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Women's History Month reflections: Kathryn Dawson, Leah Anderson

Portrait of Kathryn Dawson horseback.
Kathryn Dawson is in the Region 6 Office of Communications and Community Engagement

To mark the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment, Inside the Forest Service has asked women across the agency to share their reflections about that landmark legislation. This is the second in the series.

Kathryn Dawson

Growing up, it was kind of hard for me to relate and to identify with the pioneers of the women’s suffrage movement. The women and men in my history books certainly didn’t look like me, and their black-and-white and sepia-toned faces seemed like distant mementos from a long-ago time and faraway place.  

But as I’ve grown as a person, I’ve come to discover that these people, these ladies of liberty, are more than just names on a page. They were living, breathing human beings, with complex lives, passions and emotions fighting for what they thought was right against longshot odds in a time and place where such opinions could be unpopular and dangerous. 

And that’s never an easy or comfortable road to walk.

So I have a newfound respect for the women who convinced a nation that they should have the right to vote. The vulnerability of being stuck in a system where you’re dependent on others to both recognize and do the right thing, combined with the loneliness of being among the first to blaze a trail, makes these women serve as beacons of light and, for me, they are the embodiment of the American ideal.

They fought for what was right and it was neither easy nor quick, but at the end of the day what was once a hotly debated and contentious social issue is now just a settled fact, and part of both Women’s and American history.

And that’s what gives me hope for the future.

Leah Anderson

Leah Anderson takes a selfie with her daughters.
Leah Anderson is a public affairs specialist in Region 9

Imagining a time when women did not have the right to vote, had very few educational opportunities and dismal options for jobs seems unfathomable; however, as I reflect on the passing of the 19th Amendment, it is a reminder that this was a reality for women in the not so distant past. Considering the women who championed the movement, I am inspired by their perseverance, persistence, strength and, especially, foresight. The originators of the women’s suffrage movement never saw the bill passed but knew they had laid the groundwork for others to take up the cause. They constantly strived for women to have the right to vote so they could use it to gain other rights.

I see the opportunities afforded to me because of the right to vote reflected in my collegiate experience as well as my 18-year Forest Service career. I strive to share this gratitude with my daughters. I want them to have an awareness of the work, dedication and sacrifice of these pioneering women in order to fully appreciate the countless opportunities they enjoy. I take my daughters to the polls with me and talk to them about the election and the importance of exercising your right to vote no matter the outcome. As Susan B. Anthony said, “someone struggled for your right to vote. Use it.”

One day last June we caught a glimpse of the women’s suffrage movement in my home state of Wisconsin. Inside the Capitol Building in Madison was a display telling the story of women like Olympia Brown and Bella Case La Follette who advocated for the right to vote, the obstacles they faced, their perseverance, and eventually their success. I was pleased to learn that Wisconsin became the first state to ratify the 19th amendment on June 10, 1919.

In my reflections, I came across a quote that encapsulates the lasting impact of the 19th Amendment, “A century after the ratification of the 19th Amendment, women are still advocating for their rights. This activism would be impossible without the power of the vote that enables women to have a say in the democracy they live in.” –National Park Service