Women’s Suffrage Centennial Event Celebrates the Past, But There’s ‘Still a Long Way to Go’

On June 25, 1919, The 19th Amendment was ratified by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, giving women the right to vote for the first time in the country’s history. One hundred years later  to the date, the Women’s Suffrage Celebration Coalition of Massachusetts and the Greater Boston Women’s Vote Centennial held a kickoff celebration in the Great Hall at Faneuil Hall, where a dozen women spoke about the importance of empowering women and women of color to vote and run for office. The event was emceed by Boston Globe columnist Shirley Leung, and included performances by the Boston Children’s Chorus and the History at Play Troupe, which debuted their show, “How Long Must We Wait?”

“We have dreamt about this event for years and years and years,” said Fredie Kay, Founder and President of the Women’s Suffrage Celebration of Massachusetts. “It is a really big deal.”

Kay talked about the history of the women’s rights and how women in Massachusetts picketed in front of the state house for their right to vote.

Though there was much to celebrate about progress that has been made since 1919, a large theme of the event was that there is still more work to do, as many inequalities still remain when it comes to voting.

Only 210 women have served in the Massachusetts legislature compared to over 20,000 men, according to MA Senate President Karen Spilka. “We still have a long way to go to reach full equality on Beacon Hill,” she said, but “the best is yet to come.”

Cheryl Clyburn Crawford, Exectutive Director of MassVOTE, talked about inequalities that women of color faced even after women were granted the right to vote. She said that discriminatory practices prevented African-Americans from voting, and today, women’s control of their bodies still remains in question. Women are still “fighting for the same right to determine our destinies,” she said. “Democracy should not be this hard.”

Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito said she feels an “enormous responsibility to help women hold positions of leadership” in their communities, local governments, and businesses. “We will not move back in this Commonwealth; we will only work top move forward,” Polito said.

She said this effort is about women helping each other wherever they can, whether It be at the grocery store or the park, as women bring all sorts of perspectives to the world as mothers, business owners, or government leaders. Polito also talked about some of her current work that pertains to empowering young women, which includes making sure that girls and people of color are engaging with STEM programs, as well as awareness programs surrounding sexual assault and domestic violence, as “healthy relationships are important,” Polito said.

Others thought that women should learn from the past as we look forward. Barbara Lee, President and Founder of the Barbara Lee Family Foundation, said that women should learn from the suffragettes, as they did not back down from their request for rights. They had courage and resilience, which Lee believes women need to have today. She said that since the first debate was broadcast, only five women have made it to the debate stage, but this time around, there will be a record total of six women running for president in 2020.

Mayor Marty Walsh was in Hawaii for the U.S. Conference of Mayors, so he created a video to play at the event with his remarks. Walsh thanked the organizations and elected officials that made this event possible, and said that he is committed to working to include everyone in voting, as well as closing the wage gap, which is deeper with women of color.

“My job is to support this fight in every way I can,” Walsh said.

Attorney General Maura Healey also talked about securing the right to vote for everyone who is eligible. “We are going to work so hard to make sure every vote is counted in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts,” she said. “Casting a ballot in this country is still too hard for too many,” she said.

She also spoke encouraging words to get women running for office, as it will inspire more young women to follow their dreams. “Seeing is believing,” she said. “This is how we change the world.”

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