26 August 2010

Envisioning Equality: Celebrating the 90th Anniversary of Women's Suffrage

Ninety years ago today, American society experienced a long overdue shift in the status quo. On August 26, 1920, after decades of struggle, the United States finally afforded women the right to vote.

The women responsible for this triumph walked no easy road to victory. Jane Addams, Abigail Adams, Lucy Burns and Alice Paul. Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Ida B. Wells. Frances E.W. Harper, Sojourner Truth and Margaret Fuller. Lucy Stone. Lucretia Mott. Susan B. Anthony. Their names may be more or less familiar, but we too often forget how much these women sacrificed, over more than a century, to make possible every advantage today's women now enjoy.

Personal losses were common: some of these women alienated spouses, friends and loved ones as a result of their commitment to seeing women treated as full citizens. Others were shot at. Attacked by mobs. Locked in jail and threatened with death. There was no shortage of creativity when it came to devising ways to try to scare these women out of the streets and back into the kitchen.

And yet, despite all this, they pressed on. They rallied at Seneca Falls in 1848, and hosted a National Women's Rights Convention in 1850. They built formal organizations and associations to further the cause. They advocated in the streets, and organized in the statehouses until one hot day in August 1920, their movement had gained so much steam that 36 states ratified an amendment giving women the right to vote, ensuring that suffrage would be the right of every American woman.

It was a remarkable thing these women did, over so much time, and with so much opposition. They literally changed the world for those of us who live in it now. On this day, the 90th anniversary of their triumph, we pause to honor all they did, and all they gave, on our behalf.

Bringing true honor to these extraordinary women requires us to do more than just nod our heads in remembrance of the good fight they fought. It requires a commitment from those of us who treasure a democracy of full equity and inclusion to continue their work of ensuring that all Americans have equal access to the freedoms and opportunities our Constitution promises.

The grantees of the Ms. Foundation are the embodiment of that fighting spirit. From the Colorado Organization for Latina Opportunity and Reproductive Rights and the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health, to the Louisiana Bucket Brigade and the Mississippi Low-Income Child Care Initiative; from National Advocates for Pregnant Women to Green for All to the National Women's Law Center -- every one of our grantees works each day to build a more just democracy and help make equality, finally, the law of the land.

Their work is, in so many ways, a direct extension of the groundbreaking work the suffragists did to begin to level the proverbial playing field, and we applaud them for their courage and determination in the face of so the many challenges that continue to block the path to full equality.

Happily, our grantees are not alone in their efforts. The movement to build women's collective power runs broad and deep, and is made up of thousands of social justice organizations driving change.
Among them is a group called Vision 2020, which has launched a decade-long national project dedicated to pick up where the suffragists left off. Their goal is to see gender equality achieved no later August 26, 2020 -- the centennial celebration of the 19th Amendment. The group's first public event takes place on October 21-22, 2010, when a congress of national delegates, representing all 50 states and the District of Columbia, will meet at the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia to launch an action agenda to move America toward equality by this important date.
It's hard to imagine that the suffragists wouldn't be exceedingly proud. On this important day in women's history, be sure to make your own commitment to honoring their legacy: pledge to support a new generation of women's leadership working to ensure equality for all.

Image: Postcard, c 1913, Library of Congress.

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