Why I March
Guest Commentary: By Valerie Gebhardt, counselor and adjunct professor at UIS
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People ask me why I marched on Jan. 21 in downtown Springfield, and this is why: The world is about we, not me. There have been so many women over the centuries who have marched before us so that we can gain the rights that we have. And even today we have a long way to go.
Do you realize that before the Civil War, women could not own property, keep any wages that she made, or make any type of contract or lawsuit, such as divorce? Women started assisting in the abolitionist movement and then realized that they too, did not have any rights. This led to the first Women’s Rights Convention in 1840.
Early female Quakers in Seneca Falls, New York led the cause for women’s rights. They met in 1848, at a Wesleyan Methodist Church, to discuss their rights, whereas Elizabeth Cady Stanton wrote the “Declaration of Sentiments.”
Over 300 women and men attended this convention on July 19 and 20, to secure the rights of women to work in various trades and professions.
This convention continued on a yearly basis focusing on women’s rights, educational rights and anti-slavery laws.
By 1869, Stanton, Susan B. Anthony, Lucy Stone, and Frederick Douglass founded the Equal Rights Association, advocating the 15th Amendment so that African American men would have the right to vote. Women were able to vote for the first time in Wyoming in 1869.
The women’s movement led to women being able to attend law school and be allowed to enter the bar, federal female employees receiving the same pay as men, and in 1872, the first African American woman to argue cases before the Supreme Court.
And women kept marching.
Many women marched in the early 1900’s to make sure that their voices were heard and because of them, we are now able to vote. Carrie Chapman Catt, of the National American Women Suffrage Association, asked that a committee be formed in the Senate to discuss women’s rights. Finally, on Aug. 26, 1920, the 19th Amendment was passed, and women had the right to vote.
And still, women kept on marching.
Women marched in the 1960’s for civil rights to end segregation, and equal opportunities for education and employment. Women marched for their own rights, equal pay, the Vietnam War.
I started marching in the 80’s and I will quit only when I can’t march any longer. I have marched against wars, sexual assault, and domestic violence. I have marched for continued rights of women, LGBTQ, healthcare, and the disabled.
Many take these rights for granted today, but if it were not for the early marchers, we would not have them currently.
And, the women keep marching and so will I until we no longer have to march.
– Valerie Gebhardt