November 4, 1896
“Name?” The judge asked me.
Instantly, I wanted to turn and run from the scene, but it was too late. Decisions had been made, actions had been taken and now there was nothing left but to face the consequences, whatever they would be. I swallowed the lump that had risen in my throat and looked the judge square in the eye with a confidence I did not feel.
“Daniel Waters.” I said in my deepest voice.
The judge handed me a ballot and waved me inside the tent without a second look. You might think I would have been relieved but I was not. The tension grew greater as I stood between two real men at the table and stared down at the ballot in front of me. The pencil shook in my hand. I prayed the men beside me would not notice, for I cannot imagine any man would quiver so before casting his vote.
I took a deep breath and forced calm on myself. Carefully I leaned forward to rest my hand on the table and therefore steady it. I blinked the beginnings of tears from eyes and tried to focus. The simple act of reading seemed more like an impossible chore as my heart pounded in my chest.
That is when I got angry. I slammed my fist down on the table making the men around me jump. I grunted annoyance at myself and silently cursed my own weakness. I hated myself for being afraid and then I remember the real Daniel Waters. The man who was my father and would never again be able to claim his right to vote because of wealthy, greedy men who were more concerned over an extra dime in their pockets than the life of a single man.
If any woman should have the right to cast a vote then I was that woman. I have sacrificed for it in blood and tears, in peace and war. No man can claim more service than that to the country and if those sacrifices are the claims to patriotism and democracy as so many men claim, then it is my right by the scars I bear.
To truly care for my father, to believe his death was not in vain but for some higher purpose, then voting is not a matter of right or wrong, but a burdening responsibility. For all the Daniel Waters, for all their daughters, I must fulfill the civic duty on their behalf because it is right and more importantly, because it is just. My one voice may be insignificant in the chorus that is America but there is no chorus without the individual voices that constitute the whole.
My sight turned clear and the names on the ballot stood bold in black print against the white of paper. I picked up the pencil I had allowed to roll on the tabletop. My grip was firm and steady as I marked an “X” next to the Democrat, William Jennings Bryan. Proudly, I folded my ballot and dropped it in the locked box on my way of the tent.
A few blocks from the voting booth, I was joined by my new friends. We greeted each other with calmness of men but the excited energy was rolling off of each us. In mass we walked the sidewalk proudly and entered the home of Penelope’s brother, Wilbur Sumter.
He stood to greet us as we entered. His forehead was clammy with sweat and anyone could plainly see he had been worried about us. Penelope had somehow blackmailed the poor man into lending us his suits and hats for the days activities. We had spent the morning in his bedroom dressing as men and convincing ourselves we could do the impossible. I think not a one of us was convinced when we walked out the door, least of all Wilbur Sumter.
“Did you succeed?” He asked.
“No, but it was a good start.” Penelope answered for all of us.