Team Little Rock remembers Women’s Equality Day

LITTLE ROCK AIR FORCE BASE, Ark. -- Since the conception and establishment of our great nation, the people of the U.S. have diligently worked to make equality for everyone a literal reality for all its citizens. 

On Aug. 26, 1920, we moved a step closer to achieving the full purpose of our nation's Constitution when Congress passed its 19th Amendment, granting women the right to vote. Every year we celebrate passage of the amendment and the extraordinary accomplishments of women in America. 

Today, women are exercising the right to vote in greater numbers than men, especially in presidential elections. This stands to reason when you consider the significant roles presidents played in America achieving equality milestones for women. 

Women's unselfish service to the military played an equally important role in achieving voting rights. In fact, the involvement and actions of women in World War I provided President Woodrow Wilson a central theme and proof to support his argument for women's suffrage. With our commanders in chief leading the way, Women's Equality Day has always been a particularly special day of celebration in the Department of Defense. 

Women have always played a critical role in the defense and development of our nation. On September 30, 1918, President Wilson addressed the U.S. Senate concerning women's suffrage by stating, "...I tell you plainly that this measure which I urge upon you is vital to the winning of the war ...We have made partners of the women in this war. Shall we admit them only to a partnership of suffering and sacrifice and toil and not to a partnership of right?" 

With the first World War waning and democracy emerging as the clear victor, President Wilson wanted to secure America's place as a leader in the free world. He was concerned about our global image and believed the status of women's suffrage reflected poorly on the United States. By 1918, 17 other countries were providing full voting rights to women. 

President Wilson knew women's suffrage had to become a reality in America. Emphasizing the importance of such a reality, he further stated to the Senate, "They (other countries) are looking to the great, powerful, famous Democracy of the West to lead them ...democracy means that women shall play their part in affairs alongside men and upon an equal footing with them." Two years after Wilson's presentation to the Senate, women's suffrage became a reality in America, changing and opening doors to a historical first as never before. 

Change began to come about more quickly once women received the right to vote. In 1920, Ohio voters elected Florence Ellinwood Allen as the first female judge in our nation's history. In 1924, Texas elected Hallie Ferguson as the nation's first female governor, and in 1932 Hattie Wyatt Caraway, an Arkansan, became the first female elected to the U.S. Senate. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, women surpassed men as registered voters in 1980 and have voted at higher rates than men in every presidential election since. The gap between women and men voting has grown slightly larger with each successive election. 

Interestingly, women also first graduated from our nation's service academies in 1980 after President Gerald Ford signed Public Law 94-106 in 1976. Votes in the House and Senate had previously set the course for women to enroll in the academies starting in 1976, underscoring the power, significance and importance of voting rights for all Americans. Not long after the 1980 academies' graduations, President Ronald Reagan appointed the first female U.S. Supreme Court Justice, Sandra Day O'Connor. 

Today, President Barack Obama has appointed Sonia Maria Sotomayor as a U.S. Supreme Court Justice, the third woman to assume such a position. In Congress, Nancy D'Alesandro Pelosi is the first woman to become Speaker of the House, one of the most powerful political positions in our government; second in line to succession of the president. In DoD's, 2008 annual demographic report indicate 41 women were serving on active duty in the grades of brigadier to lieutenant general, a sharp increase since the 1980 service academies graduations. We have come a long way. 

We have achieved a lot since August 26, 1920, and there is still much work to be done regarding women's rights. There is no doubt that but for women's suffrage, along with the leadership and perseverance of our commanders in chief, women's equality would not be as much of a reality as it is today. Let's celebrate today while continuing to work toward "...a more perfect Union."