Because she wanted to vote.
“My grandmother went to jail for your right to vote. And you’re just going to piss it away?” said McDonald, 63, a retired Baltimore attorney who is stunned that women — white women in particular this election — may not be using their full power to influence the country.
The truth is, women have long undervalued their rights at the polls. And ever since she heard stories about her grandmother, saw photos of her with the suffragist sash and read her letters, McDonald has worked the polls and tried to get people to vote.
Presidential elections, nonpresidential elections — we outpace men in all that, usually by about 2 to 10 percentage points.
But sorry, sisters. The fact is, only two-thirds of eligible women vote. And that’s not good enough, not when you think of the bloody fight our foremothers put up.
Let’s stop for a moment and realize how recently women were silenced.
Think about life in America 100 years ago. Cars were on our roads. Electric clothes washers, vacuums, lightbulbs, toasters and zippers were all part of modern life.
Women were in the workforce, practicing law before the U.S. Supreme Court, they were mayors, served in state legislatures, they ran for Congress and president — there was even a woman enlisted in the Marine Corps.
They were also brutalized for protesting.
“We are only two generations from this, you know,” McDonald said.
Sure, history makes casual and brief mention of Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton when there’s a paragraph about women’s suffrage.
“But where’s our Susan B. Anthony Boulevard?” McDonald said. “She helped enfranchise more than 50 percent of the population. That’s huge.”
The long fight included Sojourner Truth’s landmark “Ain’t I a Woman” speech of 1851, rallies, meetings, lobbying efforts and battles as well as the brutal arrests, riots and night of terror in 1917 that included working-class women like Catherine Flanagan.
Flanagan wasn’t educated or politically active. She was working as a governess to support her mother and her younger sisters in Connecticut when she heard of the women protesting in Washington, McDonald said.
When she finally got a vacation from her job in August, she went to Washington to see what it was all about, eventually joining the protests at the White House. She wore suffragist white, had the purple-white-gold sash of the movement and was photographed Aug. 17 as she was arrested outside the White House, in what has become an iconic photo of the moment, McDonald said.
She was fined $10 and sentenced to 30 days in the Occoquan Workhouse.
At the workhouse, women were clubbed, had their heads slammed into iron beds, were refused medical treatment and fed lice and maggots. Eventually, the ones who went on a hunger strike were force-fed with tubes.
You don’t know about this? Most women don’t.
That’s why McDonald told her grandmother’s story to the folks at the Turning Point Suffragist Memorial, a group working to get a memorial built at the site of that workhouse.
“Those women engineered the greatest expansion of democracy, in one day, ever,” said Pat Wirth, the executive director of the memorial. “The young women of today don’t realize how far we’ve come, even in the past 50 years.”
McDonald will keep working elections, telling her grandmother’s story and demanding an explanation from nonvoting women.
Remember, nonvoters were the ones who decided the 2016 race.
“A lot of this election was turned by white, college-educated women who now would like to forget about this election and go back to watching HGTV,” actress Tina Fey said in 2017 at a Facebook Live fundraiser for the American Civil Liberties Union.
Since that election, the nation has changed. The #MeToo movement and Brett M. Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court hearings opened up a national conversation about sexual assault. Panels of men have been in charge of deciding women’s health care. And now, a record number of women are running for office.
“It’s really important to think of the sacrifices of women like my grandmother,” McDonald said. “I’m sure she was scared s---less when she was doing it.”
Think about that. All you have to do is show up and vote. No beatings or lice necessary.