I consider it a great privilege that in my short lifetime I have seen women in high profile leadership roles across this country. It is not lost on me, however, that many women fought for basic human rights for women long before I was born. Some died before seeing their dreams come to fruition.
We celebrate the 98th anniversary of the 19th amendment on August 26, a day designated in 1973 to be “Women’s Equality Day.” Most women know immediately the importance of that amendment: it gave us the right to vote. Before that, women died, were arrested and were harassed in their efforts to secure our right to be participants in democracy.
When we read about these women— women like Susan B. Anthony, Ida B. Wells, Elizabeth Cady Stanton or Mary Newbury Adams— who dedicated their lives to rights we take for granted, we tend to forget that they were once young too. They had their youthful, uncertain years, but they never stopped pursuing what they believed was right.
I remember in my first class of my first year of college, my professor addressed our primarily female-filled classroom. He reflected on the last 30 years of progress in our country, pointing out all the things women had accomplished. Then he challenged us with the question, “In your 30-year career, what will you change?”
I’ve never forgotten those words. They have motivated me to shoot for things I didn’t think I was capable of, and to work to overcome things that I feared.
Equality for women has come a long way since the passing of the 19th amendment, and since the installment of Women’s Equality Day. This year, an overwhelming number of women across this country have filed for various political offices. It is a beautiful thing to see women stepping up to lead our country.
We still have much to work on, though. Women still fight for equal pay for equal work, equal respect, basic maternity leave benefits and much more. I encourage you today, while appreciating the past, to honor those women by determining to change the future. It doesn’t matter that we’re young, “just college kids” or may face feelings of inadequacy. We, like those before us, can start leaving our marks on the world wherever we are and whenever we want.
While I think every responsible citizen should maintain an activist’s mindset, I believe we as women owe it to our foremothers to do so. Furthermore, we owe it to ourselves. We should all focus on the inequalities women still face, and fight to eradicate them. No matter what other pursuits we choose, we should advocate for female equality.
No matter how many setbacks we face, how many fears we have or how massive the obstacle is, we must persevere in our efforts to better the future. That is the greatest tribute we can give to the women who fought to make this day possible.