Did you know that American women vote thanks to a Czech woman? They do. The year 2020 marks the 100th anniversary of the passage of the 19th Amendment, guaranteeing and protecting women’s constitutional right to vote. The passage marked the largest expansion of democracy in the history of our country.
Hardly anybody knows that the individual responsible for passing the 19th Amendment was a woman of Czech ancestry, Anita Pollitzer (1894-1975), whose grandparents were immigrants from Mikulov, Moravia. It’s timely that we commemorate her accomplishments. I have actually put her image on my last book Notable American Women with Czechoslovak Roots.
Anita Pollitzer was born in Charleston, South Carolina, having been the fourth child of Klara Guinzburg and Gustav Morris Pollitzer. Her father was a cotton exporter and her mother, a daughter of a Prague Rabbi.
After completing her elementary school and the high school, Anita enrolled at the Teaching Institute of Columbia University, New York, where she concentrated on arts and education. In 1916, she graduated from the School of Applied Arts at the Teaching Institute, where she became acquainted with the future famed artist Georgia O’Keeffe, with whom she then remained in friendly contact for her entire life.
Anita devoted virtually all her public life to the feminist politics. Soon after her graduation, she began to be interested in the women’s suffragist movement, which brought her together with Alice Paul and then she joined the National Women’s Party (NWP).
As an organizer of the Party, she traveled across individual States and greatly contributed toward the ratification of the 19th Amendment to the US Constitution. She demonstrated her dedication to the suffragist movement in 1917, when she let herself be jailed, while picketing at the White House. In August 1920, Anita Pollitzer used her charming behavior to persuade the legislator, Harry T. Burn of Tennessee, to give his decisive vote in favor of the Constitutional Amendment.
In one of her recommendation letters, Alice Paul expressed her opinion about Anita in the following words: “Miss Pollitzer was an organizer of the Women’s Party for a number of years and she was one of the most successful organizers we have had. She abounds with initiative, enthusiasm and personal magic. She is especially great with the newsmen, during interviews, during collection of funds, and when she delivers a speech. She has a sunny disposition and it is easy to work with her. She makes friends easily and does not antagonize anybody. She is tireless, full of energy and immensely assiduous. She has unusual courage, independence of mind and is very much cultivated and intelligent. She is very loyal to those for whom she works and is highly honorable.”
The Paul’s laudatory words are in agreement with the letter from the Governor of South Carolina, Thomas C. McLeod, when he recommended her as American delegate for the International Women’s Suffragist Alliance: “I am very much pleased, indeed, that our State is honored by Miss Pollitzer’s being chosen as this delegate. It gives me pleasure to state that Miss Pollitzer is an unusually intelligent and interesting young woman, prominently connected in her native City and State. She has been active in educational and cultural work, and her labors are very much appreciated by our people here in South Carolina.”
Her career in NWP continued even after the women won the Constitutional Amendment. In 1921, she was a member of the executive committee of the Party, whereupon she served as national secretary (1921-26), vice chairman (1927-38) and finally national chairman of the Party (1945-49). When Alice Paul first came with the proposal for the Amendment, Anita seconded the proposal. She testified before Congressional Committees and worked across the entire US to assure that ERA (Equal Rights Amendment) get on the Senate’s calendar in 1938.
In the same year, Pollitzer was influential in the passage of the National Fair Labor Standards Act and joined with Paul to form the World Woman’s Party (WWP), which worked for recognition of women’s equality in the United Nations charter. Pollitzer was a delegate to the San Francisco Conference of the United Nations in 1945, the same year that she succeeded Paul as NWP chairman. She became vice chairman of the WWP, and she and Paul were also active together in the International Woman Suffrage Alliance. Pollitzer was honorary national chairman of the NWP from 1949 until her death.
Pollitzer also gained recognition for her close friendship with the artist Georgia O’Keeffe, whose artistic career burst into flower, after Anita showed her pictures to Alfred Stieglitz. The biography which Pollitzer had written about her, under the title, A Woman on Paper: Georgia O’Keeffe, and which was published after Anita Pollitzer’s death, contains valuable information about the personal life of this prominent American artist.
In 1971, in the same year her husband died, Anita suffered a stroke and after four years she died on July 3, 1975, in Queens, NY, in the home of a caretaker.
When she died in 1975, an obituary in The New York Times called Pollitzer a “pioneer fighter for equal rights for women.”
Guest Post Author
Miloslav Rechcígl, Jr. is one of the founders and past Presidents of many years of the Czechoslovak Society of Arts and Sciences (SVU), an international professional organization based in Washington, DC.
He is a native of Mladá Boleslav, Czechoslovakia, who has lived in the US since 1950.
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