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Women's Equality Day: Walking with suffragists and the ongoing efforts to achieve equality

A man (portrait photo)
Michael Watts, director, Civil Rights

"Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it."

-George Santayana, Spanish-American poet and philosopher

People celebrate Women’s Equality Day to honor the struggles and achievements of women and their allies in the long, hard battle for women’s right to vote in the United States. To secure this fundamental American freedom to vote, women did whatever they could to stand up and make their voices heard. For over 140 years they organized, held conferences, used civil disobedience tactics such as marching and picketing the White House and vigorously lobbying Congress, held hunger strikes and were arrested, beaten and committed to "sanitariums."

Why do we have a Women’s Equality Day? In 1971, Representative Bella Abzug set in motion the bill to propose a day of recognition for Women’s Equality Day. In 1973, Congress passed the bill into law. Aug. 26 was selected to commemorate the certification of the 19th Amendment, which granted women the right to vote in 1920.

However, it did not grant that right to all women: Black, Asian, indigenous and other communities of color were not included. It also left out women with disabilities and members of the LGBTQ+ communities. For millions of people, earning their full right to vote took many more years to achieve. The passage of the Civil Rights Act, Americans with Disabilities Act and a series of additional laws were needed to ensure that all women were given a vote in our country’s elections as citizens of the United States.

The Forest Service has a long connection to the women’s suffrage movement. Our first chief, Gifford Pinchot, and his wife, Cornelia Bryce Pinchot, supported women’s rights to vote. Before and after her marriage, Cornelia was active in women’s suffrage, the labor movement and politics. She encouraged women to take an active part in politics and have careers. She marched for women’s rights during the early 1900s and was supported by her friend, President Theodore Roosevelt.

On Aug. 26, 1970, the National Organization for Women organized a large-scale Women’s Strike for Equality. Across the political spectrum, women joined together to demand equal opportunities, highlighting the inequalities in women’s pay and education, as well as a need for better childcare. It was the largest protest for gender equality in U.S. history, drawing more than 100,000 women in more than 90 major cities and small towns nationwide. “A Short History of Women's Equality Day” notes that “Approximately 50,000 people marched in New York City, and some women took over the Statue of Liberty.”

The Forest Service values diversity and interdependence. Today, Women’s Equality Day signifies women’s continuing struggles to achieve full equality. Many of the issues raised in the 1970 strike are still in existence. The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted, yet again, the need for affordable childcare and has driven many women out of the workforce.

We recognize the unique perspective women bring to the table, and we also recognize that women often bear the burden of familial care when working from home. We strive to create an environment where every woman feels safe, accepted and proud to be a part of the Forest Service and where the efforts and accomplishments they put forth are acknowledged and recognized.

This week, in celebration of Women’s Equality Day, the Forest Service will host a “walk with suffragists fighting for the vote” on Aug. 26. This virtual event is a chance to better understand the historical struggles of women. This presentation, covering over 20 historical women, fits nicely under this year’s Women’s Equality Day theme of “Reviving the Legacy: Women breaking boundaries.” At this event, you will hear about women such as Sojourner Truth, Marie Louise Bottineau Baldwin, Mabel Ping-Hua Lee, Wilhelmina Kekelaokalaninui Widemann Dowsett, Jovita Idár, Helen Keller, Fannie Lou Hamer and others. Their brave and selfless actions helped pave the way for women to gain the right to vote.

Please join us Aug. 26 for this virtual event to help employees celebrate Women’s Equality Day (internal link) from 9:30 a.m. to 11:00 a.m. Mountain time/11:30 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. Eastern.

"Real change, enduring change, happens one step at a time.”

-Ruth Bader Ginsberg


Link to PDF version of bulletin.