In our time of voter apathy, meet the suffragettes

Sojourner Truth, Lucretia Coffin Mott, and Alice Paul come alive in theatrical program at the Chester Academy

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  • Daisy Century as Sojourner Truth (Photo provided)

  • Taylor Williams as Alice Paul (Photo provided)

  • Kim Hanley as Lucretia Coffin Mott (Photo provided)

U.S. trails most developed countries in voter turnout

Citing newly released Census Bureau figures, the Pew Research Center says about 55.7 percent of the U.S. voting-age population cast ballots in the 2016 presidential election — a slight uptick compared with 2012, but less than the record year of 2008 and well below turnout levels typical in most other developed democracies.
The turnout in last year’s election puts the U.S. behind most of its peers in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, most of whose members are highly developed, democratic states. Looking at the most recent nationwide election in each of the 35 OECD member nations, the U.S. placed 28th.
The highest turnout rates among OECD nations were in Belgium (87.2 percent), Sweden (82.6 percent) and Denmark (80.3 percent).
In the U.S., registration is mainly an individual responsibility. And registered voters represent a much smaller share of potential voters in the U.S. than just about any other OECD country. Only about 64 percent of the U.S. voting-age population (and 70 percent of voting-age citizens) was registered in 2016, according to the new census report, compared with 91 percent in Canada (2015) and the UK (2016), 96 percent in Sweden (2014), and nearly 99 percent in Japan (2014).
However measured, U.S. turnout rates have been fairly consistent over the past several decades, despite some election-to-election variation. Since 1976, voting-age turnout has remained within an 8.5-percentage-point range – from just under 50 percent in 1996, when Bill Clinton was re-elected, to just over 58 percent in 2008, when Barack Obama won the White House. However, turnout varies considerably among different racial, ethnic and age groups.
Source: The Pew Research Center:

— In these days of dismal voter turnout and apathy (see related story), it is instructive to recall the hard work, courage, and sacrifice of those who, just one hundred years ago, were utterly disenfranchised, and who fought passionately for the right to cast a ballot now taken so for granted.

The Chester Historical Society, in conjunction with the American Historical Theater, is presenting a free program to mark the 100th anniversary of women achieving the right to vote in New York. The program, at 2 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 16, in the auditorium of the Chester Academy, 64 Hambletonian Ave., features a re-enactment in costume of speeches by Sojourner Truth, Lucretia Coffin Mott, and Alice Paul, three prominent women who fought for suffrage.

"It is incredible to me that any woman should consider the fight for full equality won," Alice Paul said in 1920, shortly after the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution granting American women the right to vote was ratified. "It has just begun. There is hardly a field, economic or political, in which the natural and unaccustomed policy is not to ignore women....Unless women are prepared to fight politically they must be content to be ignored politically."

Although New York granted suffrage to women in 1917, the struggle was long and had been vigorously opposed by some for more than a century in America.

Early activists realized that unless they had the vote, they would not be able to influence or change public policy. Women were denied not just the vote, but educational and economic opportunity as well. The words of these brave women brought about a major change in American life.

Come and experience the words that changed history.

The program complements the Chester Historical Society's exhibit at the 1915 Erie Railroad Station-Museum, 19 Winkler Place, in the Village of Chester. For more information contact Debby-Lu Vadala Adams at 544-2369 or

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