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Those Demmed Females!

Suffragettes on Mars

by J. Ruth Dempsey

In 1840 an antislavery rally in London sparked another movement for freedom and equality. Philadelphia Quaker Lucretia Mott was introduced to Abolitionist Elizabeth Cady Stanton. Eight years later, these women would convene the First Women's Rights Meeting in the small town of Seneca Falls, New York. Attended by 300 participants, both men and women (including the great Frederick Douglas), the convention drew up a "Bill of Sentients Rights" speaking boldly for equal rights in marriage, education, religion, employment and political life.

While all the amendments on equality passed by large majorities, the referendum on the right to equality of enfranchisement (i.e. the right to vote) proved to be a step too threatening to the men attending the conference. Despite a passionate argument from Frederic Douglas, the motion passed only by a small majority.

The Bill of Sentients' Rights became the first document of what is now called the feminist movement. Its early leaders named the women's rights movement after the one bill that had sparked so much controversy even in Seneca Falls the suffragettes. However, the events leading up to the American Civil War prevented the debate from going forward since many female activists (motivated by religious feeling) focused on Abolition rather than obtaining the vote for women.

Despite their lack of progress in politics, women were making forward strides in other areas. In 1849, Doctor Elizabeth Blackwell became the first female physician in America. By the late 19th century, there were over 200 women physicians in the United States, mostly in the Western states.

After the American Civil War, almost two-thirds of the young male population on the East Coast was gone, having died in battle or moved West. Many young women found themselves stepping into roles that had been held by brothers or fathers. Among the working class, the suffragette movement grew, women realizing that along with the vote would hopefully come respect and credit for their work. Among the upper classes, however, many women failed to see why working-class women would want to "demean" themselves by such "vulgar" demands. These wealthy women the so-called "pink overseers" had the money to do what they wanted and so did not seek political power.

In 1869, the Wyoming Territory became the first part of the United States to grant women the vote. Many other western territories soon followed suit. This was not done for the sake of the ladies or liberal political values granting women the vote increased the territory's voting base and meant they could qualify for statehood earlier. Even so, once granted the vote, women proved very active politically, voting at higher rates than men. Wyoming, for example, remained at the forefront of the feminist movement, electing women politicians, including the first woman governor, Nellie Taylor Ross, in 1925.

In the 1872 election, Victoria Clarfin Woodhall became the National Women's Suffrage Association candidate for President of the United States, running on the National Radical Reformers ticket. However, women would not be allowed to vote in national elections until the passage of the 19th amendment to the constitution, ratified in 1920.

By 1889, the suffragette movement was well established in the United States and England, though the vast majority of men still scoffed at the idea of women voting. In addition to campaigning for the vote, suffragettes were closely associated with efforts to regulate the sale and consumption of alcohol, with many leading women's rights leaders advocating total prohibition. Most women saw this as a family welfare measure, arguing that many men spent their money on liquor and neglected their wives and children.

Suffragettes in Space: 1889

Suffragettes will be encountered primarily in the areas of Mars dominated by England and the United States: the Crown Colony of Syrtis Major and the city of Thymiamata.

Suffragettes in the English colony have two interests. The primary one is the investigation of the Steppe Martian tribes of the Nepenthes-Thoth region. Travelers and explorers in that region have reported that Martian women of these tribes enjoy a form of franchisement within the tribe. A number of prominent English and American suffragettes have come to Mars to investigate, since the reports, if true, have considerable propaganda value. After all, one can well imagine the impact of a female voice saying "Why, pray tell, are civilized women not permitted the same rights enjoyed by a barbaric Martian female?"

The second interest of the English suffragettes is to embarrass the English government and so gain publicity. English women, facing a more rigid class system than their American counterparts, have been much more prone to engage in criminal acts to attract attention to their cause. Activities such as burning shops and hurling themselves under carriages to cause traffic jams, all under the guise of garnering the attention of your typical bull-headed Englishman, are common on the streets of Syrtis Major.

The American suffragettes in Thymiamata have been drawn there in the hopes of civilizing a city filled with sin and corruption. Liquor flows freely around the clock in the bars in the European quarter, and this offends the sensibilities of more than a few American women. Of course, some women have been drawn to the city by the chance to set up an American colony, and they are convinced that women will have the vote then.

There are two groups of suffragettes in Thymiamata. The Quaker-led Americans, primarily from the East coast, tend toward peaceful demonstrations, lectures and discussions. A newcomer to the city, seeing a sign offering "discussion and refreshments" might walk in to find himself being plied with lemonade, cakes and "sweet reason" by a Quaker group.

The more radical women, who hail from the American West, are made of much sterner stuff. Their organizational center is the Women's Christian Temperance Union, which regularly organizes attacks on saloons led by hachet-wielding harpies. These women are much more likely to fight than talk.

Adventure Ideas

Although suffragettes are very serious people, adventures centered around them need not be serious. Encourage your players to adopt an authentic 19th century male attitude (scorn mixed with amusement), and the fun will soon begin. Here are some ideas:

1) Player characters strolling down the street encounter a confrontation between suffragette marchers and the local constabulary. One of the marchers is an old friend of one of the players, and appeals to him for help. Encourage the players to roleplay and take different sides in the tiff.

2) A female player character finds a message slipped under her door warning her to stop associating with "unnatural and unreasonable women." Investigation reveals threats to other feminists in town.

3) A small group of feminists in Syrtis Major are planning an expedition to research the customs of the Steppe Nomads. It will be led by one Amelia Witherspoon, a descendent of the Reverend Jonas Witherspoon, Presbyterian minister and a signer of the Declaration of Independence. She scandalized almost everyone on the trip to Mars by wearing men's trousers. Her defense was that, having seen a picture of a gashant, she came to the conclusion that "only a damn fool would ride one of those things sidesaddle." Her constant companion is the Quaker Cordelia Dodd, a prim, quiet woman whose "sweet reason" frequently curbs Amelia's headstrong impetuosity. Cordelia may share Amelia's opinion of Gashants, but her costume is more demure and features a divided skirt.

The characters should be hired or assigned to escort Amelia and her party, which should include at least three or four other feminists of varying types. The exact nature of the Martian customs relating to women are up to the referee, but given suffragette's attitudes toward alcohol (they are against it) and sex (they are publicly against it, as are all good Victorians), the less "civilized" the Martian women are, the better.

Posted Monday, 04-May-2009 19:50:57 EDT

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