by Florence Markoff

The story of her involvement in the struggle for women's suffrage.

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It was a time when political parties were choosing candidates. The state Democratic Convention had just been held, and the names of the candidates for the top jobs had been released to the press. The man running for governor was William Smith Flynn. Nobody was surprised at that announcement, but the candidate for lieutenant governor shocked everyone, for running for the state's second highest office was a woman. Her name was Elizabeth Upham Yates, and the year was 1922.

Elizabeth's father was a minister, and from childhood she was made aware of world problems. The philosophy that governed her life was: injustice must be fought. One of the inequalities she felt strongly was the inability of women to vote, and woman's suffrage became her major concern. Elizabeth began her speaking career for the cause and didn't stop until women finally did get the vote.

Her first introduction to Providence audiences was when she was invited to speak at a Fourth of July exercise at the city hall in 1912—the very first time a woman had a place on such a program. She put out a paper at the time called A Woman's Journal. She would stand at the corner of Union and Weybosset Streets in downtown Providence and sell copies. The big question at the time was whether or not women would get the vote. It became the hottest political issue of the day, and national politicians knew it. The Rhode Island woman asked her many audiences where the logic was; the people's vote didn't mean much, she said, when half of the population didn't even have the right to vote.

Elizabeth found victory sweet when, on August 26, 1920, the Nineteenth Amendment was made part of the Constitution. The women of the United States were finally allowed to vote after a struggle of seventy-five years. Leaders for the cause all over the country were given distinguished service certificates, and the first from Rhode Island to receive one was the woman who had lived her life fighting injustice. Well, she didn't make it as lieutenant governor, but she was a pioneer: the first woman to run for major political office in the state—Elizabeth Upham Yates—a Rhode Island Portrait in Sound.

Providence resident Florence Markoff (1927-2017) was a speaker, performer, storyteller, and radio personality.

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This article last edited February 25, 2003

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