100-year-old Gertrude Gottschalk of Carson City cast her ballot on Saturday for Democrat Hillary Clinton with some help from poll worker Mike Mead. When Gottschalk was born in 1916, women nationwide wouldn't have the right to vote for four years.(Photo: Seth A. Richardson/RGJ)
RENO, Nev. — When Gertrude Gottschalk was born in 1916, the United States hadn’t entered World War I.
The top grossing film was D.W. Griffith’s silent classic Intolerance. Charles Lindbergh’s trans-Atlantic flight was still 11 years away. The Chicago Cubs played their first game at Wrigley Field. President Woodrow Wilson ran successfully for re-election against New York Gov. Charles Evans Hughes.
And women, like Gottschalk, didn’t have the right to vote nationwide.
Universal women’s suffrage would come shortly after Gottschalk’s birth with the ratification of the 19th Amendment in 1920 after a grueling amount of work, though Nevada enacted suffrage in 1914, with women voting statewide for the first time in 1916. It was a historic time for the country, granting half the population a chance to vote.
But the idea of casting a ballot for a woman for the highest office in the land was unthinkable to Gottschalk, who is now 100 years old and lives in Carson City. Even as women made more and more progress in politics, they never made it to the top of the ticket, the closest being Democratic vice presidential candidate Geraldine Ferraro in 1984 and Republican vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin in 2008.
That is, until this year.
Early voting started Saturday in Nevada and Gottschalk, who’s never missed an election in her nearly 80 years of voting, made her way to the Carson City Clerk’s office to vote. As she walked the hallway down to the booth, a chorus of applause followed her.
With a smile on her face — and some help from a poll worker — the far-off fantasy of electing a woman for president came closer to reality as she voted for Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton.
“I didn’t think I’d ever live to do it, but here I am,” Gottschalk said.
Gottschalk, a longtime Democrat, cast her first presidential vote for Franklin Delano Roosevelt when she was 21 years old.
“I was very fond of him and he was a wonderful president,” she said. “So many people didn’t know that he was physically impaired, which he was. And yet, he did a beautiful job as our president.”
Gertrude Gottschalk, 100, of Carson City, sits with an American flag as she talks to reporters. (Photo: Seth A. Richardson/RGJ)
She's lived through a panoply of America history. When she was young, she met Amelia Earhart on a cruise ship. She lived through the Great Depression and the moon landing. She saw the rise and fall of the Soviet Union.
The car radio, digital watches, the electric razor, computers, the Internet, the pop-up toaster, rockets, disco and the Slinky all came about during Gottschalk’s life.
The importance of voting was instilled in her at a young age. Her family always discussed the duty of casting a ballot from the time she was a child.
She was one of the first national committeewomen for the Democratic National Committee during the 1960s and met President John F. Kennedy and his brother, Robert Kennedy.
“I didn’t think I’d ever live to do it, but here I am.”Gertrude Gottschalk, on voting for a woman for president
Gottschalk recognized the divisive nature of the current election between Clinton and Republican nominee Donald Trump. The nearly year-and-a-half campaign is coming to an end as the Nov. 8 election date approaches, and plenty of barbs have been exchanged throughout. Many are apathetic at the thought of voting for either candidate, but Gottschalk says people should put that aside to vote for whomever they choose, especially young people who might not be as engaged.
“They don’t discuss it anymore in homes, sit around the table and discuss who is running,” she said. “I think we’ve had kind of a change in attitude. That’s part of our problem.”
As Gottschalk finished casting her ballot, she gleefully took an American flag from a Clinton staffer. A group of reporters surrounded her, wanting to hear what it was like voting for a woman after a century of life.
She said she didn’t understand what the hubbub was about. After all, she’s just another voter doing her duty.
But the symbolism of being born before universal suffrage to see a woman possibly take the highest political post in the land wasn't lost on her.
“It feels wonderful,” she said.
Follow Seth A. Richardson on Twitter: @SethARichardson