By Sen. Pam Helming
On Saturday, August 26, Americans around the country celebrated Women’s Equality Day, but here in the 54th New York State Senate District, we have been commemorating women’s equality and women’s rights for a little longer than that, in a way.
Held since 1971, Women’s Equality Day marks the date in 1920 when the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was passed, granting women the right to vote. This occasion happened as a result of the women’s rights movement that begin right here in the Finger Lakes region with the first women’s rights convention in Seneca Falls.
Women’s Equality Day observes that victory for women’s rights and the advances that women have made since then but also raises awareness of the continuing efforts for women’s equality. And just like the suffragists before them – women such as Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott – we have many trailblazers and leaders in our community who keep working for women’s equality today.
In fact, those trailblazers and leaders were celebrating women’s rights here in the Finger Lakes region more than a month before Women’s Equality Day. This year marks the 100th anniversary of women getting the right to vote in New York state, and the National Susan B. Anthony Museum & House in Rochester organized the VoteTilla to commemorate this centennial.
The VoteTilla – a play on the world flotilla, as in a group of canal boats – traveled the Erie Canal from Seneca Falls to Rochester with re-enactors portraying suffragists and other historical figures during the weeklong journey. The journey started Sunday, July 16, following the end of Convention Days, an annual festival in Seneca Falls that coincides with the anniversary of that first women’s rights convention nearly 170 years ago.
During the trip, the VoteTilla stopped in small towns along the canal to hold events related to the celebration of women’s suffrage in New York state. I was fortunate to be able to attend and speak at two of those events on the same day Tuesday, July 18 – in Lyons in the afternoon and in Newark in the evening. As the first female representative of the 54th District, I was proud to represent the legacy of Susan B. Anthony and so many women who came before me.
The Finger Lakes region is rich with history, particularly with the women’s rights movement but not only in Seneca Falls. I was impressed to learn that Susan B. Anthony visited Lyons for two days in 1867 to promote women’s right to vote. Lyons then formed its own women’s suffrage group in 1900 and later joined Wayne County’s organization.
In July 1917, Newark hosted the Wayne County Suffragists convention at the Grange Hall to call attention to the fact that women were entering a variety of professions for the times, so it was an opportune time for them to gain the right to vote in New York. Later that year, though, Wayne County as a whole opposed women’s suffrage in a statewide vote, and Savannah was the only town in the county to approve as women’s right to vote was passed statewide.
The right to vote is a freedom that none of us – woman or man – should ever take for granted, and it is a precious freedom that as both a woman and a state legislator I will work to uphold and protect. And as a member of the Senate Republican Women’s Caucus, I am committed to working with my colleagues on a number of women’s issues, such as making New York more affordable for women and their families, creating career paths and job opportunities for young women, and promoting entrepreneurship and business ownership for women, among many other items.
This year, we celebrated Women’s Equality Day by honoring those women who came before us in the fight for the right to vote and other freedoms. Let’s also use this occasion to look at how far we have come for women as a society and how far we still need to go.
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Sen. Helming represents the 54th District of the New York State Senate, which consists of Seneca and Wayne counties, parts of Cayuga and Ontario counties, and the towns of Lansing and Webster.