Photos by Curt Yeomans: State Rep. Simone Bell (D-Atlanta, second from right) lets out a laugh during a Women’s Equality Day event at the State Capitol in Atlanta. Bell was one of several female, elected officials and political activists who attended the event.
Three dozen women, including a few elected officials and several political action group leaders, gathered Friday at the State Capitol in Atlanta to remember the contributions and words of several famous women, such as Sojourner Truth and Eleanor Roosevelt.
They were at the Capitol to celebrate Women’s Equality Day and the 91st anniversary of the U.S. Constitution’s 19th Amendment, which gave women the right to vote, being certified as an official part of the Constitution by the nation’s government. The theme of the event was celebrating the past, present and future contributions of women to society.
Attendees gathered around a monument honoring Rebecca Latimer Felton, a Georgian, who at the age of 87 in 1922, became the first woman to serve in the U.S. Senate.
“Women, who have so many opportunities today, need to be mindful of the fact that so many women didn’t have these opportunities, and [of] the struggles that they went through to make great strides,” said event organizer, Gail Buckner, the president of the Georgia Federation of Democratic Women. Buckner is also a Morrow-based former state senator.
“We’re standing on their shoulders,” she added. “It’s important to know where you come from.”
This marked the second consecutive year that a Women’s Equality Day event has been held at the State Capitol, Buckner said. Speakers, Friday, included League of Women Voters of Georgia President Elizabeth Poythress, Georgia Commission on Women Chairperson Nellie Duke, Georgia Women of Achievement Executive Director Carol McCullough, and Riverdale Mayor Evelyn Wynn-Dixon.
Many of the speakers talked briefly about more than a dozen famous women in American history, including abolitionist poet, Frances Ellen Watkins Harper, national Parent-Teacher Association (PTA) founder (and Georgia native), Selena Sloan Butler, and another Georgia native, Sarah Porter Hillhouse, who was born in 1763 and became the first female newspaper editor and publisher in Georgia.
“We are here, today, to celebrate those achievements of those individuals, both in the past and the present,” said Poythress. “And, we’re also here, today, to strengthen our determination to stand up for gender equality in our state, [and] our country, today, and in the future ... We have to continue to raise the bar.”
Wynn-Dixon talked, however, about the everyday women people encounter — their own mothers and grandmothers — by referencing her own upbringing, a period when she was homeless and the way she raised her own children, some of whom went on to attend prestigious colleges, while one went to prison for 10 years.
“They [her mother and grandmother] taught us how to make it,” the Riverdale mayor said. “They said, ‘Come here, gal, we have to prepare for war in a time of peace. Let’s make these peach preserves, and lets store up stuff for the winter when it comes. Let me show you how you make a meal out of nothing.’ That’s how many of us were able to survive.”
Douglas County Democratic Women’s Council President Myesha Good said she found Wynn-Dixon’s story to be inspiring. “Her honesty about her life really showed the strength of women in general, and how, even though our circumstances do not [always] favor us, we can still become great,” Good said.
But, the ceremony was also a call-to-arms of sorts for women to continue to fight for their rights. Poythress said women make up at least 51 percent of the U.S. population, but women make up less than 20 percent of the membership of the U.S. House and Senate.
“We have to step up,” she said. “The power that we have is with our voice, and with our vote. We must be engaged. We have to work together, to build a brighter future for our children, and all of our grand children,” she said.
Jan Selman, a woman’s political coach, said women have lost ground in Georgia in recent years, and have “been reduced to holding the line” as the Georgia General Assembly approved cuts to “past gains for women’s issues and rights,” including funding for education and women’s health programs.
“To those poor, misguided, misogynistic legislators under the Gold Dome [at the State Capitol] ... please know this,” Selman said. “We will not stand down. We will stand up. We will not go back. We will fight back. We will not be powered down. We will power up.”
After the program ended, Nellie Duke, the chairperson of the Georgia Commission on Women, said the day was a starting point toward continuing the fight for women’s rights in Georgia.
“To recognize where we are right now, and to plan for the future, we need to be inspired,” Duke said. “The purpose of today was to get us inspired, and to get us going. And I think it did that. Certainly, there was an enthusiasm [in the crowd Friday], and I think that [getting people inspired] will happen.”