Group of women rally up to promote the need for women's equal rights
For an early morning Main Street passerby, Aug. 26 was a Friday like any other.
But for the group of women assembled outside the First National Bank, it was a day to commemorate the origins of their civil rights and address the lingering need for women’s rights activism.
Members of the Columbia chapter of the League of Women Voters, a national organization promoting political engagement and education, hosted a one-block “Women’s Walk” followed by a ceremony on Friday morning to celebrate the anniversary of passage of the 19th Amendment, the first law to guarantee American women the right to vote. Columbia LWV Advocacy Chair Carole Cato saw the day of recognition as an opportunity to continue the spirit of early suffragettes such as Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony and Alice Paul.
“We’re trying to make our voices heard about women’s rights,” Cato said. “Almost 100 years ago, some very brave women stood as we did, but they had to go against a large majority of even their own gender.”
About 20 people turned up for the ceremony, most of them LWV members, joined by male supporters such as former Senate nominee Tom Clements and Rev. Don Britt of Faith United Methodist Church. Britt’s opening address acknowledged the persistence and courage of women throughout history, from Eve in Genesis, “the first woman who dared to be free,” to present-day female workers, activists and civil servants.
Gratuitous accolades aside, other keynote speakers emphasized that equality remains evasive, even 91 years after women gained the right to vote. Recent USC political science graduate Elizabeth Dargan, who joined the LWV this past year, spoke at the ceremony on current issues for younger women, such as employment gaps, political representation and reproductive rights.
“It’s easy to forget there’s a lot of work to do,” Dargan said. “We owe a huge debt to the first suffragettes, and it’s tempting to want to stand on their shoulders and say we’ve arrived, but when we look around we can see that’s not the case. For example, the number of women in college is greater than the number of males, but women continue to be underrepresented in corporate and government leadership.”
Ninety-one-year-old Sarah Leverette, former chair of the South Carolina Industrial Commission and longtime LWV member, has been working in public service long enough to see the change in expectations that women have experienced.
Leverette said that when she graduated magna cum laude from the USC School of Law in 1943, the only female in her class, male employers showed her great courtesy but little serious consideration.
“The culture is our problem,” Leverette said. “We’re fighting today, not for legal rights but for a culture that will embrace the principals of justice. That takes a grassroots effort.”
Fourth-year psychology student Kim Howard and second-year political science student Meghan Aubry, secretary and vice president, respectively, of the Feminist Majority Leadership Alliance at USC, attended the event to represent the current generation of female students.
Both said they would like to see more young women involved in the political process, particularly voting.
“There’s a complacency in our generation, so it’s really impressive to see how hard others have had to work.” Howard said. “You can’t think you can rest on your laurels; you have to be active.