Last night, dozens of women sat rapt before a screen in a sprawling restored Victorian building in Philadelphia, silent as they watched Hillary Clinton accept the Democratic Party’s nomination for president of the United States. They sipped Suffragette Royale cocktails made with champagne and creme de violette, and punctuated Clinton’s speech with applause and spontaneous cries of joy. Many of them wore dresses and blouses in suffragette colors of purple, yellow, and white. When Clinton, herself wearing a heavenly white pantsuit, described the moment as “a milestone in our nation’s march toward a more perfect union,” one middle-aged viewer sporting a bob pumped her fist in the air with glee.
“Standing here as my mother’s daughter, and my daughter’s mother, I’m so happy this day has come,” Clinton continued. “Happy for grandmothers and little girls and everyone in between. Happy for boys and men too — because when any barrier falls in America, for anyone, it clears the way for everyone. When there are no ceilings, the sky’s the limit.”
Removal of these barriers is also a goal of the New Century Trust, whose headquarters hosted the women’s rights-themed convention watch party on Thursday night. Filled with multiple generations of (mostly white) women, plus a scattering of men, there was a palpable feeling of legacy in the air, of everything that the women’s rights movement has fought for — access to education, the right to vote, equal pay. The event was co-hosted by the Alice Paul Institute, which honors the memory of the co-author of the Equal Rights Amendment. Interns from the Feminist Majority Movement canvassed the room for support of the ERA, carrying out the vision that Paul never got to see realized. Not all of the attendees were Clinton supporters, but they all wanted to witness history together.
It wasn’t until 1920 that women gained the right to vote with the ratification of the 19th Amendment. They wasted little time taking full advantage of their new freedom: Women have constituted the majority of American voters since 1964, according to the Rutgers Center for American Women and Politics. And in this year’s election, women are poised to be an especially critical demographic. A Pew Research Center survey from June found that 59 percent of women support Clinton over Donald Trump, with women in every breakout group save for non-college-graduate white women preferring the Democratic nominee.
Part of the reason for this overwhelming support is that the alternative is so unappealing. Many have speculated what effect Trump’s sexist comments about Megyn Kelly, the wives of his opponents, and Clinton herself might be having on his favorables among women. Matthew Levendusky, an associate professor of political science at the University of Pennsylvania, believes Trump’s rhetoric has likely played a role in this. “He’s not someone who has shown, let’s say, an enlightened attitude toward women,” he says.
But Levendusky points out that slightly more than half of female voters lean Democratic anyway — and it’s already clear that most of those who voted for Bernie Sanders in the primary will ultimately back Clinton in November. (A Pew survey released earlier this week revealed a solid 90 percent of all Sanders voters prefer Clinton to Trump in the general election.)
Many of the women gathered in front of the television chimed in, seemingly in unison — “then deal me in!”
But for many of the women at last night’s watch party, the answer is steeped both in history and their hopes for the future. “We’re going to help you balance family and work,” Clinton said later in the speech. “And you know what, if fighting for affordable child care and paid family leave is playing the ‘woman card,’” — here, much like in the convention hall, many of the women gathered in front of the television chimed in, seemingly in unison — “then deal me in!”
More than a century ago, women came to this building because of the limitations society placed on them. Here, the New Century Working Women’s Guild taught women professional skills and served them cheap lunchtime meals in a space specifically designed with women in mind — at a time when so many rooms were not. Women could take classes upstairs, even stay in the boarding rooms if they needed respite from the city. Women’s clubs were common at the time, but mostly just for socialization. “The idea there would be this club for women that work — that was pretty profound,” says Meg Kelly, site administration for the New Century Trust.
“Ninety-nine years ago this month, women were being thrown into jail for standing on the sidewalk in front of the White House, picketing [for] the right to vote,” says Lucienne Beard, the executive director of the Alice Paul Institute. “It’s very touching to me. It’s taken a long time, but finally we’re seeing the culmination of that.”
This moment is meaningful to Chipo Jolibois, a board member of the New Century Trust, likens it to when Barack Obama was elected eight years ago. She used to feel like a liar when she told her African-American children that they could be president someday. Now, should the country elect a woman to the office, she can finally tell her daughter that she can become president, too — “and actually believe it,” she says. But while Jolibois believes a Clinton presidency can be inspiring to young women, she says this isn’t why she’s voting for Clinton in November. She doesn’t just want to vote for a woman — she wants to vote for a qualified woman. And Clinton, she says, has proven herself.
“Even more important than the history we make tonight, is the history we will write together in the years ahead,” Clinton said. The women in this room nodded their heads and clasped their hands in front of them, not in prayer exactly — but in reverence. They weren’t just watching a speech; they were connecting with it.
It’s not just Clinton’s actual womanhood driving those cheers or the dreamy grins worn by people who are unaware they are smiling at all. Clinton isn’t just a woman candidate for president. She is a woman running for president on a platform full of legislation that promises to lift women up.
These women see potential tangible benefits to their lives if Clinton becomes president: Tryner believes a Clinton presidency would protect her right to abortion and birth control through Supreme Court appointments; Beard believes there’s a greater chance that the Equal Rights Amendment could finally pass under a President Clinton. Still others cite Title IX as a protection that Clinton would preserve.
Certainly some of these women wish Clinton would go further. Clad in a pink T-shirt, Feminist Majority Foundation intern Lauren Morris says she was disappointed that Clinton didn’t directly address Black Lives Matter. “I understand why she didn’t, but I wish she did,” Morris says. In this Victorian mansion, which was home to a working women’s guild that once did not accept people of color, Morris’ statement drives home a point: Feminism is always changing and intersectionality is increasingly important now.
But Morris and other women in the room who disagree with Clinton on certain issues say they’re proud to support her in November. “I was a Bernie supporter, but I can’t see this being a losing thing,” Kelly says. In her opinion, Clinton is just ridiculously qualified for the presidency given her resume. And Clinton has been talking about women’s and children’s issues for decades — certainly longer than Trump has.