Celebrating the day U.S. women gained the right to vote, a group strolling on the Columbia River waterfront was greeted Monday afternoon with a few car honks, cheers and thank-yous. But the event's organizer said she hopes the demonstration spurs more than that.
"Just remember to vote," Donna Quesnell told one woman as she went past Beaches Restaurant in Vancouver. Earlier, Quesnell had expressed her frustration with the 19.5-percent voter turnout in Clark County during primary elections this month. "It's really very sad."
After a long struggle led by suffragettes, the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was approved on Aug. 26, 1920. Just prior to earning the right to vote, a group of women were imprisoned while picketing outside the White House, started a hunger strike while jailed, and endured forced feeding. Women in Washington state got the right to vote a whole decade earlier, in 1910.
Monday's march in Vancouver was "an excellent reminder of what generations have fought and died and worked so hard to achieve in this country," Laurie Sharpe of Vancouver said.
The group of about 20 people carried balloons and signs paying homage to those involved in the movement, including Sojourner Truth, Alice Paul, Susan B. Anthony and Frederick Douglass. The women in the group wore long dresses or skirts and hats mimicking the look of the suffragettes.
"Many men helped," one sign pointed out. Another stated: "Celebrate democracy by voting."
The walk, organized by the Democratic Women's Club of Clark County, started at the Red Lion Hotel at the Quay and ended when the group reached the waterfront trail's "Wendy Rose" statue, which honors women who worked at the Kaiser Shipyard during World War II. While there, they sang along to the 1976 Judy Collins song "Bread and Roses." The song is based on a poem by James Oppenheim that is associated with a 1912 garment workers strike.
"As we go marching, marching, unnumbered women dead, go crying through our singing their ancient call for bread," they sang. "Small art and love and beauty their drudging spirits knew. Yes, it is bread we fight for, but we fight for roses too."
Sharpe walked along the waterfront with two other generations of women in her family. Her daughter, Ashley Whitham, said she hopes 5-year-old Katherine Whitham remembers the experience.
"Katherine has always been aware of the privilege she has," Whitham said of her daughter. "I want her to be aware of all social justice issues, and how special it is to live during this time."
After women in the U.S. gained the right to vote, opportunities opened up for women in both major political parties. Today, Southwest Washington is represented in Congress by a woman, Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler, R-Camas. Two of the three state senators from Clark County are women, and half of the state representatives from the county are women.
Overall, Congress and the Washington Legislature still have a ways to go before the ratio of women in government reflect the ratio of women living in the U.S. Women occupy about 18 percent of the 535 seats in the 113th U.S. Congress, and about 30 percent of the 147 seats in the Washington Legislature. The only female statewide elected official is Secretary of State Kim Wyman.