My mother-in-law, Evelyn Cleo Larson Owen, will celebrate her 97th birthday on March 10, 2017. When she was born, women did not have the right to vote.
The 19th Amendment, giving women the right to vote, was ratified on Aug. 18, 1920. It took over 70 years, from 1848 when the women’s rights movement launched on a national level, until 1920.
On Nov. 2, 1920, more than eight million women across the US voted for the first time. It took over 60 years for the remaining 12 states to ratify the 19th Amendment. Mississippi was the last to do so, on March 22, 1984.
When you look at your elected officials in Delaware County, you can see the impact the women’s rights movement has had. Delaware County boasts six female elected officials, and many more women serve in executive and leadership positions.
When we think about our community today, we must appreciate the efforts of yesterday.
March is Women’s History Month. It was first introduced as a week (March 2-8) in 1980.
On March 16, 1987 President Ronald Reagan proclaimed March as National Women’s History Month. I am going to quote President Reagan because I cannot say it better. In speaking of the contributions of women past and present, he said:
“Those achievements span the wide range of human endeavor. They have not been attained without the quiet courage and sacrifice of millions of women, some famed, most not. Women have established themselves in business and the professions, and today women outnumber men as undergraduates at our colleges and universities. Women have fought for moral and social reform and have taken part in, and led, many great social and political movements of our land. Women have founded many of our philanthropic, cultural, educational, and charitable institutions.
“Women have served our Nation with valor and distinction during wartime, nursing the wounded, piloting airplanes, performing vital jobs in defense plants. Women have forged a place for themselves in public life, serving on the Supreme Court, in the Congress, and in Cabinet posts; becoming Ambassadors; and holding Federal Executive posts that affect the lives of every citizen.
“Most importantly, as women take part in the world of work, they also continue to embrace and nurture the family as they have always done. All Americans can be truly grateful for the role of women as the heart of the family and for their every accomplishment today and throughout our history.”
On Thursday I had the opportunity to hear from a woman who made history. Representative Martha McSally, (Arizona, 2nd District) Ret. Col. USAF, one of the first American women to fly in combat in the 90s.
Ranked as the top female Air Force pilot, Lt. Col. McSally was among the first women trained by the Air Force as a fighter pilot. During a 1995-96 tour of duty in Kuwait, she became the first woman in military history to fly a combat sortie in a fighter aircraft. She flew more than 100 combat hours over Iraq, and served as a flight commander and trainer of combat pilots.
Representative McSally won appointment to the United States Air Force Academy in 1984 and says she became a pilot “because they told me I couldn’t.”
In 2001, in what could be considered a death knell for her military career, the then Major McSally filed a lawsuit against the US Department of Defense, asserting certain regulations required her to send the message that she believed women are subservient to men.
Those regulations included military policies requiring servicewomen stationed in Saudi Arabia to wear the body covering abaya when travelling off base. They required servicewomen to sit in the back of vehicles, and at all times servicewomen were required to have a male escort who had to claim the servicewoman as his wife, if asked.
In 2002, the Department of Defense rescinded the regulations. Today, Representative McSally continues to speak out about gender relations. And that’s what it takes. The work to shape our world, to make it a better place, never ends. Throughout all time, women have had and will continue to have a major impact in the world, in the country, in states, and yes — right here in Delaware County.
When I think of the rich history my mother-in-law has experienced firsthand, it’s simply amazing. As an educator and elected school board member, she did her part to enrich the world, and so do we all.
From elected officials, to teachers, to neighbors lending a helping hand, we all make our community what it is today, and I believe that’s pretty special.
Before closing, I would be remiss if I didn’t say happy birthday, Evelyn. You continue to make a difference in our lives every day.
Carol O’Brien is Delaware County Prosecutor.