Women’s right to vote and the e-patient movement

Feminism is the radical notion that women are people.
- Marie Shear

Recent speaking clients know that I often note the parallels between the patient movement and other cultural revolutions: the women’s movements, civil rights, gay rights, disability rights. (I mention disability issues less often, but it was disability advocate Ed Roberts who said in the 1990s, after years of struggle: “When someone else speaks for you, you lose.”)

As anyone who’s heard me speak knows, I don’t get overtly “radically” about it. But I’ve been at this long enough now that I do see patterns. And the patterns teach me that the way people see things now may not be how we’ll see them in the future … and it’s up to us all to speak the truth as we see it.

So when I returned from the week’s travels, my eye was caught today by a recent “this day in history” in the Boston Globe:

In 1873, suffragist Susan B. Anthony was found guilty by a judge in Canandaigua, N.Y., of breaking the law by casting a vote in the 1872 presidential election.

The Feminist.org blog has a great post about it: Here’s how they say they would have covered it, if they’d been around back then:

Susan B. Anthony has been found guilty of having “illegally” voted in last November’s General Election

She was not convicted by a true jury of her peers, because women cannot serve on juries.

Nor was she able to eloquently make her own case to the all-male jury, because the judge ruled in favor of the prosecution when the District Attorney said that as a woman “she is not competent as a witness in her own behalf.”

Her conviction did not come after secret deliberations by an unbiased jury because Judge Ward Hunt, after hearing the evidence, directed the jurors to find her guilty.

Even a defense motion to poll the jurors individually after they delivered their verdict was denied.

All of this may sound familiar to patients whose opinions are considered not worth hearing because, after all, they’re only patients, so what could they know?

These things take time. Unless they don’t.

After that bold and illegal vote, it took another 38 years before the 19th Amendment gave women the vote. It was 1920: 100 years after her birth. (And we still don’t have an Equal Rights Amendment in the U.S.)

On election day in 2012 in the AtlanticEleanor Barkhorn wrote about a fabulous flyer from that era that I’ve used in many talks.

Womens right to vote and the e patient movement


Womens right to vote and the e patient movement

Sample arguments:

“Vote NO” because:

  • 90% of women aren’t asking for it. (This is exactly like well-meaning people who say, “My patients aren’t like that.”)
  • It means competition instead of cooperation. (This is directly relevant to cases where a physician feels that their authority is challenged by a patient who thinks.) (Note, too, that in the flyer’s case, “cooperation” meant, “Women do what men want them to.”)
  • It can be of no benefit commensurate with the expense involved.


  • You do not need a ballot to clean out your sink spout.
  • Why vote for pure food laws, when your husband does that? (That is paternalism, clear as a bell: “Oh, don’t you worry about that — we’re taking care of it for you.”)
  • Sulpho naphthol and elbow grease drive out bugs quicker than political hot air.

Spot removers:

  • There is no method known by which mud-stained reputations may be cleaned after bitter political campaigns.

For more laughs, I dare you to read the whole flyer.

And that was years after Anthony’s death in 1906. Is it any wonder that in her later years she looked a bit bitter, after decades of making her case and getting responses like that?

The work is not done when things are better for you.

Womens right to vote and the e patient movement

Thanks to friend Marge Benham-Hutchins for pointing out the photo above, of one episode in the women’s movement where push truly came to shove. As far as I can tell from Google, it’s a  photo of an English suffragette being beaten on Black Friday, Nov. 18, 1910 — right around the time when the flyer above was printed. More than 30 additional years after Anthony’s conviction.

Ten years later, according to Wikipedia, some UK women got the vote: “From 1918-1928, women could vote at 30 with property qualifications or as graduates of UK universities, while men could vote at 21 with no qualification.” In 1928 the age restriction was removed.

In Switzerland the last region gave women the vote in 1991, and during my 2013 visit a TV news item in Lucern said “a woman driver” caused an accident on the motorway. That’s such an ignorant thing to say; in my testimony in Washington in 2011 I pointed out that insurance statistics show women have 1/3 fewer accidents than the men who used to make fun of them.

What’s right is right.

If it takes a lifetime of saying it, keep doing it. So far, the patient movement seems to be moving faster, due to at least two big factors:

  • the precedent of other movements after suffrage
  • the velocity of idea spread, enabled culturally by better acceptance of social movements and technologically by the Internet

But power politics still apply in medicine: Enormous amounts of money are in play. So those who believe in the rightness of patient power will have to speak up — and perhaps fight — for a long time before the last “patient suppressor” is gone.

And please, don’t let anyone say, paternalistically,“Don’t worry, we’re taking care of that for you.” Speak up; speak out. Remember disability activist Ed Roberts: “When someone else speaks for you, you lose.”

Speak up.

P.S. I hope this post will be of value to young women who don’t consider themselves feminists. Consider what life was like just one century ago. You still don’t legally have equal rights, but many people fought for the liberties you’ve gained so far.

Dave deBronkart, also known as e-Patient Dave, blogs at e-Patients.net and his self-titled site, e-Patient Dave.  He is the author of Laugh, Sing, and Eat Like a Pig: How an Empowered Patient Beat Stage IV Cancer and Let Patients Help!

Comments are moderated before they are published. Please read the comment policy.

  • ePatient_Dave

    For the record, the original title on my own site was “On this day in history: Susan B. Anthony was found guilty – of voting.”

    • ninguem

      Also for the record, the woman who was beaten in that picture, her name was Ada Wright.

      If I have the story straight, there was a Parliamentary vote approving a women’s suffrage bill, made it to a second reading, but the Prime Minister would not allow a final vote. The women saw their win taken away from them.

      There was a march, by all reports peaceful. Ada Wright said she was going to march to Number 10 Downing Street and speak with the Prime Minister if necessary.

      The Home Secretary authorized the use of force to put down the march…….and there you see the result.

      The man in the top hat is actually trying to protect her from the police, by contemporary accounts.

      The British Home Secretary who authorized the police violence was Winston Churchill.

      • ePatient_Dave

        Hi – I’m SO glad you popped up because as I researched my post, I couldn’t find anything definitive about who she was. On my own site I commented:

        “Indicating again that social movements are global, the picture Marge found seems to actually be of an English suffragist, Ada Wright. According to Wikipedia she was one of 200 who were assaulted by police on Black Friday in 1910. Two died (Wikipedia says).

        I’m going to add the picture to the post. It disgusts me – but this is when, literally, push comes to shove.

        [The ObitOfTheDay site on Tumblr says it's Ada Wright; the Arcane Images Tumblr says it's Ernestine Mills. Doesn't matter - though it does illustrate that the Web is full of information and full of mistakes.]”

        Do you have a source for it being Ada?? Thanks! Email me via my contact page if you want.

        • ninguem

          It gets complicated to my search. Look up the name “Ada Wright” a lot of the hits turn up the mother of two of the Scottsboro Boys, a racially-charged rape trial in 1931 Alabama. The Scottsboro case was picked up by the Communist Party at the time, and the American Ada Wright traveled to to UK over the cause.

          I am assuming this is not the same Ada Wright in the USA in the 1930′s over racial injustice, as the Ada Wright in this picture, over women’s suffrage in 1910.

          So I see the sane Ada Wright pop up in the USA and in the UK, with causes that are kinda related, I want to make sure it’s not the same person or they’re getting conflated.

          Sources? Probably the same you have. Often corrected, in that the myth seems to be it was Susan B. Anthony. She died a couple years earlier.

          Although I keep seeing the name “Ada Wright” attached to that photo, I have no idea who she is.

  • SteveCaley

    MEDICAL education is now, in the United States and Canada, open to women upon practically the same terms as men. If all institutions do not receive women, so many do, that no woman desiring an education in medicine is under any disability in finding a school to which she may gain admittance….
    Now that women are freely admitted to the medical profession, it is clear that they show a decreasing inclination to enter it. More schools in all sections are open to them; fewer attend and fewer graduate…
    If there is any strong demand for women physicians, or any strong ungratified desire on the part of women to enter the profession, (it appears that) one or the other of these conditions is lacking- perhaps both.

    Abraham Flexner, “The Flexner Report” 1910
    Sometimes history ain’t so long ago as it seems. (PS: Read what Flexner had to say in the next chapter on Negro Physicians, if you dare.)
    Feminism is the radical notion that women are people – Marie Shear

    • ePatient_Dave

      Nifty Flexner quote, Steve! I imagine many observations are possible, but my #1 is that it’s a mistake to assume that a social shift either happens immediately or won’t happen at all. And I guess that’s immaterial compared to the question of whether a policy is sensible, not to mention “right” in some moral sense.

      • ninguem

        Flexner is like a Rorschach test. It depends where you’re coming from.

        It was either a heroic expose, cleaning up medical education and professionalizing medicine and throwing out the rascals with the for-profit substandard schools………

        …….or it was the establishment closing the doors of medicine to women, blacks, and those who did not follow the AMA party line.

        Probably elements of both.

Most Popular