By Al Macks, Presidio of Monterey Public Affairs September 16, 2011
PRESIDIO OF MONTEREY, Calif. ‐"Celebrating Women's Right to Vote" was the theme of the 2011 Women's Equality Day observance by the Defense Language Institute Foreign Language Center and Presidio of Monterey in the Presidio's Tin Barn Aug. 26.
The observance was sponsored by the 517th Training Group based at the Presidio. Women's Equality Day marks the enactment on Aug. 26, 1920, of the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution giving women the right to vote.
This year marks the 91st anniversary of the passing of the 19th Amendment to the Constitution, which was the culmination of massive, peaceful civil rights movements by women. The movement began in 1848 at the world's first women's rights convention, in Seneca Falls, New York.
In opening remarks at the Presidio observance 314th Training Squadron Commander Lt. Col. Tom Barnett noted that when he was a kid growing up it didn't dawn on him that "suffrage," --such a horrible sounding word-- was actually a good thing.
"Since I studied this," said Barnett, "it became apparent that this was a movement even before it even got purpose in 1848. During that year, he explained a constitutional amendment was proposed: "The right of citizens to vote shall not be abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex."
It wasn't until May 1919, however, the necessary two-thirds vote in favor of the women suffrage amendment was finally mustered in Congress and the proposed amendment was sent to the states for ratification. By July 1920, with a number of primarily southern states adamantly opposed to the amendment, it all came down to Tennessee. It appeared that the amendment might fail by one vote in the Tennessee house, but 24-four-year-old Harry Burns surprised observers by casting the deciding vote for ratification.
The famous story goes that at the time of his vote, Burns had in his pocket a letter he received from his mother urging him, "Don't forget to be a good boy" and "help Mrs. Catt put the 'rat' in ratification." Mrs. Catt refers to Carrie Chapman Catt, a women's suffrage leader.
Burn's choice passed the final vote which gave women the right to vote. Tennessee became the 36 state to ratify the 19th amendment and became a part of the U.S. Constitution. "That is why Tennessee is, was, and shall remain the great state in our future," said Barnett.
Col. Laura M. Ryan, 517th Training Group commander and DLIFLC assistant commandant, who served as the event's guest speaker said "As I … thought about these amazing ladies on the program, and all of the ladies (who) have helped us get to where we are today, I thought to myself, what have I in common with them?"
"Well, you have seen my biography," she said. "I am an intelligence officer. And (one) of the nifty intel traits … they taught us is you can always find something in common with everyone. I can literally go up to anyone of you and find something in common."
"We are in the … DOD," she continued, "and we have made this decision to sacrifice ourselves for freedom."
"What do we have in common with these folks?" Ryan asked referring to the suffragettes. "They made sacrifices, too."
Ryan explained that the sacrifices made by the women in the suffrage movement "are why we are here today. They had to go up against things you can't and you never will. How many times in your life has someone said to you that you can't because: you are lazy, you are from here, you are from there, or you will never do this?"
"Every female sitting in this room has overcome a "you can't" and "you will never" attitude, and I applaud you for your success," Ryan summed up. "You are only limited to your own imagination."