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19 Facts About the 19th Amendment

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On August 18, 1920, American women finally secured the right to vote. Calling the victory hard-won would be an understatement: Denounced by many, the 19th amendment had an ugly, uphill, decades-long road to ratification. 

1. IN 1797, NEW JERSEY TEMPORARILY GRANTED VOTING RIGHTS TO UNWED WOMEN. 

New Jersey's original state constitution, adopted in 1776, declared that “all inhabitants” who were “worth fifty pounds” could vote. Because some found this wording rather vague, clearer legislation was drafted, and in 1797, the State Assembly explicitly granted certain female New Jerseyans suffrage.

For the next 10 years, single women were permitted to cast ballots. Married ladies, on the other hand, weren’t given this privilege because their husbands legally controlled every piece of property they owned—so they failed the “fifty pounds” requirement. In 1807, the State Assembly passed a new law, one that forbade anyone but “free, white male citizens” who were at least 21 (and paid taxes) from voting. 

2. THE WYOMING TERRITORY LED A NATIONWIDE CHARGE FOR SUFFRAGE.

Today, it’s called “the equality state,” and in 1869, Wyomingites really earned that nickname. During this pivotal year, a game-changing bill sponsored by Councilman William Bright was approved by the Territorial Legislature. “[Every] woman, of the age of twenty-one years," the document read, "residing in this Territory, may at every election to be holden under the law thereof, cast her vote.”

Though suffragists cheered this news, some feared that the celebration would be short-lived. Just two years after women were given the right to vote, Wyoming was one vote short of repealing the act.  But eventually, women’s right to vote became so entrenched in Wyoming that when Wyoming applied for statehood, Congress threatened to deny it unless Bright’s bill was revoked—but the local legislature wouldn't back down: “We will remain out of the union [for] 100 years rather than come in without the women.” Congress caved, and Wyoming—with all her female voters—became America’s 44th state in 1890.

3. THE 19TH AMENDMENT WAS FIRST PROPOSED—AND DEFEATED—IN 1878.

“The right of citizens to vote shall not be abridged by the United States or any State on account of sex.” So read an amendment that California Senator Arlen A. Sargent put forth for discussion on January 10, 1878, at the urging of his friends Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony. Hearings were held by the Senate Committee on Privileges and Elections, but they weren’t encouraging—while advocates voiced their support, several committee members busied themselves by reading newspapers or staring off into space. The bill was rejected, though it would be re-introduced every year for the next 41 years.

4. BEFORE 1920, VOTING RIGHTS DIFFERED GREATLY ACROSS STATE LINES.

In January 1919, suffrage laws varied considerably: 15 states allowed women to vote in all elections, while 21 others barred them from certain contests (for instance, Texas ladies could only cast ballots during primaries). The remaining 12 prohibited female voting altogether. 

5. TEDDY ROOSEVELT'S "BULL MOOSE" PARTY CAMPAIGNED ON WOMEN'S ENFRANCHISEMENT. 

During his presidency, T.R. was quite mum on the subject. “Personally,” Roosevelt wrote in 1908, “I believe in women’s suffrage, but … I do not regard it as a very important matter.”

But he made voting equity a central issue while seeking a third term. When William Howard Taft’s 1912 re-nomination dashed Roosevelt’s hopes of running again as a Republican, he launched his own Progressive Party, which incorporated suffrage into its official platform

One day into the campaign, T.R. made history. At the party’s convention, social reformer Jane Addams became the first woman to ever second the nomination of a major presidential candidate. “It was a spectacular proceeding,” opined Woodrow Wilson backer Charles W. Elliot, “but in exceedingly bad taste, because a woman has no place at a political convention.”

6. TAFT HAD MIXED FEELINGS ABOUT IT.  

As “Big Bill” told The Saturday Evening Post in 1915, he favored a gradual approach to female voting rights. Taft believed that “the immediate enfranchisement of women would increase … the hysterical element of the electorate.” However, if such a reform could be “delayed until a great majority” desired it, the change would—in his mind—“be a correct and useful extension of the democratic principle. The benefit will come slowly and imperceptibly.”

7. NOT ALL ANTI-SUFFRAGISTS WERE MEN.

Alice Hay Wadsworth was among the most prominent women to denounce what became the 19th Amendment. The wife of Senator James Wolcott Wadsworth, Jr., she was once president of the National Association Opposed to Women’s Suffrage. A now-infamous pamphlet published by this group claimed that “90 percent of women either do not want it or do not care,” and that new voting rights would mean “competition with men instead of cooperation.” The group was founded by Josephine Dodge, daughter of Grant’s Postmaster General, in her apartment in 1911. 

8. SUFFRAGE ADVOCATES THREW THE VERY FIRST WHITE HOUSE PICKET PROTEST.

Activist Alice Paul had little trouble getting under Woodrow Wilson’s skin. She broke new, nonviolent ground by establishing a group called the Silent Sentinels, which began protesting outside the White House on January 10, 1917. Over the next 2.5 years, they spent six days a week holding up pro-enfranchisement signs with such captions as “How long must women wait for liberty?” and “Mr. President, what will you do for woman suffrage?” 

9. HUNGER STRIKES PROMPTED WILSON TO TAKE ACTION.

Eventually, policemen began arresting Silent Sentinels—including Paul herself—for “obstructing traffic.” While incarcerated, she organized a hunger strike, which drove guards to begin force-feeding captive suffragettes. And it got worse: Guards denied the protestors water; one of the protestors was manacled to the bars and nearly placed in a straitjacket and gagged for talking to her fellow inmates; and three emerged from the ordeal so weak that doctors feared for their lives. Wilson’s stance on enfranchisement shifted from tepid support to total advocacy. 

10. WILSON TRIED TO PASS NATIONAL SUFFRAGE IN 1918, BUT FELL TWO SENATE VOTES SHORT.

With World War I still raging on, Wilson officially endorsed what later became the 19th amendment. One day after he released a statement to this effect, the House passed the measure. Riding high on that victory, the commander-in-chief addressed the Senate in person, saying, “We have made partners of the women in this war. Shall we admit them only to a partnership of suffering and sacrifice and toil and not to a partnership of privilege and right?” Despite these passionate words, the amendment didn’t break through, falling short just two votes. A few months later, Congress tried passing it again—and missed the mark by exactly one senatorial vote. 

11. ONE SUFFRAGETTE DIED FOR THE CAUSE.

On June 4, 1919, the Senate finally passed the amendment. Now, its life depended upon the states, three-fourths of which were needed for ratification.   

Enter Aloysius Larch-Miller, the Oklahoma State Suffrage Ratification Committee’s enthusiastic young secretary. Stricken with influenza during the winter of 1920, she was ordered by her doctor to remain in bed. However, when a prominent anti-suffragist arrived at her local Democratic convention, she made a beeline for the event. After eloquently defending gender equality, Larch-Miller returned home. Two days later, she passed away. Her martyrdom became a rallying cry and, just a few weeks later, Oklahoma voted yes on the 19th.   

12. ONE STATE REPRESENTATIVE SINGLE-HANDEDLY GUARANTEED THE AMENDMENT'S SUCCESS—AT HIS MOTHER'S REQUEST.

When Tennessee passed the bill on August 18 of that year, it became the 36th state to ratify, providing the necessary three-fourths majority. A 24-year-old politician named Harry Burn—who had previously opposed suffrage—tipped the scales in Nashville’s House of Representatives. What changed his mind? On the day of the vote, he received a letter from his widowed mom, Febb Burn, who urged him to support the amendment. He voted yes, and led Tennessee to ratify by a margin of 49 to 47. Since the state senate had already passed it, the measure won out. “I know that a mother’s advice is always safest for her boy to follow,” Burn noted, “and my mother wanted me to vote for ratification.” 

13. EIGHT DAYS AFTER THE 19TH AMENDMENT WAS RATIFIED, 10 MILLION WOMEN JOINED THE ELECTORATE.

On August 26, the 19th amendment officially took effect. As legal scholar Akhil Reed Amar points out, the sheer volume of brand new voters created by this legal action made it “the single biggest democratizing event in American history.” 

14. MULTIPLE CITIZENS HAVE BEEN CITED AS THE FIRST TO VOTE UNDER THE NEW AMENDMENT. 

South St. Paul, Minnesota scheduled a special bond election at 5:30 a.m. on August 27 in which 87 women voted (but women could vote in these elections anyway; their votes just didn’t count—they were recorded for public interest). Nevertheless, it’s often reported that Mrs. Marie Ruoff Byrum of Hannibal, Missouri cast the first female ballot in post-amendment history in a local alderman race four days later. 

15. RUMORS CIRCULATED THAT A WOMAN MIGHT APPEAR ON THE DEMOCRATIC TICKET IN 1920. 

Prominent Republican May Jester Allen allegedly heard that the Dems were weighing a 35-year-old DNC committeewoman named Anna Dickie Olesen for their vice-presidential nomination. Instead, this honor went to Franklin Delano Roosevelt. 

16. FDR BECAME THE FIRST PRESIDENT WHOSE MOTHER WAS ELIGIBLE TO VOTE FOR HIM. 

Harding’s, Coolidge’s, and Hoover’s had already died by the time they ran for the Oval Office. Sara Roosevelt, on the other hand, lived to see her boy win his unprecedented third term.  

17. IN 1922, SOME SAID THE AMENDMENT WAS UNCONSTITUTIONAL.

Because Maryland’s constitution reserved voting for men, Judge Oscar Leser and other anti-suffragists charged that the federal government had unlawfully infringed upon their state’s rights. In Leser v. Garnett, the Supreme Court unanimously rejected this and similar arguments against the 19th amendment, thus ensuring its long-term survival. Apparently Chief Justice William Howard Taft decided that the “great majority” were finally for it.

18. MISSISSIPPI DIDN'T RATIFY IT UNTIL MARCH 22, 1984. 

Other holdouts include Louisiana and North Carolina, which waited until June 11, 1970 and May 6, 1971, respectively. Still, Mississippi was, by a noticeable margin, the very last state to go through with ratification.

19. A STATUE CELEBRATING TENNESSEE'S ROLE IN THE AMENDMENT'S PASSAGE WILL BE ERECTED THIS OCTOBER. 

Sculpted by Nashville native Alan Lequire, the monument will depict five “indomitable” suffragettes: Abby Crawford Milton of Chattanooga, Sue Shelton White of Jackson, Frankie Pierce and Anne Dudley of Nashville, and League of Women Voters founder Carrie Chapman Catt. On October 27, it will be unveiled on the Tennessee Performing Arts Center Bridge, near the state capital’s War Memorial building.

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
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Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva

Jacques Mattheij made a small, but awesome, mistake. He went on eBay one evening and bid on a bunch of bulk LEGO brick auctions, then went to sleep. Upon waking, he discovered that he was the high bidder on many, and was now the proud owner of two tons of LEGO bricks. (This is about 4400 pounds.) He wrote, "[L]esson 1: if you win almost all bids you are bidding too high."

Mattheij had noticed that bulk, unsorted bricks sell for something like €10/kilogram, whereas sets are roughly €40/kg and rare parts go for up to €100/kg. Much of the value of the bricks is in their sorting. If he could reduce the entropy of these bins of unsorted bricks, he could make a tidy profit. While many people do this work by hand, the problem is enormous—just the kind of challenge for a computer. Mattheij writes:

There are 38000+ shapes and there are 100+ possible shades of color (you can roughly tell how old someone is by asking them what lego colors they remember from their youth).

In the following months, Mattheij built a proof-of-concept sorting system using, of course, LEGO. He broke the problem down into a series of sub-problems (including "feeding LEGO reliably from a hopper is surprisingly hard," one of those facts of nature that will stymie even the best system design). After tinkering with the prototype at length, he expanded the system to a surprisingly complex system of conveyer belts (powered by a home treadmill), various pieces of cabinetry, and "copious quantities of crazy glue."

Here's a video showing the current system running at low speed:

The key part of the system was running the bricks past a camera paired with a computer running a neural net-based image classifier. That allows the computer (when sufficiently trained on brick images) to recognize bricks and thus categorize them by color, shape, or other parameters. Remember that as bricks pass by, they can be in any orientation, can be dirty, can even be stuck to other pieces. So having a flexible software system is key to recognizing—in a fraction of a second—what a given brick is, in order to sort it out. When a match is found, a jet of compressed air pops the piece off the conveyer belt and into a waiting bin.

After much experimentation, Mattheij rewrote the software (several times in fact) to accomplish a variety of basic tasks. At its core, the system takes images from a webcam and feeds them to a neural network to do the classification. Of course, the neural net needs to be "trained" by showing it lots of images, and telling it what those images represent. Mattheij's breakthrough was allowing the machine to effectively train itself, with guidance: Running pieces through allows the system to take its own photos, make a guess, and build on that guess. As long as Mattheij corrects the incorrect guesses, he ends up with a decent (and self-reinforcing) corpus of training data. As the machine continues running, it can rack up more training, allowing it to recognize a broad variety of pieces on the fly.

Here's another video, focusing on how the pieces move on conveyer belts (running at slow speed so puny humans can follow). You can also see the air jets in action:

In an email interview, Mattheij told Mental Floss that the system currently sorts LEGO bricks into more than 50 categories. It can also be run in a color-sorting mode to bin the parts across 12 color groups. (Thus at present you'd likely do a two-pass sort on the bricks: once for shape, then a separate pass for color.) He continues to refine the system, with a focus on making its recognition abilities faster. At some point down the line, he plans to make the software portion open source. You're on your own as far as building conveyer belts, bins, and so forth.

Check out Mattheij's writeup in two parts for more information. It starts with an overview of the story, followed up with a deep dive on the software. He's also tweeting about the project (among other things). And if you look around a bit, you'll find bulk LEGO brick auctions online—it's definitely a thing!

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Cs California, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 3.0
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science
How Experts Say We Should Stop a 'Zombie' Infection: Kill It With Fire
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Cs California, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 3.0

Scientists are known for being pretty cautious people. But sometimes, even the most careful of us need to burn some things to the ground. Immunologists have proposed a plan to burn large swaths of parkland in an attempt to wipe out disease, as The New York Times reports. They described the problem in the journal Microbiology and Molecular Biology Reviews.

Chronic wasting disease (CWD) is a gruesome infection that’s been destroying deer and elk herds across North America. Like bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE, better known as mad cow disease) and Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, CWD is caused by damaged, contagious little proteins called prions. Although it's been half a century since CWD was first discovered, scientists are still scratching their heads about how it works, how it spreads, and if, like BSE, it could someday infect humans.

Paper co-author Mark Zabel, of the Prion Research Center at Colorado State University, says animals with CWD fade away slowly at first, losing weight and starting to act kind of spacey. But "they’re not hard to pick out at the end stage," he told The New York Times. "They have a vacant stare, they have a stumbling gait, their heads are drooping, their ears are down, you can see thick saliva dripping from their mouths. It’s like a true zombie disease."

CWD has already been spotted in 24 U.S. states. Some herds are already 50 percent infected, and that number is only growing.

Prion illnesses often travel from one infected individual to another, but CWD’s expansion was so rapid that scientists began to suspect it had more than one way of finding new animals to attack.

Sure enough, it did. As it turns out, the CWD prion doesn’t go down with its host-animal ship. Infected animals shed the prion in their urine, feces, and drool. Long after the sick deer has died, others can still contract CWD from the leaves they eat and the grass in which they stand.

As if that’s not bad enough, CWD has another trick up its sleeve: spontaneous generation. That is, it doesn’t take much damage to twist a healthy prion into a zombifying pathogen. The illness just pops up.

There are some treatments, including immersing infected tissue in an ozone bath. But that won't help when the problem is literally smeared across the landscape. "You cannot treat half of the continental United States with ozone," Zabel said.

And so, to combat this many-pronged assault on our wildlife, Zabel and his colleagues are getting aggressive. They recommend a controlled burn of infected areas of national parks in Colorado and Arkansas—a pilot study to determine if fire will be enough.

"If you eliminate the plants that have prions on the surface, that would be a huge step forward," he said. "I really don’t think it’s that crazy."

[h/t The New York Times]

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