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Celebrate Women’s Equality August 2016

ELLSWORTH AIR FORCE BASE, S.D. – Every day we have choices and rights that we take for granted. We often don’t take the time to think what it would be like not having some of those abilities or privileges.

A woman’s right to vote is one of those privileges.

Women now have a voice in who will be elected in any office, and can also vote for other women. It is hard to think about a time when women had no part in who would be elected president, let alone run for it.

When, and if, you are at the ballots, remember the men and women who fought to make that possible for you, or your wife, mother, daughter or sister.

Some people dream of change while others stay awake to achieve it. Even in the smallest of ways, we can make the world around us a better one. That was the case for a small group of people who sought to make America a sanctuary of equality for men and women of all races, ethnicities and creeds back in the mid-1800s to early 1920s.

It was with that vision in mind, coupled with hard work and dedication that the groundwork was laid and the 19th Amendment was born, one of the many great feats of the Women’s Rights Movement. The movement took place from 1848 when they had their first meeting in Seneca Falls, New York, and lasted until the 19th Amendment was ratified in 1920.

Among fearless individuals who led the charge were six courageous and resilient women: Elizabeth Cady Canton, Lucretia Mott, Susan B. Anthony, Lucy Stone, Alice Paul and Carry Chapman Catt, all significant advancers of the movement during the critical moments in history.

Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott were two abolitionists who organized the first two-day meeting in July 1848, which marked the beginning of the Women’s Suffrage movement. A total of 300 men and women attended that conference.

In 1850, Canton and Susan B. Anthony formed the National Women’s Suffrage Association and in 1890, the NWSA merged with the American Women’s Suffrage Association. The AWSA was led by Lucy Stone and also stood for the suffrage of women’s rights to vote in America.

The two associations combined to become the NAWSA, which focused their efforts toward drafting up an amendment to the constitution that would allow women to vote based on the 15th Amendment, which stated that all citizens are able to vote. Aaron Sargent, a strong advocate for women’s suffrage, introduced the bill in 1887, and no action was taken until nine years later when the bill was voted on and rejected. A discouraging failure, but not one to stop the movement.

Carry Chapman Catt, a teacher from Iowa, became involved in the suffrage movement in the 1880s.  After the failed attempt of passing the bill, she helped refocus the NAWSA to state by state suffrage amendments. Fifteen states passed bills allowing women the right to vote before the 19th Amendment passed. In 1912 Alice Paul, a student in England and formally a chairperson in the NAWSA, split from the association to form the National Women’s Party. 

Since her party employed a more confrontational approach including picketing, mass rallies and marches to raise support and awareness, Paul’s tactics got herself and several other women thrown in jail. However, her actions helped bring the passage of the 19th Amendment to fruition. Some of the women who were arrested went on a hunger strike and were being force fed through tubes while imprisoned. It was during that hunger strike that President Woodrow Wilson made his stance to champion the effort. Even with his support the bill still didn’t pass when it went up in 1919, but only by a single vote.

In addition to these six women, people from all backgrounds were coming together and working toward the goal of a more equal world.

The 19th Amendment was rejected by the Senate a total of five times between 1887 and 1920. It wasn’t until Aug. 18, 1920, 72 years after the first meeting for women’s suffrage that the bill finally passed. During those 72 years, several associations came together to fight for the rights of women of all ethnicities in America. 

Battles for working conditions and wages were won. The battles for women to be in politics and to take birth control pills were lost and then won. The Women’s Right Movement was making changes all around our nation.

After the amendment was passed, women took the political world by storm. Just a few of those victories include; Wyoming in 1922 – Nellie Tayloe Ross became the first woman elected to governor; in 1931 – Hattie Caraway became the first woman elected to Senate; in 1966 – the National Organization of Women was established to promote equality; in 1968 – Shirley Chisholm of New York was the first African-American woman elected to Congress. Four years later, she declared her candidacy for the Democratic Party nomination for President. Additionally, in 1997 Madeleine Albright was the first woman elected to the Secretary of State. Then in 2008, for the first time in history, Hillary Clinton, a woman, ran for president of the United States.

All it takes is for one person to speak up about change. That one person is usually not the only person with a vision. Today we battle the gender pay gap, tomorrow, who knows? But one thing is for sure, we have to start somewhere. A sturdy house relies on the strength of its foundation; over a century ago, two tenacious women met in New York for the first time and together, over the course of several decades, they laid the foundation of the Women’s Rights Movement.  That same foundation stands strong today as we still face battles on the equality of women’s rights front.

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