Jerry Emmett was 6 when women earned the right to vote and is in Philly as Hillary Clinton becomes the Democratic presidential nominee.
Jerry belongs to an exclusive club: she’s one of the few women with firsthand memories of the national women's suffrage movement.
Living more than a century, she can marvel at our progress on a dozen fronts: from telegrams to instant messaging; from washing clothes in a galvanized metal tub with a wringer to the modern washer and dryer; and from horse and buggy to the airplane that will take her to the Philadelphia convention.
Jerry was there when women got the vote.
In Arizona, women had gained the right to vote in 1912 and voted in the presidential election in 1916. Jerry was 2 years old when her mother was one of the first woment to vote. She was 6 when the 19th Amendment allowed women the right to vote in 1920.. To go from there to seeing a woman become a presidential nominee is deeply moving.
“Oh, I never thought I’d see a woman in a presidential election. When I was growing up, women could be teachers, secretaries or nurses — and my mother was snubbed at our church for working at all. That a woman would have this role in the political process …” she trails off and shakes her head.
Gleaming white hair and wreathed in smile wrinkles, Jerry packs more energy per square inch than many people a fifth her age, which is 102. She walks a mile each morning and bakes pies in her own kitchen for visitors to take home. She remembers her mother voted in Gilbert, then a small town.
"All the little old ladies, with their gloves and everything, were so excited. Most of the men were, too – a lot of the women would tell their husbands how to vote. This way was just … right.
“There were about 450 people in Gilbert then, and a man would walk out and yell: ‘Hear ye, hear ye! The polls are now open,’ and we’d go to vote.”
She helped put FDR into office
Jerry says she was “just dying to vote – ooh, I couldn’t wait,” which she first did for Arizona Gov. George W. P. Hunt, and then for Franklin D. Roosevelt.
The man who led the nation out of the Great Depression and through most of World War II made an impression on her. “I saw him save America, and to do that with braces on both legs. And he won four terms in office; that man was a powerful human being.”
Jerry will accompany her best friend, Carolyn Warner, a superdelegate from Arizona, to the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia. The pair's friendship spans 60 years. They’ve brought one another through triumphs and crises. Jerry worked on all Warner's campaigns, from three victorious ones for state superintendent of public instruction to the final bruising gubernatorial election of 1986 that went infamously to Evan Mecham.
Warner, who has often traveled with Jerry, is eager for the trip to Philadelphia.
“It’s one of the most exciting times of my life: to see this woman, who has been a closet women’s libber all her life, have a chance to see the woman she loves and admires become nominee for the office of president of the United States," Warner said.
With Warner's political connections, she’s been able to give Jerry some stellar experiences through the years. She met Jimmy Carter, Barack Obama and, earlier this year, Hillary Clinton. "The backbone of that outfit"
Jerry was the proud founder of a Hillary Clinton Fan Club way back when Bill Clinton was president. Why a fan club for a first lady?
“I knew even then she was the backbone of that outfit. I knew she would eventually be somebody on her own," she says.
Warner arranged the meeting when Clinton held a rally in Phoenix in March.
“I suggested Jerry’s family make her a sign saying ‘Centenarian for Hillary’ for her to bring,” Warner said. “They also made, ‘101 and for Hillary.’ When it was time to get our photos, they told us ‘no signs’ but of course that didn’t deter us. Hillary saw us coming and said, ‘Jerry, how did you get in here with all those posters?’ An AP photographer took Jerry’s photo and it ran in papers all over the United States. It was a great day in her life.”
Why a Hillary Clinton fan?
Hillary reminds Jerry of an earlier first lady she admired: Eleanor Roosevelt. She sees deep similarities between the Roosevelts and the Clintons.
“They were a great team: the way they were on the same track. Eleanor went through some of what Hillary did: when Franklin died and that cousin was with him, it broke her heart. It was such an insult to what she’d given him. Well, those things happen. But the way they worked together and thought together … that was just perfect.”
Jerry admired Mrs. Roosevelt’s tireless international work, which earned her a position as delegate to the United Nations, where she helped to create the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
She views Clinton as following in Mrs. Roosevelt’s footsteps.
“When a woman becomes president I’ll be very, very pleased. I will decide that this country is going in the right direction," she says.
Born in 1914, Jerry has seen the progress of women’s rights since the 19th Amendment was ratified.
"It all started then, and went on through the Rosie the Riveter and all of those things, when women began to be more important to the United States. There were a lot of women who didn’t dare say anything because their husbands wouldn’t allow them, but I was one of those people who wasn’t intimidated.”
Jerry has said that witnessing Clinton's nomination will mean she can die happy.
But quickly added: "However, I do have a dress ready to wear to the inauguration."
Lisa Schnebly Heidinger has written eight books about Arizona. Her biography of Carolyn Warner, “Before I Forget,” will come out later this year.