96 Years Ago Today My Great Aunt Voted for the First Time (and wrote about it)

Hattie Whitcher
Harriet E. (Whiting) Whitcher

Tomorrow I will return to daily posts on writing in support of NaNoWriMo participants and other writers, but today I have something special to share, also related to writing and especially pertinent this year.

As I’ve written about here before, my great aunt Harriet (Hattie) Whitcher, a Great Plains homesteader and part Native woman on the Rosebud Indian Reservation, kept a daily diary for most of her adult life, from 1920 through much of 1957. One of her entries that I treasure most is from November 2, 1920. At the time, she and her husband, Will, lived about a mile outside Spencer, Nebraska:

1920 Nov. 1st Monday

It was windy and snowed all day but in eve stopped. Will could only do the chores but I cleaned part of basement and it was cold all day.

Nov. 2nd Tuesday

Was a bright day all day and snow melted a little. Will took me to Spencer as Mamma was sick and I staid until eve and he came for me. Will went to Brad’s for dinner as he & Mr. went hunting. I voted at Spencer Polls for the first time. [emphasis added]

Nov. 1-2, 1920
Click on image for larger version

Hattie often capitalized nouns that were important to her (e.g., “Spencer Polls”)—held over from a common practice of the 18th and 19th centuries. The 19th Amendment would have been ratified only 76 days earlier, on August 18, 1920, and knowing Hattie from reading her 37 years of diary entries, I am certain she would have looked forward with excitement to exercising her right for the first time at the age of 39,

This particular presidential election was between Republicans Warren G. Harding and Calvin Coolidge and Democrats James M. Cox and Franklin Roosevelt. While Hattie does not mention whom she voted for in 1920, she would later become an ardent supporter of FDR, writing often of listening to his radio speeches and noting the anniversary of his death for years afterward.

I often think of how Hattie’s life would have been different had she lived in a different time or place. She was smart, sensitive, and keenly interested in politics both local and global. In later years, she complained in her diary that the women of the Legion Auxiliary of which she was a member spent more time “fussing over” children than dealing with business, and noted with impatience that the “men are right on to ropes of Legion stuff and continue to have their same officers” while the ladies often “just visited.” She often felt frustrated and outnumbered by the male voices around her, such as when, at a community meeting, “all the men were upset because I wanted a higher school at Hidden Timber [the local community], and I am in for making them prove their charges against the referendum, but I guess the day was spent in vain.”

Aunt Hattie's Diaries
Aunt Hattie’s Diaries

Whenever I feel too tired or uninspired or simply lazy to write, I try to remember Hattie, who poured her experiences and heart and soul into 77 volumes as she chronicled the Great Depression, Dust Bowl, World War II, Korean War, and progress in transportation and everyday life that must have seemed, at times, magical.

And, of course, the right to vote.

12 thoughts on “96 Years Ago Today My Great Aunt Voted for the First Time (and wrote about it)

  1. Lisa, This is, as always, marvelous. No one in my family celebrated the fact that women could vote – at least not on paper. And they were ardent Republicans. Interesting how a difference of place and circumstance changes perspective so much. You are so lucky to have so much material from Hattie to draw on!

    • Sally, thanks so much! Hattie and her husband were outliers in my family in terms of politics (maybe why I relate to her so much, haha). Her sister (my grandmother) was a staunch Republican, as is most of the rest of my family.

  2. This is so special. I have a treasure from my grandmother, Laura Mae Labbitt Cain. It is an essay she wrote as a freshman in high school. An opinion piece, it told about her support of women’s suffrage, and declared that if women got the vote they would soon do away with saloons, “the holes”! Thank you for sharing Hattie with us, Lisa. I’m always interested.

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