Editor’s note: The following essay was a second-place winner in the local Edward Buncombe Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution Courageous Beginnings contest, part of the organization’s celebration of the 100th anniversary of the passage of the 19th Amendment. The contest was open to seniors in area high schools, who were asked to think about how this milestone accomplishment may have affected their own family history and what voting means to them today.
What is your definition of courageous? My definition is overcoming obstacles in one’s life through hard work, grace and integrity. My great-grandmother Bessie Smith exemplified all these characteristics while maintaining a household for seven children. Living near the edge of a dead-end road far in the roots of Leicester, N.C., my great-grandmother worked on a farm and in the school system.
Life was not easy, and my family was very poor. All the children worked in the tobacco fields alongside my grandparents to provide an income to stay in school, attend church and live in a house. My great-grandmother never owned a car and was excluded from the surrounding city of Asheville. Bessie never drove a car and would only make it to work by catching a ride on the school bus.
Although this time period enhanced the cult of domesticity, my great-grandmother continuously got her hands dirty and worked just as hard as her male counterparts. She was an inspiring role model who showed that poverty is a challenge but can be overcome. She signified the importance of a woman’s role not only in the home but in the community as well. She taught her four daughters how to be independent and not to focus on the restrictions that society imposed on women at that time but continued to highlight her courage by registering to vote on April 6, 1968, at the age of 52. Not only did she vote for the first time at this age, but voted alongside her youngest daughter to symbolize that you are never too old to make a difference in your country.
As I turned 18 and will be given the opportunity to vote in the next election, I plan to extend the same courage that my great-grandmother did and celebrate the fight that women throughout the early 1900s fought so diligently for females all across America. As a citizen of the United States, I feel it is my duty to vote not only for myself, but for women like my great-grandmother who came before me and courageously fought for equality. I consider it an honor to walk into the voting booth and cast my ballot to represent all the activists who paved a way for the future of women.
— Allie Jones
Class of 2020
Clyde A. Erwin High School