For the oldest vot­ers, a new choice

Baltimore Sun - - FRONT PAGE - By Jonathan Pitts

Eda Ma­han has been vot­ing for pres­i­dent for more than 70 years. She cast her first bal­lot in 1944 — she helped Franklin Roo­sevelt win his fourth term.

But as fa­mil­iar as the qua­dren­nial rit­ual has be­come, this year’s elec­tion will be dif­fer­ent.

Ma­han, a Tow­son re­tiree, was born in June 1920, be­fore women won the right to vote. Now she plans to cast her bal­lot for the first woman to have a chance of be­com­ing pres­i­dent.

“It’s nice that she’s a woman,” says Ma­han, 96. “But it’s even bet­ter that she’s a woman I like. She seems to know what she’s do­ing.”

This year’s elec­tion prom­ises a spe­cial poignance for a small group of Mary­land vot­ers: Women who were born be­fore women could vote, and who now will par­tic­i­pate in the first pres­i­den­tial elec­tion to fea­ture a woman as a ma­jor party

“I didn’t have a chance to vote un­til I grew up a lit­tle and had some sense in me.”


Most say it was a long time com­ing. But that doesn’t mean they all in­tend to vote for Hil­lary Clin­ton.

Ruth Hack­man is sup­port­ing Clin­ton’s Repub­li­can ri­val.

“I look for hon­esty in a can­di­date more than any­thing,” says Hack­man, 98, who lives at the Mercy Ridge Re­tire­ment Com­mu­nity in Ti­mo­nium. “And do I think Mrs. Clin­ton is hon­est? No.

“I think Don­ald Trump would be far su­pe­rior. He has learned to work with peo­ple. He’s a busi­ness­man. He comes across to me as be­ing hon­est. That’s the way I’m go­ing to vote.”

Hack­man, a re­tired nurse, says it’s nice that a woman is on the bal­lot, but gen­der has no bear­ing on which can­di­date would make the best pres­i­dent.

“I don’t vote along party lines or fol­low pat­terns like that,” she says. “For me, there has al­ways been one de­cid­ing fac­tor, and that is the per­son’s char­ac­ter. I pre­fer Mr. Trump in that re­gard.”

Clin­ton isn’t the first woman to be nom­i­nated for pres­i­dent. The short-lived Equal Rights Party nom­i­nated Vic­to­ria Wood­hull for the na­tion’s high­est of­fice in 1872, nearly half a cen­tury be­fore she could vote her­self. (Her run­ning mate was the Mary­land-born abo­li­tion­ist, so­cial reformer and states­man Fred­er­ick Dou­glass.)

Other mi­nor par­ties have nom­i­nated dozens of women since. This year, the Green Party has nom­i­nated Jill Stein, a pe­di­a­tri­cian and ac­tivist from Mas­sachusetts.

But Clin­ton is the first wom­an­nom­i­nated by one of the two ma­jor par­ties. Polls, elec­toral maps and pre­dic­tion mar­kets show the for­mer first lady, se­na­tor and sec­re­tary of state lead­ing the busi­ness­man Trump less than three weeks be­fore Elec­tion Day.

The states rat­i­fied the 19th Amend­ment in Au­gust 1920, giv­ing women the right to vote. Women born be­fore then — the youngest are now 96 — have lived through a suc­ces­sion of his­toric ad­vances in women’s rights.

They have seen progress both legally — the bans on gen­der dis­crim­i­na­tion in the Equal Pay Act, the Civil Rights Act, Ti­tle IX and the Equal Credit Op­por­tu­nity Act — and so­cially: the mass en­try of women into the work­force dur­ing World War II, the wide­spread avail­abil­ity of con­tra­cep­tion, the grow­ing recog­ni­tion of ha­rass­ment and vi­o­lence against women.

Vi­ola Pri­day sees gain­ing the vote as one step in a larger jour­ney.

“I’m very aware that it didn’t hap­pen for a long time,” she says. “But we couldn’t do a lot of things back then.”

The 19th Amend­ment had an im­me­di­ate im­pact.

About 18.5 mil­lion peo­ple had cast bal­lots in the 1916 pres­i­den­tial elec­tion. With women el­i­gi­ble to vote in 1920, turnout jumped to 26.8 mil­lion.

Pri­day, 96, grew up on a farm in rural Texas, where she spent much of her child­hood help­ing with chores. She says it didn’t oc­cur to her to look for a job un­til she was old enough to move away from home.

The life­long Demo­crat cast her first vote for pres­i­dent in 1944, when she was 24 and work­ing for an aviation com­pany in Dal­las.

“I didn’t have a chance to vote un­til I grew up a lit­tle and had some sense in me,” she says, and laughs.

Pri­day and Hack­man both say they fol­low pol­i­tics ar­dently, both by watch­ing the Fox News Chan­nel.

Hack­man says she couldn’t live with her­self if she didn’t stay in­formed. Pri­day says she watches the news shows the way friends and fam­ily fol­low soap operas.

Pri­day says the vit­riol that has char­ac­ter­ized the 2016 cam­paign can leave her head spin­ning — “I’ll lis­ten to Trump one day, and he makes sense, then I’ll lis­ten to Mrs. Clin­ton the next day, and she makes sense” — but she’s not con­fused about whom she’ll vote for.

“They say she has lied, but I take that with a grain of salt,” she says. “I like Trump OK, but I think Hil­lary has had a lit­tle more ex­pe­ri­ence.”

She says her par­ents were Democrats, and she has stuck with the party most of her life out of a sense of tra­di­tion. Hack­man has been less pre­dictable. Raised a Demo­crat, she changed her party af­fil­i­a­tion to Repub­li­can at some point in the 1940s: “I can’t re­mem­ber why; some­one must have made me mad.” She has voted for can­di­dates as dis­parate as Roo­sevelt and Ron­ald Rea­gan.

She had no hes­i­ta­tion about vot­ing for Demo­crat Wil­liam Don­ald Schae­fer for gover­nor in 1986 and 1990.

“I was raised in a time when there were a lot more hon­est peo­ple, and he was one of them,” Hack­man says. “I didn’t care what party he be­longed to.”

Hack­man and Pri­day both worry about how a woman will fare as com­man­der in chief.

To Hack­man, men are sim­ply bet­ter suited for the job. Pri­day fears that other coun­tries “might try to run over us” with a woman in Oval Of­fice. Ma­han has no such qualms. Her en­thu­si­asm for the Demo­cratic Party dates back to her child­hood in Lit­tle Italy, the home and po­lit­i­cal base of Bal­ti­more’s D’Ale­san­dro dy­nasty — Thomas Jr., a con­gress­man and mayor, son Thomas III, also a mayor, and his daugh­ter Nancy Pelosi, the first woman speaker of the House.

Ma­han be­came a “staunch lib­eral, an in­de­pen­dent woman be­fore her time,” ac­cord­ing to her grand­daugh­ter, Su­san Dobbs O’Brien of Millersville.

While work­ing with the Mary­land De­part­ment of Health and Men­tal Hy­giene, Ma­han be­came in­volved in pol­i­tics as a rep­re­sen­ta­tive to the Mary­land Clas­si­fied Em­ploy­ees As­so­ci­a­tion, a gov­ern­ment union.

Her daugh­ter, Pa­tri­cia Dobbs of Tow­son, didn’t warm to pol­i­tics as much; she didn’t vote in a pres­i­den­tial elec­tion un­til 2008, when she found in­spi­ra­tion in the or­a­tory of Barack Obama.

But Ma­han’s grand­daugh­ter, O’Brien, be­came heav­ily in­volved in the late 1990s, when she joined the staff of Gov. Par­ris N. Glen­den­ing.

The pas­sion has made its way to Ma­han’s great-grand­daugh­ter — O’Brien’s daugh­ter Lucy, a 12-year-old mid­dle-schooler in Sev­erna Park.

Lucy got her first taste of the fam­ily busi­ness at age 10, when she knocked on doors for Pa­trick Arm­strong, a Demo­crat who ran un­suc­cess­fully for the Anne Arun­del County Coun­cil.

A mem­ber of stu­dent gov­ern­ment who has run for class of­fice, she says she hasn’t made up her mind which pres­i­den­tial can­di­date she fa­vors — she has “prob­lems” with both — but it doesn’t mat­ter quite yet, as she can’t cast a bal­lot for an­other six years.

Still, she’ll head to Rider­wood Ele­men­tary School in Tow­son on Nov. 8 for her great-grand­mother’s his­toric mo­ment. All four gen­er­a­tions are plan­ning to visit the polls to­gether.

Ma­han says this year’s cam­paign has been ex­cit­ing, but at her age, she must make a few con­ces­sions.

She tried to catch the third and fi­nal de­bate this week, for ex­am­ple. But by the time Clin­ton said Trump hadn’t paid fed­eral in­come taxes and Trump re­sponded by call­ing Clin­ton a “nasty woman,” the ma­tri­arch was no longer pay­ing at­ten­tion.

“It was late,” Ma­han says. “I think I fell asleep.”

Vi­ola Pri­day

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