RALEIGH, N.C. — This Women’s History Month, we’re remembering the men and women who fought for equality in our state. This year marks the 100th anniversary of the women’s right to vote, a landmark decisions that forever changed history.
But the fight for equal rights wasn’t always black and white in North Carolina.
Looking through old newspaper clippings, Elizabeth Mitchener Daniel remembers her grandmother Bess as a revolutionary woman.
“I can just see her sitting there when she was interviewed,” Daniel said reading a quote her grandmother once gave to a newspaper. “Our opponents thought women would get messed up in politics, we thought we were going to clean up politics.”
Born in 1890 before the invention of cars, radio, and TV, Bess Mitchener moved to Raleigh in the early 1900s, signing on as a suffragette to fight for women’s rights. She was a hard-working woman, dedicated to a cause.
“People respected us, we were strong-willed and determined to get the vote,” Daniel read of her grandmother.
“America would not be the great country it is right now, had women not been given the right to vote,” added 97-year-old Robert McMillan. “And my life would be much less rich had I not known Mrs. Bessy Mitchener.”
It’s a fight McMillan witnessed first-hand throughout his life. Mitchener was not only his Sunday school teacher but also a lifelong friend.
“I was just as intelligent as any man, and I didn't see why I couldn't vote if my husband could," Mitchener wrote.
"Just to know that she was outspoken enough, and she was active enough, and she got in there. She didn't just sit back, and she definitely taught me that you need to voice your opinion, you need to get in there, and you need to make a difference,” Daniels said smiling while holding pictures of her grandmother.
Now 100 years after the passage of the 19th amendment, the movement is being remembered at the North Carolina Museum of History. It was a change in law not always agreed upon by men or women in the state.
“North Carolina did not actually vote for the 19th amendment, they were not one of the states that ratified it, but these were the women that fought really hard here over a period of years to change minds in the state to say that this is a right that we deserve that. This is the way we want to go in the future,” museum curator RaeLana Poteat said.
Notebooks, sashes, and pens tell the story of a time of division and inequality that men and women alike worked to change.
“For women in particular who come to this exhibit, it's going to be a neat feeling to see the people that worked before you were born for many people before even their grandparents were born to make sure that you have the rights that you have today,” Poteat added.
Women like Bess Mitchener, who lived long after women of all color finally got the right to vote, and who continued to push for change for fugure generations.
It wasn’t until 1971, more than 50 years after women officially gained the right to vote, that the North Carolina state legislature made the symbolic gesture to ratify the 19th amendment.