Coming up on Aug. 26, I am reminded of 30 years ago. In 1974 the Wisconsin Commission on the Status of Women inaugurated a series of regional conferences to examine the status of the homemaker, and Oakland resident Tish Sommers coined the term “displaced homemaker” to describe the “middle-aged woman forcibly exiled” from her role as wife and mother, struggling to find a place in the job market. The Mexican American Women’s Association was founded. A study by Cherokee/Choctaw physician Constance Uri exposed widespread use of sterilization of Native American women and led to the 1977 revision of DHEW’s guidelines on sterilization. Congresswoman Bella Abzug’s bill to designate Aug. 26 Women’s Equality Day in honor of the adoption of the Suffrage Amendment became law. The Civil Rights Act was amended to prohibit sex discrimination in housing financing, sale or rental or in provision of brokerage services. The Equal Credit Opportunity Act became law after Abzug, Margaret Heckler and Lenor Sullivan fought for it in the House; later, “Battling Bella” led a delegation of women members of Congress to protest unsatisfactory implementation regulations, and they were revised. The first woman state governor to be elected in her own right—Ella Grasso—was elected governor of Connecticut. I remember well all of these events and more that year, as well as defeats and losses of women’s lives and careers.
Aug. 26 is Women’s Equality Day, a special opportunity to pay tribute to the many women who helped pave the way for women’s suffrage. It is also a good time to reflect on our progress over the years and recommit ourselves for the future. “The right is ours. Have it, we must. Use it, we will.” Elizabeth Cady Stanton, one of America’s greatest pioneers for women’s rights, delivered these words at the first women’s convention in Seneca Falls, New York, in 1848. From this convention to the election of Jeannette Rankin to Congress in 1916 and the eventual certification of the 19th Amendment on Aug. 26, 1920, women and men fought together for the right of all women to vote in America. Stanton’s words—“Use it, we will”—should serve as a reminder to all women of the importance of their vote. Vital issues face our nation, and women’s votes count. The assault weapons ban should be renewed. All families should be able to obtain basic health care coverage and to afford decent housing. The right to vote was a hard-fought achievement for women in the United States, and it is our responsibility to use it. On this special day, as the many achievements of women in this country throughout history are reflected upon and enjoyed, let us make sure that our voices are heard by exercising the most fundamental right a U.S. citizen can possess—the right to vote. Celebrate Women’s Equality Day by registering to vote and by voting. Easy mail-in voter-registration postage-paid forms are available at Berkeley’s senior centers and public libraries. (See www.ci.berkeley.ca.us/elections/).
Helen Rippier Wheeler is a feminist and long-time Berkeley resident who has taught Women Studies. Her latest book publication is A Guide To The Literature of Women and Aging. In 1984 she was a visiting scholar in Women Studies in Japan. She has taught in the Berkeley Adult School Older Adults Program and produced programs such as the forthcoming March 2005 Women’s History Month celebration at the North Berkeley Senior Center.