This month New York celebrated the 100th anniversary of women getting the right to vote. It happened in New York in 1917, three years before the Nineteenth Amendment was ratified, which gave all the women in the country suffrage. On the night of November 6th, a celebration of this historic event was held at The Palace Theater in Syracuse. It was a multi-media event. A friend of mine, Renee-Noelle Felice, who often dresses in costumes of women of the past, was there to greet people dressed as Matilda Joslyn Gage and being her “living history” representative. Large posters with Women’s Rights historical information were prominently displayed. Colleen Pilcher, the only paid employee at the Gage House, was there with books and other memorabilia from the Gage House Book Store. (At the bookstore, most products are sold to women for $.79 on the dollar while men have to pay full price. This is a clever way to make the point that women STILL only earn on average this same ration when it comes to wages for men versus women.)
My friend Colleen Kattau, a favorite singer and songwriter of mine, was also there. She entertained the crowd before the movie by singing some suffragist songs as well as a wonderful new song she has composed that is about Matilda Joslyn Gage.
I was invited to “table” in the lobby for a unique organization to which I belong and of which I am now the president. We call ourselves, appropriately, Women Transcending Boundaries. That is because we have members of most faith groups and many different cultures. The organization started right after 9/11 when a local woman, Betsy Wiggins, called up a nearby mosque and asked if she could speak to a Muslim woman, as she did not know much about Islam and wanted to learn more about it. This is how she met Danya Wellman, an American-Muslim woman. They met over coffee at Betsy’s home and talked for hours. They came back the next day and continued the conversation. They soon realized that there were probably many other women who would be interested in the conversations they were having. That is how the organization began. We are a group of women from assorted backgrounds who seek to find common ground. Currently, I have vice presidents that are Christian, Mormon and Muslim. But Jewish, Baha’i, Unitarian-Universalist, Hindu, Buddhist, Quaker, Catholic and many other faith groups are represented—including Pagans and agnostics. We learn from each other through programs, and dialoguing with each other. We also have a terrific book group for which our choices of books deal with different religions and cultures, refugees, immigrants and social issues. We collaborate with schools, civic groups, businesses and governmental entities. We do many projects in the community, often including working with immigrants. Literacy is a main focus as well. A wonderful sewing program has been in place for several years for refugees. At the end of their training, they are given a used sewing machine. Scholarships, International Dinners, and inter-religious events of all kinds are included in our agenda. This year, instead of going to our usual meeting place for our monthly meetings, we are often going to places to have dialogues with people of different cultures, religions or ages. We have already had a wonderful evening of “Dinner and Dialogue” at the Turkish center’s CNY RISE.
We are excited about our next meeting event to be held at the Gage House where we will be dialogueing with the girls of the Girl Ambassadors program. See a slide show of their activities at http://www.matildajoslyngage.org/about-the-center/girlambassadorsforhumanrights/. Drawing on the life and legacy of Matilda Joslyn Gage, the Gage Foundation Girl Ambassadors for Human Rights Program inspires and empowers young women to become agents of change on the local, national, and global stage. High school-aged girls 15-18 years old, who are interested in social justice, are encouraged to apply. The Gage Foundation Girl Ambassadors for Human Rights Program is a comp
After the opening events at The Palace Theater, the movie “Suffragette” was shown. It starred Meryl Streep, though her role in the film was rather small. She plays Emmeline Pankhurst, a British Suffragette leader. Pankhurst was widely criticized for her militant tactics, and historians disagree about their effectiveness, but her work is recognized as a crucial element in achieving women’s suffrage in Britain. In 1999 Time named Pankhurst as one of the 100 Most Important People of the 20th Century. They stated that “she shaped an idea of women for our time; she shook society into a new pattern from which there could be no going back”.
“Suffragette” is an excellent movie. It is a 2015 British historical period drama about women’s suffrage in the United Kingdom. It is directed by Sarah Gavron and written by Abit Morgan. The stars of the film besides Streep, include Carey Mulligan, Helena Bonham Carter, Brendan Gleeson, Anne-Marie Duff, and Ben Whishaw. I had seen the movie shortly after it came out. I enjoyed it even more seeing it for a second time. It told the story of the Suffragettes in England who had grown tired of being polite and being ignored. They grew more violent to get attention. This amounted to destruction of property (windows, mailboxes and other minor damage) but not bodily harm to anyone. That did not forestall the police to handle them gently. They endured vocal and physical harassment, beatings, terrible prison conditions and forced feedings when they attempted hunger strikes.
I feel it is so important for our younger generation to see this and other films like it and to learn the history of what women endured in order to achieve the right to vote and, later, many other rights that most women now take for granted.
I am grateful to Governor Andrew Cuomo who kicked off the New York State Women’s Suffrage 100th Anniversary Commemoration Commission, which will be responsible for a series of statewide programs that celebrate women’s suffrage in New York State. A rally sponsored by the City Council Women’s Caucus and the NYC Women Vote 100 Coalition was held on the steps of City Hall in New York City was part of the celebration. They called on females to run for public office in large numbers. To celebrate the historic day, the City Council issued a proclamation declaring Nov. 6 as Women’s Vote Day. They paid tribute to pioneers in the women’s suffrage movement. Although Matilda Joslyn Gage was probably not named, we know now how much we owe to her and the activists from the 1800’s in Upstate New York.
New Zealand was the first country to achieve women’s suffrage. Check out New Zealand’s Women’s Rights March here: http://www.radionz.co.nz/news/national/322798/nz-leads-marches-for-women%27s-rights