A Message From The President

February 2020

There is nothing complicated about ordinary equality
– Alice Stokes Paul, author of the Equal Rights Amendment

Historically, social change has often come at the hands of women. We see a continuum of activism passed from generation to generation. Be it through family ties, religious organizations, social clubs and formal organizing, women have been the conscience and tip of the spear in the struggle to lead change around critical issues.

In 1776, John Adams’ wife, Abigail, wrote to her husband, “I desire you would remember the Ladies, and be more generous and favorable to them than your ancestors. Do not put such unlimited power into the hands of the Husbands. Remember all Men would be tyrants if they could. If particular care and attention is not paid to the Ladies, we are determined to foment a Rebellion, and will not hold ourselves bound by any Laws in which we have no voice, or Representation.”

Change has come slowly. It would be nearly 150 years from the time Abigail Adams wrote those words, until women would finally be granted representation through voting rights with the federal passage of the 19th Amendment.

Change has come incrementally. Even with the passage of the 19th Amendment, the voting box was not universally available to all women. According to the 2020 Women’s Vote Centennial Initiative:

“The language of the 19th Amendment included all eligible voters but not all eligible voters could exercise their right to vote. First of all, the Constitution in 1920 mandated a minimum voting age of 21. Then, although the 19th Amendment included women of color, many were unable to vote. In the southern United States, restrictive state or local laws called for poll taxes and/or literacy tests before a citizen could vote. Eighty percent of African Americans lived in the southern U.S. in 1920. As more black women moved north, they were able to vote more freely. Full exercise of black voting rights was intended with the Voting Rights Act of 1965; however, even today some states continue to erect barriers to black voting. Native American women were largely excluded from voting before the Indian Citizenship Act of 1924; some states and localities still passed laws effectively barring them from voting until the late 1940s. Not until the late 1940s and 1950s were restrictions on Asian American voting removed.”

It took centuries of advocacy and activism to win voting rights for all women. Alice Stokes Paul, a key figure in the passage of the 19th Amendment, believed the true battle for equality had yet to be won. After the 1920 victory, she said “It is incredible to me that any woman should consider the fight for full equality won. It has just begun.”

We have now spent nearly a century on the passage of this second act to include women in the U.S. Constitution.

In our nation’s history, women-led movements have included the temperance movement, abolitionist underground railroad efforts, the creation of domestic violence shelters, gun safety and child protection initiatives. In each movement’s history, there are chapters of women-to-women efforts to educate communities and develop broad based understandings that ultimately build momentum and consensus until solutions are codified into public policy.

We owe a great debt to the women who have gone before us and on whose shoulders we stand. I sometimes think about my great, great, great grandmother, Grace, who was alive 1811 – 1888 when the suffrage movement was emerging. I wonder about my great, great grandmother, Martha, who was 68, and my great grandmother, Jennie, who was 41, in 1920 when the 19th Amendment reached federal passage. I wonder if they were two of the 8 million women who voted for the first time in 1920 – and if they had any idea of how that right would begin to open doors for women who were limited in signing contracts, divorce, ownership of property, inheritance, and employment.

In the tradition of the women who went before us, our work continues. As Athena sisters, advocating for social change to elevate the status of women, we stand in that historic continuum, opening doors and laying equitable ground for the female leaders of the future.