Women’s Equality Day
By Mary Olberding
Women’s Equality Day celebrates the day the 19th Amendment was signed into law on August 26, 1920, giving women the right to vote and ending a 70-year long quest. Extending suffrage was a necessary step toward fulfilling the promise of Democracy with a more fully realized representative government.
Like the 15th amendment before it, the 19th amendment to the Constitution was necessary because not all of us were created equal under the law. And even after passage, it wasn’t until the Voting Rights Act of 1965 was passed that many structural impediments like poll taxes and literacy tests were removed, enfranchising African-Americans, Native Americans and uneducated lower classes who had been kept from voting.
Voting rights continue to be assaulted even today. That is why, two years ago, a steering committee that I organized put together a breakfast to celebrate the right to vote on Women’s Equality Day. We wanted to recognize women’s leadership in hopes that it would inspire more women to participate in all levels of government.
I doubt anyone would have predicted then what changes would look like here and across the nation since we gathered back then. In January 2019, 117 women were sent to Congress; the highest number to ever serve. This year, over 500 women are running for Congress, more than ever have run before.
Customs and laws written for and about women should include their guiding hand. Women are making their voices heard in ways not seen in a generation. Complacency has given way in all walks of life as people realize that we cannot expect the world to change unless we change it. Everywhere you turn there is an increase in activism and engagement. And, thankfully, change has begun again.
The nomination last week of Senator Kamala Harris for Vice President ushers in the next chapter of the evolving story of women’s achievement. Like other milestones before, society is enhanced by a diversity of perspectives and opinions.
Because of COVID-19, we are unable to gather to celebrate the centennial of the 19th amendment. It is my fervent hope that we will be able to gather together again next year and begin to celebrate the next 100 years of Women’s Equality Day.
Mary Olberding is the Register of Deeds of Hampshire County and a resident of Belchertown, Massachusetts. Several weeks ago we published her story on The Lost Towns of the Quabbin.