Recording veterans' stories
When the American suffrage movement won women’s right to vote on Aug. 26, 1920, “feminism”— which is what the women’s rights movement had begun to call itself in 1911 — went into a kind of eclipse.
Not that issues and activists were lacking. The Equal Rights Amendment to the Constitution (still not passed) was introduced in Congress in 1925 and every year thereafter for decades. Women continued their steady march into the workforce, starting businesses, joining unions, some few even running for public office, and, after Pearl Harbor, enlisting in the uniformed military.
All the while women were actively engaged in productive employment, they lived without statutory rights to equal pay, equal protection against layoffs, and bank and mortgage credit, which could be (and most often was) denied women unless a male family member agreed to co-sign or sign on their behalf.
When, in the 1960s, my generation found that the vote did not guarantee equal access to jobs, elected office or fair treatment in the courts, we called ourselves “uppity women” and returned to the streets, the courts, the air waves and the ballot box to produce feminism’s second wave, this time not only for women’s civil rights, but also calling for women’s economic and political equality with men.
What is the future of feminism? Since the 1960s, two generations of American youth have grown up sure of their rights, with more sharing of roles. It is tempting to believe that because “sexism” is now as well understood as racism, feminism has achieved its goals.
But in a jobs-challenged environment, there is new urgency for bringing families out of the poverty and despair that contribute to domestic violence — and for young people of both sexes to recommit to women’s reproductive rights, the bedrock of women’s gains.
After women won the vote in 1920, the authors of history books published in the ’20s, ’30s and ’50s conveniently forgot to mention the Women’s Rights Movement. They paired it with Prohibition as a kind of sideshow of the 1920s. And so two generations of girls (and boys) grew up ignorant of feminism’s leaders, its strategies, its hopes and its dreams for American women.
Forgetting won’t happen again. Certainly not in Orlando/Winter Park, thanks to a Celebration of Feminism at Rollins College on Friday, Oct. 28, and Saturday, Oct. 29, featuring second-wave icons Gloria Steinem, who founded “Ms. Magazine”; Kate Millett, who wrote the 1970s blockbuster “Sexual Politics”; Patricia Schroeder, former congresswoman and first female to run for president; Terry O’Neill, national president of the National Organization for Women; and two of NOW’s founders in 1966: Muriel Fox, a Rollins alumna, and Jacqui Ceballos.
The celebration was proposed to Rollins by Veteran Feminists of America, a national organization dedicated to remembering, recording and passing feminism’s torch to younger women (www.vfa.us). For the past six months, Rollins students have teamed with individual veteran feminists to record their stories.
On Oct. 28-29, they will meet those veteran feminists for the first time. Tickets and information are available by contacting Judith Kaplan at [email protected].
In addition, the Winter Park Institute at Rollins College features a number of free events in late October featuring various feminists and authors, including Gloria Steinem. For more information about these free events, visit www.rollins.edu/wpi
Sheila Tobias is vice president of Veteran Feminists of America and the author of “Faces of Feminism: An Activist’s Reflections on the Women’s Movement”.