Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Well Done, Sister Suffragette!

What, you may ask, does this imposing lady (and in that hat, is there any question at all that she was, very definitely, a lady?) have to do with Election Day?

Well, O Best Beloveds, she is no less than my great-grandmother, resplendent (and, with the hat, well more than six feet tall) in the second mourning (all black, but no veil) that she wore for the fifty years that followed her precipitous and early widowhood.  The black kid gloves, by the way, lingered on well into my childhood, objects of a kind of family reverence rivaled in my experience only by Lady Ambermere's for Queen Charlotte's mittens.

Left more or less penniless when great grandfather proved no match for a galloping consumption, and with two daughters just barely more than toddlers, she lost little time in self pity.  She took on jobs as they presented themselves (at various points running a theatrical boarding house, shepherding my grandmother into a not altogether unsuccessful run at the Vaudeville stage, keeping books, and selling real estate).  She wound up back in her small Pennsylvania hometown, an enormously respected county tax collector, a position she passed on to grandmother when she, too, found herself widowed in her thirties.

Through it all, she had two passions:  women's rights and travel.  She would work until she'd saved enough to leave her girls at her endlessly tolerant parents' house and take off for parts unknown.  She headed to Alaska at a time when that was a far frontier, as she wanted to see first-hand her church's missionary activities in Sitka, and like the Misses Allen in A Room with a View (clearly on my mind these days) and me, for that matter, she went on to Constantinople.  She marched in suffragette parades on both coasts, and while that sort of thing wasn't really done in small-town Pennsylvania, she devoted her formidable powers of organization to seeing that her friends and neighbors fell into line in support of the Nineteenth Amendment.

In the '60s, when to my parents' horror my sister, off at college, declared herself a feminist, my grandmother gave my mother (who was always, I think a little surprised and perhaps even disappointed not to have found herself an early widow) a rather sharp little lecture, reminding her that it ran in the family, and a good thing, too.

So I think of her on Election Day, and the work that she did.  She died in the early '50s, before the next great wave of agitation for further civil rights, and long before the flowering of all the many ways since in which Americans have echoed her drive to secure the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, most recently in the push for marriage equality.  She was indomitable in her sense of fairness, and I like to think she'd approve.  I vote in her memory and her honor.   Looking at that photo, at her strong-minded expression of mingled resolve and good humor, I'd hardly dare not to.


  1. Heavens - your grandmother was Margaret Dumont! I'm sure the family resemblance is uncanny... Jx

    PS She sounds a remarkable woman. Thanks for sharing her story!

  2. I vote for Great-Grandmother Muscato!

    ...and I suppose Missus Pankhurst has been clapped in irons again.

  3. I applaud her - and what great genetics for you!!