Zeal overrides great progress


A popular anthem for Women’s Suffrage contained the lines:

From the daughters of the nation

Bursts a cry of indignation

Breathes a sigh of consecration

In a sacred cause.

They who share their country’s burden

Win no rights, receive no guerdon,

Only bear the heavy burden

Of unrighteous laws.

Sunday marked the 100th anniversary of the famed Woman Suffrage parade in Washington. Estimations vary but historians generally agree that there were somewhere between 5,000-10,000 assembled marchers. According to Lisa Kathleen Graddy, a curator at the national Museum of American history, the March 3, 1913, event was, “the first civil rights parade to use the nation’s capital as a backdrop, underscoring the national importance of their cause and women’s identity as American citizens.”

The parade, held more than a half century after the Seneca Falls Convention in 1848, was organized by Alice Paul of the National American Woman Suffrage Association and held the day before President Wilson’s inauguration as a means to pressure the government and increase the movement’s visibility.

Arkansas has an interesting role in the history of women’s suffrage. In June 1919, Congress passed the federal women’s suffrage amendment and submitted it to the states for its ratification. A special session was required for the Arkansas General Assembly to meet and to ratify the amendment.

The vote passed 74–15, making Arkansas the 12th state to ratify the Nineteenth Amendment —- and the first Southern state to do so. The Nineteenth Amendment became law on August 26, 1920.

With this forward-thinking predicate, one might assume that the position of women in Arkansas was secure and poised for improvement. For the most part, this has been the case, but as the old saying goes — old habits die hard.

This week we saw the U.S. House of Representatives finally passed reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act, which, since it was first enacted in 1994, has provided invaluable aid by protecting women and prosecuting their abusers. A GOP alternative bill, which stripped key provisions from VAWA, was voted down first. None of Arkansas’ representatives supported passage, and Rep. Tom Cotton, R-Dardenelle, voted against both versions of the law.

A sticking point for many Republicans was language in the bill to allow Native American tribal courts to prosecute alleged non-Indian offenders for actions on tribal lands. Cotton opposed both versions on this account, declaring, “American citizens accused of crimes on Indian reservations should have an unqualified option to proceed with their trials in state or federal court.”

Sen. John Boozman, R-Ark., raised similar concerns when he voted against the bill in the Senate, leaving Sen. Mark Pryor, the Arkansas delegation’s lone Democrat, as the one supporter of re-authorization of the Violence Against Women Act.

Interestingly, Rep. Tom Cole of Moore, was among Republicans crossing party lines to support the stronger VAWA bill.

“The absence of adequate judicial and legal authority given to tribes has made reservations places where domestic violence and sexual assaults are all too common,” Cole said in a Stephens Washington Bureau story in Friday’s edition. “Hunters know where to hunt; fishermen know where to fish. And predators know where to prey. The passage of the Violence Against Women Act gives tribes badly needed tools to combat the epidemic of violence and abuse in Indian Country.”

His insights as a member of the Chickasaw doubtless inform his stand on violence on tribal land and the need to address it directly.

We wish some members of the Arkansas delegation could see it that way.