Mary Lou Hill awoke earlier than usual on Election Day, called her daughter Sue Hill and left a message: “Is this the day we’re going to vote? You’re going to take me to vote, aren’t you?”
Of course, Sue was going to take her to vote. She knew that her mother had been waiting a long time for this election.
About 80 years.
Hill turns 100 on Nov. 15. She was born in 1916, four years before women had that right. She cast her first vote at age 21, hungry to do so after hearing stories from her mother and aunts about the “unremitting 70-year effort” by women and men to pass the 19th Amendment.
Voting, Hill told me, was “like a rite of passage to full citizenship.”
She has fully exercised that right at every election small and large (Franklin Delano Roosevelt was her first president) and made sure her four daughters did so, too.
There was just one more election that Hill dared to dream about.
“Every time I voted, I knew it was important,” Hill said Tuesday, seated comfortably in the den of her century-old home in Minneapolis’ Bryn Mawr neighborhood, a magnifying glass in her lap, a poster of Eleanor Roosevelt on the wall.
“But when I’ve got a woman to vote for, that’s really exciting.”
Despite the outcome (“So help me, this Trump business is more than I can figure out,”) it was still exciting.
She dismissed suggestions that she vote early to avoid the hassle of lines.
“That would take all the fun out of it,” Hill said. “I watch people from my neighborhood coming. Some I know, some I don’t. We’re all devoted to voting.”
Mary Lou Faetkenheuer studied political science and history at the University of Minnesota. She married Philip Hill in 1940, and they raised their four daughters (one, Mary, died in 1981). Hill, who later divorced, worked in the dean’s office at the U’s Carlson School of Management, as well as for Gov. Karl Rolvaag in the Human Rights Department.
She lobbied the Legislature for better pay for women, researched single-pay health care and advocated for higher wages for home health care aides. She was one of five founders of Park Watch, which worked for transparency within the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board.
But her greatest passion was and is the League of Women Voters, a nonpartisan political organization where she served as executive secretary and attended many national conventions.
Fellow members describe her as modest and tenacious, and a tireless seeker of the truth.
“When I think about my mom,” Sue said, “her work was less politically driven and more about creating good government.”
On Monday night, the last official day of the campaign, Hill watched the 10 p.m. news, then went to bed and slept well. She awoke on Election Day, showered and dressed in comfortable beige slacks, a white shirt and sturdy walking shoes.
And was she ever ready to use them.
Hill stepped out of her house, down five stairs and into the sun. “Oh, it’s such a nice day, isn’t it?” she said.
At a bake sale being held at the entrance to Anwatin Middle School, her polling place, a woman greeted her enthusiastically. “Oh! You have a birthday coming up!”
“Don’t remind me,” Hill said. She walked confidently down the hall without assistance, past a long row of colorful cones in yellow, green, purple and blue marking the way. She entered the school gym, headed for a table and carefully signed her name.
“Now I can vote?” she asked the polling worker.
“Now you can vote.”
Sue sat down next to her mother at a long table and signed her own name to the Voter Assistance Tracking Sheet, vouching that she was there to assist her mother with voting. Sue read off the choices as her mother quietly offered her preferences.
Ballot completed, Hill rose and headed toward the exit, followed by Sue.
“I’ve got to put this on now,” Hill said, as she pulled a round red sticker from its base and placed it on her shirt as she stepped back into the sun. She voted.