In 1894, 26 years before women would get the right to vote, Susan B. Anthony remarked, “We shall someday be heeded, and when we shall have our amendment to the Constitution of the United States, everybody will think it was always so, just exactly as many young people believe that all the privileges, all the freedom, all the enjoyments which woman now possesses always were hers. They have no idea of how every single inch of ground that she stands upon today has been gained by the hard work of some little handful of women of the past.”
As a millennial woman, I have grown up in a time which woman could vote and hold elected office, work outside the home, and attend integrated schools. It would be easy for me to forget that women, like my grandmother born in 1933, grew up during decades in which those freedoms were not yet achieved.
Working at the state’s African American history museum, the Mosaic Templars Cultural Center, and serving on the Women’s Suffrage Centennial Commemoration Committee, I see firsthand how easy it is for us to boil down history to singular moments in time and forget the long struggle that led to momentous events like the passage of the 19th Amendment or the Voting Rights Act of 1965. We, as the public, want history to be uncomplicated. We want a simple narrative which has a beginning, middle, and end—a narrative that fits neatly into the box that sits on our shelf. I often tell our interns at the museum that history is the messiest thing you will ever encounter, but that if you can begin to learn about the past, that you will understand so much more about the present world that we live in.
In reflecting on Woman’s Equality Day today, I can’t help but be reminded of the many women who have fought and struggled so that I could have a seat at the table today. Women like Dolores Huerta who was instrumental in organizing migrant farm workers and in the creation of legislation to protect their rights. And women like Jo Ann Robinson and the Women’s Political Council of Montgomery, Alabama who had begun organizing for a city-wide bus boycott before the famous 1955 boycott which won Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. a Nobel Peace Prize.
It is stories like these and countless others which shine light on the important role those women have played not only in history, but in ensuring that women like me have a seat at the table. In her book, Lean In, Sheryl Sandberg asks the question, “What would you do if you weren’t afraid?” I can’t imagine women like Jo Ann Robinson, or Dolores Huerta or suffragettes like Ida B. Wells-Barnett, Mary Church Terrell, or Carrie Langston never felt afraid especially in light of the obstacles before them. Yet in spite of whatever fears they may have had, they knew that the work before them must be accomplished for themselves and their daughters to follow.
We are the dreams of our mothers, grandmothers, and the generations of women who came before us. We carry their legacy and continue it so that one day true equality and equity regardless of difference will one day be achieved. So as we reflect on the legacy and future of Women’s Equality Day, let us remember the words of Dolores Huerta, “Sí se puede!” (Yes we can!)
Christina Shutt is the director of Mosaic Templars Cultural Center, a museum of the Department of Arkansas Heritage. At MTCC, she has implemented the #InclusiveArkansas initiative, which seeks to make the museum a welcoming place for all.
Prior to joining the Mosaic Templars Cultural Center, Shutt was the associate librarian for special collections and instruction at Hendrix College in Conway. Prior to Hendrix, Christina worked at the Center for the History of Medicine at Harvard University in Boston, Mass., as well as the Massachusetts Historical Society and the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Archives at the Howard Gotlieb Archival Research Center at Boston University.
Shutt holds a B.A. in history from Central Methodist University in Fayette, Mo., and an M.S. in library science/archive management from Simmons College in Boston, as well as an M.A. in history from Simmons College.
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