Barry McNamara  |  Published September 17, 2020

Constitution Day Celebrates 19th Amendment

Sen. Mattie Hunter ’76 shares history of women’s suffrage movement with Monmouth students, 100 years after 19th Amendment was adopted.

“If the first woman God ever made was strong enough to turn the world upside down all alone, these women together ought to be able to turn it back, and get it right side up again! And now they is asking to do it, the men better let them.” – Sojourner Truth, Women’s Rights Convention, Akron, Ohio, 1851

MONMOUTH, Ill. – During a Sept. 15 Constitution Day talk to Monmouth College students via Zoom, 1976 Monmouth graduate and Illinois state Sen. Mattie Hunter shared the history of women earning the right to vote – a significant moment in American history that became official when the 19th Amendment of the Constitution was adopted on Aug. 26, 1920.

“One hundred years is a very significant number, and it’s certainly worth pausing here to think about that number,” said Hunter, referencing the centennial anniversary of that date in her opening remarks.

TUESDAY AFTERNOON POLITICS: During a special session of T.A.P, Illinois state Sen. Mattie Hunter ... TUESDAY AFTERNOON POLITICS: During a special session of T.A.P, Illinois state Sen. Mattie Hunter '76 (upper left) spoke to students via Zoom about the 19th Amendment, which was adopted 100 years ago.What she wanted the students to think about most – especially the female students who participated in the Zoom session – was not taking the right to vote lightly.

Hunter referenced Sojourner Truth’s famous “Ain’t I a Woman” speech in 1851, which is excerpted above, as well an event that preceded it by three years, the Seneca Falls Convention, which launched the women’s suffrage movement.

“If you are so inclined, take a closer look at 1848 and all the revolutionary action that took place,” she told the students.

In the years that followed between 1848 and 1920, Hunter said there were hundreds of campaigns related to women’s suffrage, and the efforts and resources of hundreds of thousands of people were utilized.

“There are too many people who died for the right to vote,” said Hunter, who has served in the Illinois state senate since 2003. “Too many women who sacrificed their family for the right to vote. You and I are benefitting from those women and their sacrifices, so why not exercise your right to vote?”

What really strikes a nerve with Hunter is when she encounters some of her 220,000 constituents who lodge complaints with her but don’t get out and vote themselves or attempt to make their own difference in the community.

“I’d run into people, and I’d hear, ‘We never see you, but here you are, asking us for your vote, and yada, yada, yada,’” said Hunter, a Democrat who serves Chicago’s 3rd District. “I’d feel so bad when I heard that. Finally, about my fourth or fifth year, I decided I’m going to shoot back at them. Lo and behold, it happened again. I said, ‘I’ve never seen you before. What do you do in the community? Do you get out and vote? What is your level of involvement?’ Once I started confronting people – I just had to get people off of me. It just rolls off my back now.”

Hunter is also mystified by apathy in terms of the U.S. Census.

“There’s $1,400 per person per year related to the census,” she said. “That’s $14,000 over 10 years. People say, ‘Why don’t we have this in our community, why don’t we have that in our community?’ We have to have everyone completing the census to get our full share of funding.”

As a Monmouth student, Hunter became involved in government and politics, including spending a semester in Washington, D.C. A current student who may one day follow in Hunter’s footsteps is Abierre Minor ’21 of Chicago, who serves as president of Scots Senate, formerly known as the Associated Students of Monmouth College.

Minor asked Hunter how to best prepare for the type of career she’s had.

“Campus involvement is important,” said Hunter. “Learning how to chair a meeting, networking, getting to know people. All of that is very important. … Volunteer, learn as much as you can learn. You must become comfortable stepping out of your comfort zone. I’ve taken all of my life experiences and put them all together. Next thing you know, you’re somewhere, and the answers are just flowing out of your mouth. I had to prepare myself with a lot of hard work. It was a lot of long hours.”

You must become comfortable stepping out of your comfort zone. I’ve taken all of my life experiences and put them all together. Next thing you know, you’re somewhere, and the answers are just flowing out of your mouth. Sen. Mattie Hunter ’76

But just like women who fought for and finally achieved the right to vote, women of today are fighting for more representation and more power at all levels of government and are seeing progress. To characterize that similarity, Hunter referenced a quotation frequently attributed to Mark Twain: “History doesn’t repeat itself – but it rhymes.”

“Doors are opening to women in politics,” said Hunter of the growing number of women in the U.S. Senate and the House of Representatives. “These are great times for women. Any of you women interested in politics or government, roll your sleeves up and step in there.”

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