A View from the Hill
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: June 6, 2000
CONTACT: Tommy Voltero (617) 722-2240
WOMEN ON THE MOVE
My grandmother always told us that nothing in this world was free. Although she probably did not know it at the time, my grandmother was stating one of the founding principles of our great Republic. The United States of America came to be as a result of the tireless efforts of men and women who fought to change the status quo. Had they sat back and permitted the British government to continue its occupation, hoping that "things would change someday," the Union Jack would be flying atop every building and we would be toasting the Queen Mother's 100th birthday with tea and crumpets in hand!
Fortunately, things did not work out that way. People did rise up and challenge the power structure, and in doing so they created what none of them could have done individually: a country in which "all men are created equal." Regrettably, however, Thomas Jefferson forgot to include something important in that famous first sentence of the Declaration of Independence: women.
The year 2000 marks the 80th anniversary of the 19th Amendment and it is only appropriate that we recognize the accomplishments of women in their fight to win what was never given to them for free: equal rights. Like most struggles for equality, the women's movement has been long and arduous. For centuries, women have been battling age-old prejudices embedded in the social fabric such as: the belief that it was a waste of time and money to educate daughters; that one's wife was personal property; and that politics were reserved for only those with a Y chromosome.
In response to these obstacles that were blocking the road to liberty, impassioned patriots like Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton united with all women in the 19th century to spark a flame of protest that engulfed our nation. The fire they ignited would never be put out.
Anthony was an outspoken advocate for both abolition and women's rights. In 1872 she led a group of women to the polls in Rochester, N.Y. to test women's right to vote under the 14th Amendment. The authorities, who apparently did not concur with Anthony's interpretation of the law, arrested her on the spot. This event, coupled with Anthony's constant muckraking, inspired other women to follow suit and take a stand for equality.
Working closely with Susan B. Anthony was the prolific writer and thinker Elizabeth Cady Stanton. Stanton is famous for organizing the first women's rights convention at Seneca Falls, N.Y. For this convention Stanton drafted a "Declaration of Sentiments," declaring that "men and women are created equal," and proposed a resolution that demanded-for the first time in public-voting rights for women. In 1851 she met with Susan B. Anthony, beginning a 50-year collaboration for feminist causes in which Stanton provided the ideas and Anthony the organizational talent.
The momentum generated by these women, and a host of unknown, but nonetheless important women's rights advocates resulted in public protests and acts of civil disobedience like those led by Emmeline Pankhurst. All of these events brought about the passage of the 19th Amendment in 1920, giving women the right to vote. Such struggles also gave birth to one of the most respected women's rights organizations in the United States: the League of Women Voters (LWV). Since its inception in 1920, the LWV has been instrumental in expanding participation in the political process.
Women also began to fight back in other realms such as the workplace. Women organized into trade unions and demanded "equal pay for equal work." Their credibility as workers grew during World War II, when over 2.5 million women filled men's jobs in the factories and shipyards. "Rosie the Riveter" became a force to be reckoned with.
Later on, with the writing of the extremely influential Feminine Mystique, which caused a cultural revolution in our society, women made further strides both in the political and social realms. 1963 marked the passage of the Equal Pay Act, which guaranteed equal pay for men and women in similar occupations. 1964 brought the landmark Civil Rights Act, banning discrimination based on race or sex. 1966 saw the creation of a vigorous women's advocacy group called the National Organization for Women.
All of these political developments mirrored the progress being made on a societal level as women began to be looked upon with more respect and credibility. The vigorous advocacy of over a century of struggle had finally come full circle. Nevertheless, the battle for equal rights was far from over. One only has to look at the recent discrimination allegations made on June 6th against Morgan Stanley to see that inequities still exist. The U.S. Department of Labor notes that women still earn 75 cents to the dollar that men earn. For these reasons, governments and advocacy groups have continued to create initiatives that safeguard the interests of all women.
Our state government in particular has been on the forefront of women's issues. Massachusetts was the first state to provide high school education for both girls and boys and was also home to several colleges created exclusively for women. Recently, we have affirmed our commitment to women by establishing the Commission of the Status of Women in 1998. Its continuing mission is to "provide a permanent voice for women across Massachusetts in state government." This measure, like the many others championed by dedicated advocates of women, has been crucial in protecting the equality and freedom that has been earned over the centuries.
As we look back to the progress made by women, we must understand that all of it was due to the vigilant efforts of people who challenged the status quo. No one went to women and handed them the right to vote. No one offered to make women's pay equal to men's. No one decided to give women more power in family decisions. All of these had to be fought for and won, often at the expense of one's "good name" in society. Sometimes, however, it is better to stand out as a "muckraker" than to stand behind the customs of the day. In the words of Susan B. Anthony: "cautious, careful people, always casting about to preserve their reputations . . . can never effect a reform."