “Allow me the right to vote before I die.”

Anita refused to give up on what she believed. I remember Anita when ever I am faced with the naysayers who don’t take the issues women face seriously. I hold Anita in my heart when talking about paying women on a par with men and electing more women to public office. Anita Pollitzer is my heroine and an example of true grit and determination. Happy ratification day Anita!!!

Center for Women Executive Director’s College of Charleston Commencement Address

January 7, 2009

By Jennet Robinson Alterman
December 20, 2008

Dr. Jennet Robinson Alterman delivers CofC Commencement Address

Dr. Jennet Robinson Alterman delivers CofC Commencement Address

Madame Chairman, President Benson, members of the Board of Trustees, faculty and staff…my thanks to you.  To my esteemed fellow Doctors of Humane Letters…Mary Ramsay and Lucille Whipper…we have certainly come a long way and folks don’t even think of calling any of us baby.  I am humbled to be in your esteemed company.  

To you the class of twenty oh eight…Congratulations…you have made it!!!  Now before I start I need to know a few things…Will all of the women who are receiving degrees today please raise your hand…You and Mary and Lucille and I would not be receiving degrees today were it not for a woman named Carrie Pollitzer.

Today we are celebrating 90 years of coeducation at the College of Charleston…but for an educational institution founded in the 1700’s it is interesting to look at what prompted the longstanding male student body and faculty to change their minds and admit women… You all need to know the story of Carrie Pollitzer…Carrie was one of the three Pollitzer sisters of Charleston…Carrie, Mabel and Anita. All 3 of them went to Columbia University in New York because there was no higher education institution for them to attend in Charleston in the early 1900s. In April of 1917 the United States entered World War One. Thousands and thousands of men began to be shipped overseas. Carrie Pollitzer was running the first kindergarten program in Charleston in a carriage house behind her family home on Pitt. St. She had been concerned for a long time that the College of Charleston did not admit female students. So in light of the impact the war would have on student enrollment she though it an appropriate time to press her case with the College Administration. She took it upon herself to call on Dr. Randolph, the President of the College at that time. She implored him to allow women to be admitted. Dr. Randolph, who adamantly opposed coeducation refused to consider her plea. But Carrie pressed on asking for a concrete reason for continuing to not allow women. He finally said to her that the College couldn’t afford to admit women as they didn’t have the money to add a separate ladies room. Carrie took that as her call to arms. When asked how much building a rest room would cost he told her it would cost $3000…which was a fortune in 1917. He obviously thought that a sum that size would intimidate  Carrie into dropping the subject of coeducation. Au contra ire…instead Carrie said…let me see what I can do. She spent that summer (before AC!) and fall going door to door asking for donations from friends and neighbors and by the end of the year she had raised $3000.

And in fall of 1918 ten women were enrolled at the College of Charleston…and now today all of us follow in their footsteps.  

Read the rest here.


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