It’s called Women’s Equality Day, and it’s held each year on Aug. 26 to mark the moment in time when women gained the right to vote.
In a society that prides itself on equal rights and inclusion, it may be hard for some people to believe that less than 100 years ago women could not vote in the United States.
Sunday, Aug. 26, marks the 92nd anniversary of the certification of the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution guaranteeing a woman’s right to vote.
“It’s hard to believe with the active role women have in politics today that it has only been 92 years since we were first allowed the opportunity to take part in selecting our elected officials,” said Connie Kelly, Richmond County Board of Elections director.
The 19th Amendment states: “The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex.”
It took 144 years after the Declaration of Independence was signed before women were treated as full American citizens and able to vote. What took so long?
“I guess that it goes hand in hand with other issues of equality,” said Kelly. “I believe that during that time, a woman’s role in decision making outside of the home was not recognized as important. I guess that’s why it was referred to as ‘suffrage.’”
In his proclamation of Women’s Equality Day 2012, President Barack Obama said, “The product of profound struggle and fierce hope, the 19th Amendment reaffirmed what we have always known: that America is a place where anything is possible and where each of us is entitled to the full pursuit of our own happiness.”
“America was founded to allow all people to be treated the same,” said Pam Dillman, president of the Richmond County Chapter of Democratic Women.
“The insecurities that some men have has kept some women from great leadership roles. The way I see it, it does not matter what gender, status, or color. The leadership the individual brings is what is desperately needed. Diversity was the way our country came together. Women and men can work together,” Dillman said.
Priscilla Saunders, a member of the county’s Democratic Women organization, said women should have been allowed to vote with men all along.
Saunders remembers her very first time voting.
“I was 20 years old. I was very proud to vote, and my favorite candidate was Maceo McEachern running for school board; first time ever a black was elected to the school board,” she said.
Cathy Wilson, newly elected this year to the Richmond County School Board, registered to vote the minute she could.
“I registered to vote and voted as soon as I became of age,” said Wilson. “I have always believed in the election process and have been political minded all my life. I started working at the polls when I was 12 years old and have not missed many elections doing that.”
Kelly said she was a “late bloomer” and didn’t register to vote until she was around 30. She remembers clearly that first time she stepped into a voting booth.
“I remember feeling all of the emotions — nervous a little, but mostly excited and very proud,” Kelly said.
“I was 20 years old when I (first) registered,” Dillman said. “I was taking classes at RCC when now President of Wingate College Jerry McGee signed me in. I remind him of this all the time. My first vote I remember was for Meg Queen for School Board, and Gracie Snead and Macie McQueen a little later. What powerful women. You have to have a representation from all groups of people to be an elected official. You are over all types of people and that needs to show on all our boards.”
Dillman said the county’s Democratic Women organization was formed back in 1969.
“Mrs. Nancy Neal from Hamlet was one of the founding members. We were told to wait for a better time in the ’70s. The men in leadership roles in the county did not want the women in a political club. I was so very proud of how they got started. The Union County Democratic Women helped form the club,” said Dillman.
These days, Dillman sees the power shifting to more women taking leadership rolls.
“We all need mentors — some of my best have been women,” she said. ” … It goes back to great leadership and good elected officials. I respect my vote and will only vote for someone I have check out thoroughly and I feel they will take care of me and my country.
“Our parents were great role models for my brothers, husband and I. My husband and I are following in the same footsteps as our parents. You need to know your candidates before you cast your vote,” said Dillman.
Wilson said politicians need to recognize the power women can wield at the polls.
“Women have power and authority to win or lose an election and more emphasis needs to be directed to them. Women are intelligent and capable of running a campaign and winning an election (on their own). It is a great injustice for women to be left out of the election process. I think most candidates realize that now,” Wilson said.
Editor John Charles Robbins can be reached at 910-997-3111, ext. 13, or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.