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Vote for the women: Suffragettes march into bright future

By MICHAELA MARX WHEATLEY
South Whidbey Record Island Life
May 15, 2013 · Updated 1:57 PM
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Vicki Welfare is among the marchers Saturday. When Welfare is not pushing for women’s rights she works for the Langley Library. / Sharon Lundahl photo

With an eye on the cause, the suffragettes took to the streets Saturday morning in Langley, and confused the occasional tourist, but mostly put smiles on the faces of the onlookers.

A group of roughly 40 women dressed in 1913 fashion shouted rallying cries such as “Join the cause!” or “Give mother the vote!” and made their way up Second Street and down First through downtown Langley. Visitors looked on from the sidewalks and a large crowd had gathered at the rally site next to the Dog House awaiting the arrival of the suffragettes.

Carli Newman and Annie Saltee ran alongside the parade passing out brochures educating the public about the fight the women had gone through 100 years ago.

At one point during the march, a suffragettes spotted Island County Commissioner Helen Price Johnson in the crowd and called out “Support the cause. One day you may be able to seek office,” earning the thumbs up and a big smile from the commissioner.

A few tourists were caught by surprise by the march. They looked somewhat puzzled at the events unfolding before them, but quickly got into the spirit clapping and cheering on the marchers.

The women arrived at the rally site that was lined by vintage cars and horse buggies to find a mostly friendly crowd awaiting them. But of course, some male hecklers were on hand to put those ladies in their places.

When lead suffragette Hetty Maxwell, played by actress Patricia Duff, took to the podium, the men shouted things such as “If women go into politics, who will mend our clothes?”

The hecklers were no match for the feisty Hetty.

“Women can’t understand politics,” one guy shouted. “Women are too pure for politics.”

Hetty countered: “If politics is dirty, the time has come to clean it up! Women have had long experience cleaning up after men.”

The crowd cheered. Sharon Lundahl photo The women rally for the vote. About 40 women marched in Saturday’s parade.

The speech, written by Langley historian Bob Waterman, had tender moments too. One of the unruly men wanted to know what women knew about war if they wanted to have a say in such important matters.

“Women know the cost of human life in terms of suffering and sacrifice as men can never know it … You tell me that one man lay dead and I might be able to tell you something of its awful meaning to one woman,” Hetty said. “I would know that years before, if there was laid in her arms a tiny little bit of helpless humanity, I would know that there went out from her soul such a cry of thankfulness as none save a mother could know.

“And if after years had passed, she forgot her nights of sleeplessness and her days of fatiguing toil in caring for her growing boy, and stood looking up into his eyes, and in an hour this country calls him out and in an hour he lies dead; sitting by his side, what man dare ask what a woman knows of war,” she added.

After the rally, 1913 suffragettes and the 2013 audience quickly merged and hugs and congratulations were exchanged.

It was another successful Langley Centennial celebration event. The Langley Main Street Association produced the event. The street theater was written by Bob Waterman. Kathleen Landel, Anne Waterman, Julie Cunha and countless others worked behind the scenes to make it all happen. Rene Neff had sewn the yellow, white and purple flags and stashes, Peggy Juve had printed flags. Volunteers had painted the historically accurate banners for hours in the days leading up to the march.

Waterman said during the Centennial he had wanted to commemorate the fight for the woman’s right to vote as females have played such an important role in Langley’s history. In 1913, the election that decided that Langley would incorporate was the first election that women had voted in Langley. As town officials were chosen, seven Langley women ran for office, but none were elected.

In 1919, a female mayor and three female councilwomen were elected. The councilmen who were to serve with the women were appalled and resigned and were replaced by two more women, making Langley in 1920 the second municipality in the nation to have an all-woman administration.

In 2013, Langley currently has only one councilwoman, Rene Neff, who also played one of the suffragettes, but Langley has no shortage of powerful women calling the shots in and outside Langley’s city limits.


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