Iowa State celebrates Women's Equality Day
It’s inherent to a modern democracy — the right to vote.
However, less than 100 years ago, women weren’t granted the ability to cast their ballot. That is, until August 26, 1920.
Women’s Equality Day, which celebrates the ratification of the 19th Amendment and marks the anniversary of the right granted to women to vote, stands as both remembrance and recognition of the glass ceiling women have broken and are continuing to break.
One of the women recognized in remembrance of the the 19th Amendment is Carrie Chapman Catt, a suffragist involved in the final push to gain approval of the ratification by U.S. Congress.
Catt, who many may recognize as the namesake of Carrie Chapman Catt Hall, was an 1880 graduate at Iowa State. She devoted 33 years of her life to the women’s suffrage movement and founded the League of Women Voters.
Today, The Carrie Chapman Catt Center for Women and Politics, the Margaret Sloss Women’s Center, Women’s and Gender Studies program and the League of Women Voters of Ames and Story County will host an event commemorating the achievement.
Kristine Perkins, program coordinator at the Catt Center, said, “It's just a fun event that's held typically the first week of school, and it's kind of a nice welcome back.”
She said she thinks it’s important for students to realize that [the women’s right to vote] is something to be celebrated because it hasn’t always been that way.
The area in front of Catt Hall will be reserved for the celebrations, which will take place from 10 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. at the Catt Hall Plaza of Heroines.
There will be free cookies and lemonade for passersby who register to vote with the League of Women Voters and for those who participate in the “Corn Poll,” which will allow those who take part to let the Catt Center know which issues they are voting on in the upcoming presidential election.
“In addition to celebrating Women's Equality Day, we always like to get more students registered to vote,” Perkins said. “So, that's kind of our big push for people to stop by because it's important to be active participants in the electoral process.”
Lorraine Acker, director of the Margaret Sloss Women’s Center, also touched on the importance of students recognizing issues impacting women on a national level, tying in that because it’s an election year, raising awareness becomes even more critical.
“The goal this year [is] we’re really trying to get people more informed and aware of what the issues are,” Acker said.
Apart from the “Corn Poll” and voter registration, students, faculty and staff are also invited to attend a panel called “Shattering the Glass Ceiling: Challenges and Victories for Women in Politics.”
Acker is a panelist for the discussion, along with other influential women across campus including Amy Bix, professor of history, Amber Manning-Ouellette, lecturer in the Leadership Studies Program, and Kelly Winfrey, assistant professor in the Greenlee School of Journalism.
“[We’re] going to be talking, essentially, about shattering the glass ceiling, looking at the role of women within the suffragist movement, voting record, [and] really trying to get young women thinking about different leadership opportunities,” Acker said.
The panel will be moderated by Ann Oberhauser, director of Women’s and Gender Studies Program and professor of sociology. It will be hosted from noon to 1 p.m. in 302 Catt Hall.
“I’m really looking forward to just engaging in the audience and the students and just the conversation about the suffragist movement in general,” Acker said. “I don’t really get to engage with students in that way very often, so I always look forward to seeing what their thoughts are about the political climate, about where they believe their positionality is, not only on campus, but within the community.”
Dianne Bystrom, director of the Carrie Catt Chapman Center for Women and Politics, mentioned a few different key women who have had a big influence on women’s right to vote and also in politics in general.
Bystrom started with a few key women’s suffrage activists, who included Alice Paul, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony and Carrie Chapman Catt.
“Carrie Chapman Catt was the president of the American Women’s Suffrage Association,” Bystrom said. “She was president of the association twice, first in 1905 and a second time from 1915 through the ratification of the amendment in 1920. She put together what she called ‘The Winning Plan,’ which basically was working with Congress and the president for a national amendment, and also putting pressure on the Congress and the president by working with the large states that ratified suffrage for their states, the key one being New York State in 1917.”
Next, Bystrom brought up another key figure.
“We had our first woman, Jeanette Rankin, elected to Congress,” Bystrom said. “She actually served in Congress before women even had the right to vote.”
Regarding Congress, Bystrom said that over time we still have a long way to go, adding that women currently only comprise about 19.4 percent of the U.S. Congress.
“For the state of Iowa, we just elected our first woman to Congress in 2014 with Republican Joni Ernst,” Bystrom said. “There’s research that shows that once you elect your first woman to be governor or to the Congress, there’s a multiplier effect that actually includes women from both political parties.”
Bystrom also brought up Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton recently making history in politics.
“Definitely having the first woman nominated for a major political party is definitely a big milestone that was reached this year,” Bystrom said.
Bystrom said that these women and many others play a key role in future women in politics.
“Studies show that once you have women breaking through barriers it certainly has a role-model effect with other women believing that they can be elected,” Bystrom said. “I really feel like it will make young girls, whether they are Democratic, Republican or Independent, feel like they can do this as well.”
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