Tuesday, February 23, 2010

100 Years of Women's Suffrage in WA

The Highline Historical Society held a program last weekend featuring actress/historian Tames Alan. In her "Soldiers in Petticoats" lecture, Alan dressed in costume as a suffragette and reviewed the long and tortuous history of women's struggle to secure voting rights in the United States. Washington State was the fifth state to allow women to vote -- this was before the passage of the 19th Amendment. In fact, 2010 marks the centennial of women's suffrage in this state.

It was a fascinating program, and when Alan concluded her presentation, she opened it up to audience members. This is when it really hit home that we are living as part of an historic continuum, and that the struggle for women's rights is ongoing. There were at least a couple of audience members who had been born before the passage of the 19th Amendment. But even those born fifty years after women had gained the right to vote spoke of other forms of discrimination they had faced. Women talked about being forced to quit their jobs as flight attendants or school teachers as soon as they became pregnant (even though they were married). One lady recalled being required to get her husband's signature in order to get a credit card. Others recalled inequities in education and sports.

The program was followed by a reception honoring women who hold elected office today. State Senator Karen Keiser (33rd District), SeaTac Mayor Terry Anderson, SeaTac councilmembers Mia Gregerson and Pam Fernald, and former Burien Mayor Kitty Milne were on-hand to talk about their experiences as public servants. Senator Keiser noted that there are fewer women in the state legislature today than when she first went to Olympia. She reiterated the plea made by Tames Alan at the conclusion of the formal presentation: that audience members make sure to share their personal stories with the youngsters in their lives, so that the generation growing up now can appreciate that history is not something merely relegated to history books, but ongoing and consequential.

Submitted by Barbara McMichael, SoCoCulture administrator

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