In Awe of America’s Suffrage Movement
August 2020 Issue
by Meredith M. Deal Photography (above) by Library of Congress
Photography (below) by Mike Force Photography
We gathered women from our area to answer five all-time empowering questions on the 19th Amendment, which declared on August 26, 1920 America’s women the right to vote. We honor those who led the way in one of the mightiest of endeavors in US History and look to the next 100 years of women continuing in leadership roles in the pursuit of equality.
REV. BRENDA IGLEHART
Rev. Brenda L. Iglehart is pastor at First African Baptist Church, Saint Simons Island. Her passion for community ministry is reflected in her zeal for social justice, mission outreach, and Christian education spanning more than 50 years. Brenda relaxes with her crochet projects and loves spending time with her 15 grandchildren.
DR. VALERIE HEPBURN
Dr. Valerie Hepburn is a recently retired professor and public administrator. She remains a life-long educator and enjoys policy work that is focused on community capacity, building, health and social issues. An avid sports fan who adores her mate, David Hayes, and their canine companion, Sydney. Valerie’s one regret in life is that she never became Commissioner of Baseball.
Sharon Bolin spent her professional career as a Nurse Educator and Dean of a College of Nursing. She became a Rotarian in 1988 and is the first woman in two clubs: Oak Park, IL, and 1990 on St. Simons Island. In her retirement, she continues her alterations business, an outgrowth of a sewing hobby that has become a marketable skill. Her two dog fur kids, Maggie and Muffin, allow her to share their home.
Heather Heath is the Executive Director of Golden Isles Arts & Humanities since 1999. She has also spent most of her life in the theatre as an actor and director and her portrayal of actress and abolitionist Fanny Kemble has been admired by many. Heather is also the director of the Golden Isles Penguin Project, which gives young people with special needs the opportunity to be in the spotlight. She loves to watch old movies, loves her husband Bryan Thompson and she always appreciates peanut butter M&Ms.
A former president of the Glynn County Bar Association, Linda Muir is an attorney with The Saylor Law Firm LLP. Concerned about the early literacy of children, she founded The Children’s Reading Foundation of Georgia, Inc. in 2019, and has led the Rotary Club of Saint Simons Island Reading Rockets initiative for 10 years. She is a past president of The Coastal Symphony of Georgia. Since learning in 1998 that her grandmother was the first woman to vote in her county in Tennessee, Linda has been keenly interested in Women’s Suffrage. She’s served on many organizations boards serving women and girls. She and husband Bob, have two daughters and four grandchildren.
It’s been a mere 100 years since women received the right to vote.
What do you want women today, especially young women, to remember
in regard to what the Suffragists did for moving women forward?
Brenda: Young women need to remember that we are more effective when we confront oppression and injustice as a united force.
Linda: I want women today to know that their right to vote is precious and hard-won. The vote is our voice and our power to effect change in our lives about the things that matter to us most. Our foremothers should be celebrated as heroes. It took them 72 years, from 1848 to 1920, of fighting to get women’s right to vote written into the U.S. Constitution. It took that long because men, and some women, did not want women to have political power and they did not want change. That is the difficult truth. The 19th Amendment passed by one vote (Tennessee), the last state it could have been ratified to become a constitutional amendment. When we vote we honor those who came before us, speak up for ourselves and protect generations to come.
Over the last 100 years, what changes for American women have made the biggest impact on your life?
Brenda: As a result of legislation against discrimination in the workplace, I am grateful to have been the beneficiary of numerous opportunities for employment in positions previously reserved for males.
Heather: I was fortunate to grow up being told I could be or do anything I set my mind to, and I think mentally, that opportunity, certainly would not have been if not for the women’s movement which started with the Suffragists. Dispelling the myth that “a woman’s place is in the home” had perhaps the biggest impact, not that it is not honorable, but that we have choices.
Linda: The passage of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 is probably the change in the last 100 years that has most impacted my life. Title VII as enacted prohibits discrimination in employment on the basis of “race, color, religion, sex and national origin.” “Sex” was inserted by amendment to the original bill to ensure that Title VII would fail. Title VII passed by one vote. That cracked the door open for women to be able to fully participate in American life. Lawsuits to enforce Title VII were necessary to prohibit discrimination against women in the practice of law, as well as the other professions and areas of employment. But for that, I probably would not have become a lawyer because law schools routinely did not accept women, and law firms did not hire women until Title VII was enforced through the courts.
Sharon: This is personal for me because both my grandmother and mother worked all their adult lives and were personal role models throughout my growing years. Because of their examples, it never occurred to me, until I became an adult, that women were not considered just as valuable and important as members of society as men.
Valerie: My work in public policy began in the late 1970s, advocating to secure passage of the Equal Rights (28th) Amendment. It was an uphill battle, and we lost the votes in Georgia’s male-dominated state House and Senate. Coincidentally, Georgia was the first state to vote against the 19th Amendment, ratifying it only in 1970. Fortunately, for my education and career, I came of age when women did not have to be subservient or second class. I had wonderful mentors who were tireless, trail blazers for equality. Women are now the majority of undergraduate/graduate students and the largest voting group in America.
Who in the historic American Women’s Suffrage Movement do you most relate to or respect?
Brenda: I admire and respect Ida B. Wells, not only for her tenacity and her grit, but for her brilliant intellect. She was an extraordinary journalist, a trailblazer and relentless advocate for the inclusion of black women in both the Suffrage and the Civil Rights movements.
Heather: Dr. Mary Edwards Walker for being the first female US Army surgeon and only woman to receive the Medal of Honor, not to mention forgoing the confines of Victorian dress and wearing trousers. Helen Keller is another high on my list. She was taught the tools to be able to communicate and share her remarkable mind, and she not only advocated for the physically or mentally challenged, but she was a strong advocate and participant in the Suffrage movement.
Linda: Elizabeth Cady Stanton wrote the Declaration of Sentiments and its Resolutions, convened the first women’s rights convention in Seneca Falls in 1848, and was the first to call for suffrage for all women. It was like a stone on the water rippling for 72 years until thousands more women followed her lead. For her vision, courage, tenacity, power of persuasion and leadership, I place her above the others as the Suffragist whom I most admire and respect.
Sharon: You may be surprised when I say there was a man for whom I have great respect: Harry Burn, who was the youngest member of the Tennessee legislature in 1920. It was he who cast the deciding vote allowing that state to become the 36th, and final state needed to support the 19th amendment to the Constitution. Burn’s vote was a surprise—a last-minute reversal, which demonstrated his open mindedness.
The 19th Amendment was written in the context as follows: “Voting shall not be denied, or abridged, on account of sex…,” so why is it so important for women to vote? What does the women’s vote mean to most elections today?
Brenda: The power of the collective vote is only effective if women continue to vote and elect representatives who are advocates for justice and equality. Neglect that privilege and 100 years of progress can be gradually eroded by adverse legislation.
Heather: We have a voice and we have the right through our vote to make a difference for our community, our state, and our country. We also need to find those women, like those who stepped up 100 years ago, who are willing to lead and serve in public office.
Valerie:Women now constitute the majority of the population (51%), the largest percentage of voters (53%), and the majority of college-educated workers (50.2%). Yet, we still earn only 75% of the wages of our male peers. Women hold 26% (a record) of U.S. Senate seats, and only 23% of U.S. House seats. Only 9 women serve as Governors of our 50 states, and 7% of Fortune 500 companies are led by women. Unlike most industrialized nations, we have never had a woman president or vice-president. Regardless of political persuasion, women need to use our franchise to secure the future of this fragile nation.
Looking ahead to the next 100 years,
what do you hope women will be able to accomplish?
Linda: I hope women will be among the leaders to mitigate and reverse climate change and be among the leaders for disarmament and the removal of nuclear war as an option. I hope women will be among the leaders building a bright future, one that will include quality education, accessible, affordable health care, a livable wage, a clean and safe environment, peace and prosperity and mutual respect among people throughout all parts of our society for generations to come.
Sharon: I would hope 100 years from now, equality of talent will be available to all, regardless of any descriptors placed on a person. Women’s role in society would no longer be a topic of discussion—their contributions in every way will simply be a matter of undisputed fact.
Valerie: True equality for women and men of every color, experience and lineage, removing discrimination and bias in access, equity, participation and legal rights across education, the economy, health, community structures and the justice system. As women assume more leadership roles at every level and sector in our society, we will infuse integrity, reduce conflict, increase compassion, promote consensus and distribute prosperity.