Commentary: Women's Suffrage movement 'pathway' to greater female participation in mi
August 26, 2008
<i> Editor's Note: Women's Equality Day has been celebrated on Aug. 26 each year since it's inception in 1971. It commemorates the adoption of the 19th Amendment which gave women the right to vote in 1920.</i>
CAMP LIBERTY, Iraq - Since the American Revolution and the founding of our country, many women have honorably served in our nation's defense. Today, outstanding female Soldiers continue to serve throughout the Armed Services, demonstrating patriotism, strength and bravery during prolonged periods of conflict.
Female Soldiers and leaders serving with 4th Infantry Division and Multi-National Division - Baghdad have added greatly to the strength of the division as a whole and have been vital to the division's success in bringing greater stability to Baghdad.
Maj. Ruth Sonak, a native of Humble, Texas, who serves as commander of Company C, Division Special Troops Battalion, 4th Inf. Div., MND-B, said she believes opportunities for women in the military are unlimited.
"Women have a lot to offer, and if they do well at their job, they'll succeed," she said. "It wasn't that long ago when women didn't even have the right to vote, and now we have women who are general officers in the army. I remember when I thought seeing a [female] lieutenant colonel was a big deal."
Since Sonak joined the Army in 1995, she said she feels her peers and senior officers have treated her with dignity and respect, as well as provided every opportunity for her to prosper. It may have been different if it weren't for women who paved the way for gender equality.
"I think the suffrage movement effectively changed the way Americans look at the role of women in society and has continued to be a pathway for us to have more opportunities," she said.
Whether it was providing medical care for the wounded, preparing meals for the troops, sloughing through mud in full combat gear or flying a fighter jet while engaged under fire, women throughout history have responded to their country's call. It was only in the early twentieth century that these women, and all American women, were given the legal right to vote, manifesting our nation's first inching toward the equal rights movements.
"Are we alone to ask and take the utmost that our women can give - service and sacrifice of every kind - and still say we do not see what title that gives them to stand by our sides in the guidance of the affairs of their nations and ours'" asked President Woodrow Wilson during an address to the Senate, September 30, 1918. "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 privilege and right'"
Despite Wilson's plea, it wasn't until nearly two years later, on Aug. 26, 1920, that the 19th amendment was ratified as a part of the U.S. Constitution, legally providing that "The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on the account of sex."
The passing of the 19th Amendment took years to bring about, and work by women such as Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott was vital to the women's suffrage movement.
While those women were absolutely imperative at that time, it is equally safe to say that military women have played, and continue to play a significant role in women's rights issues.
Sgt. Maj. Mary Carter, a native of Norfolk, Va., who serves as the senior non-commissioned officer of the paralegal office, 4th Inf. Div., has served in the Army for more than 28 years and said that not only are the opportunities unlimited, but she believes the Army contributes to the development of women - as well as any individual.
"The Army teaches values, and if you practice those values, you develop strength," she said. "The woman suffrage movement has made it possible for us to utilize that strength and continue to do better in our careers as well as our lives."
Carter said she feels that because of the sacrifices made by the American men and women who dedicated their lives to equal rights for women, it is the responsibility of women today to continue the progress.
"We, as women, have rights," she said. "We need to embrace our ability to do things as women and pass it along so that women in the future will continue to have those rights."