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Gathering is a vote for women's progress

Harvard University

At a gathering held Saturday to reflect on the 100th anniversary of the ratification of the 19th Amendment, those of the grandparent generation vowed to continue sharing stories of change, so younger generations wouldn’t take for granted the rights their foremothers didn’t have.

“A little girl came in and greeted me as we were setting up for this, and I told her what we were doing because I think it is so important that we tell the younger generation about how women didn’t always have the right to vote, said Pedginski.

Pedginski  was one of several women sharing family stories about mothers and grandmothers being able to vote for the first time at a Centennial Voices event held at the Soldotna Library. The event included presentations by members of the local League of Women Voters on the history of the women’s right to vote.

It was a long battle, says League member Sammy Crawford.

“Our right to vote is on the shoulders of many, many, many women,” Crawford said. “Starting in 1848, women were saying, ‘We want the right to vote.’ And it took until 1920 before it finally passed the state legislatures and it was a long and arduous struggle.”

The Territory of Alaska recognized women’s right to vote in 1913. Congress passed the 19th Amendment in 1919, but that required ratification by at least 36 states, which finally happened on Feb. 14, 1920. It took until August 1920 for the amendment to become law by being signed by the secretary of state.

That wasn’t the end of the fight, with people of color disenfranchised. It took until 1924 for Alaska Natives to gain citizenship and be able to vote without having to renounce tribal customs and traditions. And it wasn’t until 1945, with the advocacy of Elizabeth Peratrovich, that Alaska’s antidiscrimination act was passed.

Susan Smalley, of Kenai, says her move to Alaska took her first to a Bush village, where absolutely everyone voted in every election. At the time, coming from a culture where that right was not so new, she didn’t realize the significance.

“When elections happened in the village, unless you were comatose, that would be an excuse, every person voted,” Smalley said. “I mean, it was just what people did. And until this moment in time, I didn’t make that connection of how important it was. It was just what people did.”

That’s not to say she grew up with complete equality. For instance, Smalley went to school before Title 9 ensured girls could have equal access to organized sports.

“When I grew up, we got to play one half-court basketball game a year, because we couldn’t run, like, the whole length of the floor. Because, something. I think we would have sweated, not died,” Smalley said.

Other women spoke of experiences of inequality over the years. Linda Hutchings remembers the car dealership she and her husband ran together having to be put in only his name.

“All of the paperwork was in David’s name only,” Hutchings said. “They would not put my name on anything, even though I did all the accounting. But that was just the way it was. … Voting was always something we always did. My mom was very insistent that we all get registered as soon as we turned 18. We have always voted in every election and I am carrying that forward with my children and my grandchildren.”

Barbara Waters, one of the organizers of the event, remembers fighting with Social Security about claiming her own benefits, rather than half her husband’s. And still having car payment information addressed to her husband, even though she bought the car and makes all the payments. She says work still needs to be done, and that’s why it’s important for the older generation to remind the younger not to take rights for granted.

“Those of us who are here in the gray hair league, right? We want to make it better for our kids who are not quite in that gray hair league. I have daughters and I have granddaughters, I have younger coworkers,” Walters said. “… I couldn’t vote until I was 21 because of my age, they hadn’t lowered the voting level. I haven’t missed one, I’m right there. You can ask my daughter, I call her and say, ‘Ahem, it’s Election Day.’ Right, Beth? True story.”

A birthday party for women’s suffrage will be held from 2 to 4 p.m. Feb. 14 at the Soldotna Library. Additionally, the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly and Soldotna City Council will be making proclamations in upcoming meetings honoring women’s right to vote.

Jenny Neyman has been the general manager of KDLL since 2017. Before that she was a reporter and the Morning Edition host at KDLL.
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