ROCK ISLAND ARSENAL, Ill.- Rock Island Arsenal's highest ranking woman officer, Brig. Gen. Michelle M. T. Letcher, Commanding General of Joint Munitions Command, delivered the keynote speech at the installation's commemoration of Women's Equality Day on August 22. The event celebrated the 99th anniversary of August 26, 1920, when the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was adopted, giving women the right to vote.
"Americans are fortunate to live in a place where women have a voice and that voice is counted in our democratic process. That opportunity didn't come free, and many struggled for years in order to get that right," said Letcher.
Letcher spoke about the history of the women's suffrage movement as well as her own experiences as a woman in the military.
Describing the struggles involved in fighting for women's right to vote, Letcher said: "The women's movement came about because of many courageous people, both men and women, who refused to back down. Despite the fear of violence or verbal attacks, they returned again and again to continue fighting."
The societal changes involved in women's suffrage and increasing participation in the workplace and government have made this country stronger, she said. "It is in such moments, when we as a nation were challenged by change, that we become truly great. We chose to embrace the change and grow as a people because it reflected our true values of respect for equality and the right for everyone's voice to be heard."
Letcher told of her experience visiting Capitol Hill during last year. Legislators in the House of Representatives were commemorating the anniversary of the House passing the legislation to give women the right to vote. Female legislators were dressed in white and male legislators wore yellow roses, all to commemorate the sacrifices of the suffragettes.
"In my grandmother's lifetime, I wouldn't have stood in that place and I wouldn't have worn this uniform. How much has changed in one hundred years. It's very, very powerful... We must remember that although we have come a long way toward equality, there is still much to be done," said Letcher.
Rock Island Arsenal annually commemorates Women's Equality Day in late August, emphasizing the value the Army places on diversity and ensuring equality for all its members.