Struggle for Women's Equality... As I See It

by Margaret Watson

The following article was published August 26, 2014, in the WORCESTER TELEGRAM. Reprinted with permission. Margaret Watson is a member of the WWHP Steering Committee.

Worcester Mayor Joseph M. Petty has proclaimed today, August 26, as Women's Equality Day. On this date in 1920, the Nineteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution was officially ratified, giving women the right to vote.

In 1971, Congress designated August 26 as Women's Equality Day to celebrate our progress and acknowledge our continuing struggle for equal rights for all.

The recognition is entirely fitting. The first national Woman's Rights Convention was held in Worcester in 1850. Today the Worcester Women's History Project, the League of Women Voters of the Worcester Area, and the City Manager's Advisory Committee continue to promote the cause of equality for women.

America has seen much progress in establishing equal rights for women. In 1850 women, with a few exceptions, were not permitted to manage their own finances, attend colleges for men, or make their voices heard in the voting process. They were legally under the "guardianship" of their father, husband, or another male relative.

In the twentieth century women were given positions in the United States Cabinet and on the Supreme Court. Women are now represented in our state and national legislatures. Currently 20 women are members of the United States Senate, one of them from Massachusetts.

Women are also present in the professions, in business, in college administrations, on police and fire-fighting forces, in town government and in the arts.

At the same time, women have fought for equality for others. In the nineteenth century many suffragists were also abolitionists.

The struggle for equality still continues, however, especially in business and the workforce. Women make a salary of about 77 percent of what men earn for the same job. This inequality affects a woman for her entire life, as her pension in old age will be 23 percent lower than that of her male counterpart.

The "glass ceiling" — while metaphoric — is very real in many companies. An overwhelming majority of CEOs are male, while 70 percent of minimum-wage earners are women.

We also need to take a long look at coverage provided for women's health, which is more limited than coverage pro-vided for men. Today, thanks to the work of many researchers, including Gregory Pincus and M.C. Chang of the Worcester Foundation, women have more control over their own bodies, but many must subsidize the costs personally.

Equality in the health area is important for all women to realize their potential and make contributions to our communities.

While we celebrate Women's Equality Day on August 26, we need to support the principles of equality all year.

First, we should become educated in current issues and exercise our right to vote. The franchise was dearly won, and by absenting ourselves from the polls, we fail those who fought hard for our access to the ballot box, and we fail those who need our voices to be heard.

We should also encourage and support young women who wish to pursue training and education befitting their talents. Many positions in our towns and organizations remain vacant because so few women are willing to serve.

For those who have the time, energy, and commitment, municipal town committees and local boards would welcome input from interested new members.

Finally, we should continue to support those who still seek equal rights in their communities. The quality of our own life is bound up in the quality of the whole society.

No woman is an island.

Today we take pride in our city for being at the forefront of the fight for equality. We learn best from history when we listen to the voices raised for just causes, women such as Lucy Stone from West Brookfield, Zara CiscoeBrough of Grafton, and others whose faces look down upon us from the walls of Mechanics Hall. These lessons can help us find our own voices when they are needed.

The Worcester Women's History Project joins the celebration of our history, for according to our mission statement we emphasize "the pursuit of equality and justice, the discovery of connections between the past and present to benefit the future, and the research, documentation, and celebration of women's history."

Let us rejoice in our progress on this day, but let us also be mindful of the work that yet needs to be done and continue to pursue equality for ourselves and for all.

Margaret Watson is a member of the Worcester Women's History Project and its Steering Committee, and was formerly Dean of Academic Affairs and Professor of Humanities at Quinsigamond Community College.

Published Date: 
August 26, 2014