Ninety years later, women celebrate rights

The Women’s Resource Center celebrated the 90th anniversary of the 19th Amendment on Thursday evening in the center’s home, located above Freestar Bank at 703 S. Wright St. in Champaign.

Women — and two men — joined to commemorate U.S. President Woodrow Wilson’s signing of the bill that granted female U.S. citizens the right to vote, as well as many other basic civil liberties.

“I definitely think it’s important to not only remember the strides made by women in respect to gaining their rights, but to also tell the stories that people don’t necessarily know.” said Rachel Storm, program coordinator at the Women’s Center and graduate student.

One of the unknown stories Storm referred to was the first protest in front of the White House. Before the 1912 parade where herds of ornately clad suffragists carried signs and marched down Pennsylvania Avenue, four women went on a hunger strike.

Iron Jawed Angels, starring Hillary Swank as Alice Paul, was the main feature of the center’s anniversary celebration. Paul was arrested for refusing to eat along with three of her fellow protestors. She was later administered electric shock treatment at a state mental asylum.

“Women were, at that time, expected to be mild,” said Pat Morey, director of the Women’s Resource Center, “‘Hysteria’ was actually a medical term in those days.”

Students and area citizens attended the anniversary celebration for a variety of reasons, though many with the common tie of the importance of involvement in women’s rights.

“I’m here to make sure that people realize that we haven’t gone all the way,” said Alex Bakowski, an Illinois College graduate who now lives in Champaign. “Just because we can vote and it’s illegal to rape your wife doesn’t mean we’ve reached equality on other social levels.”

Joining Bakowski at the event was her boyfriend, senior at the University Richard Marcum, one of the two men who attended the event.

“I’m a feminist,” Marcum said. “I’m here to help out, you know, represent the realization that (feminism is) about women’s rights.”

To accompany the film showing, photos hung on every wall in part of “The Quest for Sufferage” gallery. A photo near the elevator shows Alice Paul and her peers in front of the White House moments before she was removed and thrown in jail.

Also at the center was Trisha Crowley, director of Champaign County League of Women Voters, with the former director, Carole Rebeiz, and spoke to attendees about the importance of voting, as well as strategies involving absentee ballots and area registration. Rebeiz collected voter applications and offered a change of address form for any event attendee who does not permanently live in the Champaign area.

Morey confirmed the role voting can playing in reversing social equities.

“I am someone who has voted in every single election since I was of age,” Morey said, “I’d like to believe that when students understand the importance of voting, they can take pride in it.”