Yes, women won the vote in 1920 but never let it be said it was given. It was a hard struggle that did not, could not, stop because, as we were to learn, it was only the first step, continuing today. Despite what has been achieved the current political climate makes it quite clear that this is certainly no time to let up on our efforts. There may even be some direction in the idea that, "Well behaved women rarely make history!"
Without doubt the most contentious aspect of the struggle has been and is centered around birth control, a women's right to control her own reproductive life - a matter which one would have expected to be in the realm of privacy. Managing her reproductive life is what has allowed women to claim the accomplishments of today but the story will have to wait another time for its column. Today the focus will be on the events and people involved with the quest for political parity.
Many nations were destined to give women the vote before the so-called progressive United States of America did so. Likewise many of them have had female heads of state while the closest we have come is Nancy Pelosi's term as Speaker of the House of Representatives. About a quarter of the congressional membership is female and now 3 on the Supreme Court but that is scant comfort when it comes to the vote. In 1917 Montana sent Jeanette Rankin to Congress before she could even vote in most states. Rebecca Felton became the first female Senator when Georgia sent her to serve one day of her dead husband's term. Arkansas was the first state to elect a female senator. Illinois made Carol Mosley Braun the first African American Senator.
It was in 1923 that Alice Paul first proposed the Equal Rights Amendment that after several failures was passed by Congress on March 22,1972, only to fail ratification by sufficient states. Some of the conditions that speak for the need of this amendment include: the fact that women still lag behind in equal pay despite John F. Kennedy's signing of an equal pay measure in the 1960s; our nation has never signed the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women; and most certainly the many efforts in Congress and state legislatures to single out restrictions in health care for women must be taken into account. Senator Howard Smith only put "sex" into the 1964 Civil Rights Act with the expectation that that would kill it.
In addition to the already cited, sheroic women have long fought the battle and we must continue. We must not forget women such as Felisa Rincon, the first woman mayor of San Juan; Wyoming Governor Nellie Taylor Ross, the first female governor; Frances Perkins the first female cabinet member; Shirley Chisholm, the first African American Congresswoman and candidate for president; and on and on far too many to list.
We must get past the modifier of "the first" (There will always be a first but these women must be recognized for more than that.) and "the only" woman/female before parity is achieved. It will be a great day when all, men and women, can be judged on performance. Ability does not depend on gender.
Geraldine Ferraro, the first Vice-Presidential candidate of a major political party said it well: " Every father is diminished when his daughter is denied a fair chance Every son is a victim when his mother is denied fair play. But when we lower barriers, open doors and free women to reach wherever their dreams will take them, our talents are multiplied, and our country is stronger."
We can relax only when gender is no longer an issue. Obviously we have not reached that point when the excitement regarding Hillary Clinton's presumed presidential candidacy always revolves around the idea of being the first female president of this nation as much as it does regarding her political stands.
The story is unending. In today's political climate we women and those men secure enough not to be threatened by equality would do well to heed the words of Margaret Sanger, the major instigator in freeing women of near perpetual pregnancy: "Though many disputed barricades have been leaped you can never sit back smugly content, believing that victory is forever yours. There is always the threat of it's being snatched from you. All freedom must be safeguarded and held."