Vermont suffragette who picketed White House in 1917 honored in painting

Secretary of State Sarah Copeland Hanzas will celebrate the installation of The Light of Truth Upon Them, a 2020 painting commissioned by the Vermont Suffrage Centennial Alliance (VSCA) to commemorate voting and the centennial of the 19th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, at her State Street office. She will be joined by artist Cynthia Cagle, members of the VSCA, the League of Women Voters, legislators, local and state officials, colleagues, and friends. 

The painting features two Vermonters: suffragette activist Lucy Daniels of Grafton, and Louvenia Bright of South Burlington, the first black woman elected to the Vermont Legislature. 

The Light Of Truth Upon Them by Cynthia Cagle

The Vermont Suffrage Centennial Alliance commissioned The Light of Truth Upon Them, an oil painting by Xicana artist Cynthia Cagle of South Burlington, to commemorate voting and the 2020 centennial of the 19th Amendment. 

According to a VSCA statement, Cagle’s work “explores the metaphysical relationship between identity and nature. Using her experiences as a biracial woman, Cynthia creates paintings, collages, and murals that investigate themes relating to biology, relationships, generational trauma, and the impact of colonialism.”   

Six women are featured in Cagle’s painting.  

Zitkala-Ša, a member of the Yankton Dakota Sioux, argued for women’s rights in her graduation speech from White’s Indiana Manual Labor Institute in 1895. 

Before she became a force in the suffrage movement, Ida B. Wells—born into slavery in Mississippi—documented the horrors of lynching through courageous journalism.  Wells wrote, “The way to right wrongs is to turn the light of truth upon them.” She saw voting rights as inextricable from civil rights and the fight against racism. 

Her work was shared by Vermonter Lucy J.C. Daniels of Grafton, who picketed the White House in 1917 and was arrested, tried, sentenced, and incarcerated.  She also championed for Black and working-class women to gain the vote. 

Mabel Ping-Hua Lee, the first Chinese woman to earn a doctorate in economics, fought for the right to vote alongside white suffragists in the early 20th century. However, due to the Chinese Exclusion Act, she herself was unable to vote until 1943. 

These women paved the way for other activists and lawmakers, including Vermont’s own Louvenia Dorsey Bright, the first black female legislator elected in Vermont in 1988, and politician Stacey Abrams of Georgia. 

Vermont missed opportunity to become the ‘Victory State’ for the 19th Amendment – The 19th Amendment was first introduced in the U. S. Congress in 1878. By 1916, with only nine states giving voting rights to women, suffragists were getting impatient and began demanding a constitutional amendment to make the vote a national right. On June 4, 1919, as more representatives supported suffrage, Congress passed the 19th Amendment but, for it to become part of the U. S. Constitution, two-thirds (36) of the states had to vote in favor of ratification.

As most state legislatures had adjourned, governors would have to convene special sessions to approve ratification that would enable women to vote for the very first time in the November 1920 presidential election. With determination and drive, suffragists won state after state, and by March 1920, 35 states had approved the amendment, with one more state to cast the deciding vote and none willing to step forward.

According to the VSCA, Vermont was one of 13 states under pressure to be the 36th state. On April 21, 400 women marched to Montpelier in the pouring rain to demand that Governor Percival Clement (R) call a special legislative “ratification” session to make Vermont the “Victory State.” “Make Vermont the Perfect 36” was the slogan. Additionally, women across the state sent the governor more than 1,600 telegrams and letters calling for the special session. To no avail, as Governor Clement was an opponent of woman suffrage and remained unshakeable, arguing that Vermont could not afford the expense of calling a special session. As a result Vermont lost the opportunity to become the “Victory State.”

On August 18, 1920, in a nail-biter vote, Tennessee became the 36th state to ratify the 19th Amendment.

Categories: History

2 replies »

  1. I wish that we could retire the word “suffragette.” The “ette” suffix feels not only ancient but also is a diminutive, connoting lesser status. Why not just use “suffragist”? We no longer employ terms like “aviatrix” and “poetess.” These are archaic and to many folks today are also demeaning.

  2. While I personally think this is great & about time in honoring women in VT, I’m unclear as to why women are being honored at a time when VT has decided there is really no such thing as women, & that essentially men make better women than women do.

    Vermont is forcing girls & women out of girls/women’s sports, claiming men can become pregnant, give birth, & “chest feed” and further denigrating females by attempting to have them buy into such garbage as murdering your own offspring is “empowering”, as is prostituting yourselves for money.

    The women of the early & genuine feminist movements must be spinning in their graves to know that womanhood today is being so compromised & is in such peril.

    Both Vermont, the Federal government, & the entire Democrat party are engaged in humiliating & subjugating females once yet again at a time when virtually all former barriers to their success & equality had been won.

    Got independent thought, gals??? VOTE THE BUMS OUT!!! You are being PLAYED!!!

    Well, I guess we should all be just THANKFUL that there are no males posing as women painted on this mural —- at this point. Wait.