As the Trump-Russia investigation slowly, maddeningly drip, drip, drips out in the news, the DNC must decide how to capitalize on this opportunity in the 2018 and 2020 elections. Recently, Hillary Clinton has offered to help (TheHill.com), even though during the 2016 presidential primaries and election she was attacked for “cynical incrementalism.” Hopefully, however, the DNC knows history and won’t be fooled this time by more testosterone-fueled, pie-in-the-sky, all-or-nothing rhetoric. Women would be nowhere in this country if it weren’t for hard-fought small changes over time.
When we were still just 13 ragged colonies, America continued using the familiar English Common Laws. Within Common Law, the Laws of Coverture stated that at marriage, the husband and wife became one, with only the husband retaining legal rights. Married women could not inherit nor own property, could not decide where to live, could not tell their husbands ‘no’, and certainly could not vote. Coverture denied women any personhood at all. Nevertheless, in the ‘land of the free’, there was never a national repeal of Coverture, in fact vestiges still remain in our culture and legal codes.
Over time, however, incrementally, women earned small victories that chipped away at the inequities. In 1839, Mississippi was the first state to allow women to own property, with permission from their husbands. In 1868, the 14th Amendment promised equal protection in section one, but then took it back by only allowing “male inhabitants” to be state representatives. The 14th Amendment was not even used to protect a woman until Reed v. Reed in 1971. During the 1970’s feminist movement Coverture diminished significantly, but still the ERA didn’t pass. Not until 1981 was marital rape recognized as a crime. Justice is not won in one fell swoop.
The fight has been long and continues, but women are legal now, we are people, we can vote. We know how to fight with optimism and perseverance, keeping the long view even through loses. Let us help. Let us lead. Welcome back Hillary.