Christine de Pizan

Christine de Pizan
The Writer Christine de Pizan at Her Desk

Wednesday, August 26, 2020

The Nineteenth Amendment--One Hundred Years

The Nineteenth Amendment to the US Constitution (certified 26 August 1920)

On 26 August 1920, U.S. Secretary of State Bainbridge Colby certified the Nineteenth Amendment--ratified by the last of the thirty-six states on 18 August 1920, the amendment was officially a part of the U.S. Constitution.

Document certifying the
Nineteenth Amendment
This amendment "granted" women the right to vote--or, rather, the text indicates that it is "extending the right of suffrage to women."

But as Eleanor Smeal, president of the Feminist Majority, notes, "The textbooks when I went to school said women were given the vote."

And then, her brilliant response: "We weren’t given anything. We took it."

Like any historic struggle for social change, the long story of the suffrage movement, culminating in the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment, is not a simple one.

As Brent Staple has noted in a recent New York Times op-ed on the occasion of this centenary, "Americans are being forced to choose between a cherished lie and a disconcerting truth as they prepare to celebrate the centennial of the 19th Amendment in 2020."

The "cherished lie" is that after the passage of the amendment, all women could vote. But the truth, as Staple writes, is that "millions of . . . women — particularly African-Americans in the Jim Crow South — remained shut out of the polls for decades afterward."

While African American women had worked toward suffrage alongside white women like Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony, their struggle continued "until activists such as Fannie Lou Hamer and Diane Nash won the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, 200 years later."*

Nor did the Nineteenth Amendment "extend" the right to vote to indigenous women--in 1920, Native Americans were not considered to be citizens of the United States, so native women could not vote. The vote came much later for them: 
With the passage of the Snyder Act in 1924, American-born Native women gained citizenship. But until as late as 1962, individual states still prevented them from voting on contrived grounds, such as literacy tests, poll taxes and claims that residence on a reservation meant one wasn’t also a resident of that state.
And for Asian American women? The situation was equally complicated, the right to vote still not guaranteed. Although Asian Americans born in the United States were U.S. citizens in 1920, at the time of the Nineteenth Amendment, "first generation Asian Americans did not [have citizenship]. Asian American immigrant women were therefore excluded from voting until the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952 allowed them to gain citizenship more than three decades after the 19th Amendment."

And for Latinx women? Again:
. . . in Puerto Rico, suffragists like Luisa Capetillo worked to attain women’s voting rights, which were first given to literate women in 1929 and all Puerto Rican women in 1935. Yet literacy tests remained an effective means of keeping some Hispanic and other women of color from voting long after the federal amendment was passed. It took a 1975 extension of the Voting Rights Act, prohibiting discrimination against language minority citizens, to expand voting access to women who rely heavily on languages other than English.
Generations of women participated in the long "slog" (love Gail Collins's word here) toward suffrage --it encompassed "what suffragists counted as 480 campaigns to get state legislatures to submit the issue to the voters." Women who first took up the cause did not live to see its end.

No one gave them the right to vote. They planned for it, organized for it, demonstrated for it, and worked toward it. They argued and reasoned and shouted. They struggled for the cause and suffered for it. They committed acts of violence, and they were the victims of violence. They were mocked, ridiculed, beaten, and jailed. They went on hunger strikes, and they were force fed. Over and over again, they were defeated in the fight--nevertheless, they persisted.

Women demanded the right to vote, and they did not give up until they took it.

Now use it.

*This quotation and those that follow come from an essay posted at the PBS American Experience website, one of a series of pieces published in connection with Michelle Ferrari's documentary The Vote. No author is named for the piece I've quoted from, "Not All Women Gained the Right to Vote in 1920."

Saturday, August 15, 2020

Constance of Aragon, Regent of Sicily

Constance of Aragon, queen of Hungary, regent of Sicily, and Holy Roman Empress (crowned queen of Sicily 15 August 1209)

Constance of Aragon was the eldest daughter of King Alfonso II of Aragon and his queen, Sancha of Castile, though the year of her birth is not certain, with sources ranging from 1179 to 1184.

The fabulous crown of
Constance of Aragon,
Holy Roman empress,
photo by José Luiz Bernardes Ribeir 
After Alfonso's death in 1196, his eldest son, Pedro, succeeded him on the throne of Aragon. It was Pedro II who arranged his sister's marriage to Emeric, the king of Hungary, to whom Constance was wed about the year 1198.

The marriage had been promoted by Pope Innocent III--Emeric sought an alliance that would strengthen him against his younger brother Andrew's efforts to gain the crown of Hungary for himself. Pedro had been crowned in Rome by Innocent, and after swearing to defend the faith, was known as "Pedro, the Catholic," but it's not clear (at least to me) what he got out of the alliance with Hungary.

In any event, Constance's marriage to the king of Hungary did not last long. She gave birth to a son and heir, Ladislaus, probably in the year 1200, but by 1204, Emeric was dead.

While he lay dying, and in order to ensure his son's succession, Emeric had arranged for the boy's coronation, but the king made the colossal mistake of deciding that his brother, Andrew, would be a good regent for the child--despite the fact that he had imprisoned Andrew, who had continued his efforts to gain the crown of Hungary for himself. Emeric only released Andrew from confinement so that he could be his son's guardian and protect the kingdom for him. Right.

After Emeric's death and fearing for the safety of her son, Constance escaped from Hungary, taking Ladislas with her. She took refuge with Leopold of Vienna, her husband's cousin, who agreed to shelter her and the boy, despite Andrew's threats of invasion. But within months, Ladislas, the "king" of Hungary, was dead.*

Now in undisputed control of the crown, Andrew demanded the body of Ladislas be returned to Hungary. The boy was buried in the basilica at Székesfehérvár, and Duke Leopold sent Constance, the dowager queen, back to Aragon. Upon her return, Constance joined her mother the convent of St. Sigena, where she would remain for the next five years.

In 1208, King Pedro arranged a second marriage for his sister, this one to Frederick, who had been crowned king of Sicily when he was just three years old. Like all royal marriages, this one had political advantages for all parties as well--except, perhaps, for Constance.

Constance of Aragon's second husband was the son of Henry VI, Holy Roman emperor, and the Empress Constance, queen of Sicily in her own right. But since both of his parents were dead, Frederick, still a minor, was then in the guardianship of Innocent III. The pope hoped not only to promote the boy's interests but also to secure an alliance against a too-powerful empire.

Frederick needed powerful assistance in asserting his rights in southern Italy and, eventually, in securing the title of Holy Roman emperor for himself. An alliance with Pedro of Aragon would provide this support in the form of 500 knights to fight for Frederick in Sicily.

For his part, Pedro II of Aragon wanted the pope to annul his marriage to Marie of Montpellier so he could marry Maria of Montferrat, queen of Jerusalem. And so the king of Aragon was once again eager to agree to a proposal made by Innocent III.**

And so off the dowager queen of Hungary went to Sicily. On 15 August 1209, Constance, then between twenty-five and thirty years old, was married to the fourteen-year-old Frederick, king of Sicily and would-be emperor. Now queen of Sicily, Constance gave birth to a son, Henry, in 1211. 

Meanwhile, Otto IV, the current Holy Roman Emperor, had invaded Italy and been excommunicated by Innocent III. A rebellious group of German princes then elected Frederick as king of the Germans, and he headed off to war on the continent, leaving Constance as regent of Sicily. (She does appear to have joined her husband briefly in 1216.)

Although he was crowned as king in 1212, Frederick did not have widespread support until after Otto's defeat in 1214, and so he was elected king of Germans for a second time in 1215 and crowned in Aachen. Otto IV, the excommunicated emperor, died in 1218, and negotiations following his death--and the death of Innocent III--meant that Frederick did not become Holy Roman emperor until 1220.

During the years of her regency in Sicily, Constance defended the interests of her husband and son, working with the pope and supporting her brother's effort to extend his influence in the area that is now southwestern France. She confronted rebels, invaders, and the Muslim population.

When her husband was crowned Holy Roman emperor in Rome by the new pope, Honorius III, Constance was also crowned empress. Frederick returned to Germany while the new empress remained behind. Although Frederick was again in Sicily in 1222, he was occupied by a conflict with the saraceni della Sicilia and did not see Constance before she died in May of that year. 

Constance of Aragon, regent of Sicily and Holy Roman empress, is buried in the cathedral of Palermo.

The tomb of Constance of Aragon,
Cathedral of Palermo,
photo by José Luiz Bernardes Ribeiro
The most easily accessible account of Constance of Aragon's life is by Norbert Kamp in the Dizionario Biografico degli Italiani, available online by clicking here. (The same source includes a biographical essay on Frederick, so a few details of Constance of Aragon's life also appear there.) 

You might also be interested in Christopher Mielke's analysis of the elaborate jeweled regalia buried with Constance--his essay, "From Her Head to Her Toes: Gender-Bending Regalia in the Tomb of Constance of Aragon, Queen of Hungary and Sicily," is available by clicking here.

*Since he had been crowned on 26 August 1204 and died on 7 May 1205, Ladislas "ruled" as king of Hungary for six months and five days.

**Marie of Montpellier fought back against her husband's efforts to annul her marriage, and--despite Pedro's efforts--Innocent III ultimately refused to grant the annulment. But on her way back to Aragon in 1213, Marie, still queen of Aragon, died. Pedro II died a few months later, succeeded as king of Aragon by Jaume, his son with Marie of Montpellier.