Saturday, March 23, 2013

Ms. Stephens Goes to Washington

On a lazy Sunday morning in late January, I was wrapped in a Betty Boop blanket in my favorite chair when I saw an online announcement for the Suffrage Centennial Celebration to be held in honor of the 1913 Suffrage Parade. My thoughts turned to the movie Iron Jawed Angels and I could see the characters planning and participating in that first parade. I could feel the excitement I experience every time I see the movie. I thought of Alice Paul, Lucy Burns, and Carrie Chapman Catt. I thought of all of the suffragists who came before them--Lucretia Mott, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony and countless others. I knew I had to make a way to get to Washington, DC for the weekend of March 1st-3rd. And with the help of birthday gifts and remnants of a tax refund, I did it. 

My boyfriend and I arrived in DC on Friday, March 1st just in time to attend the Open House. We grabbed a taxi and headed to the party to introduce ourselves to an unknown number of strangers. Due to the hospitality of those in attendance and my interest in meeting new people, the evening was a success.  Of course, several glasses of red wine made it more enjoyable for all. How fun to gather with a group of intelligent and socially-conscious women for a photo and instead of saying, “Cheese,” someone yells, “Everyone say vagina!” And we did.

It was inspiring to meet the women in real life who had had only been pictures and words on a screen to me the day before. is an organization that started in 2012 to promote women's equality. I took part in one of the 55 rallies held last spring to discuss and defend women's rights. With determination, hard work, and social media, this group is making a difference and I am glad to be a small part of it. 

The next day, I attended an ERA meeting held at the offices of the American Association of University Women . Let me set the scene: a conference room filled wall-to-wall with women and a few men passionate about getting the Equal Rights Amendment passed and openly discussing the speculations as to why the amendment has yet to pass.

For anyone who does not know, this is the language of the ERA,Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex.” I cannot believe we are still fighting for these 24 words.

I hurriedly took notes and made a to-do list for when I returned home. The main speaker was a young and passionate woman who provided us specific steps to take and messages to use for working toward ERA passage.  It was somewhat sobering to also hear women speak who have worked for ERA passage since the ‘70s.  I got the sense that they wanted to be recognized for their past efforts and refused to be excluded from the work to be done. 

Lori Stephens, 3-3-13
On Sunday, March 3rd, my 49th birthday, I marched with thousands of women in honor of the 100th anniversary of the Women's Suffrage Parade.

The original parade was held the day before President Woodrow Wilson's inauguration in 1913. Inez Millholland led the way riding a white horse. Crowds of onlookers (mostly men) eventually began verbally and physically attacking the women in the parade and more than 200 attendees were taken to the hospital. African American women had been required to march at the back of the parade in order to appease the wishes of southern attendees. 

Twenty-two of those African American women were the founders of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority whose first public action was participation in the 1913 Suffrage Parade. 

Delta Sigma Theta Sorority members honored their founders by coordinating and leading the way in the centennial march. I cheered on the Tennessee attendees as they moved through the crowd.

Every person there no doubt had their reasons for marching in the Women's Suffrage Centennial Parade. Some out of respect for the past and others out of recognition of the future. Knowing I "just had to be there" is the surface reason for going to DC that weekend to march. Each step of my old Nikes traced a step walked by a woman in a button-up boot. I walked for myself and for others. 

I walked in memory of every woman and man who fought for the right to vote in a war that should never have existed. I walked for Tennesseans Febb Burn and her son, Harry. She encouraged him to support women's suffrage in the Tennessee legislature and his vote was the deciding factor of the passage of the 19th Amendment.

I walked for my nieces, Shannon, Jenae, Olivia, and Emma. May they be aware and appreciative of the difficulties women before them endured for their benefit without having to endure those same difficulties. May they also make efforts to keep women from losing what was gained. 

I walked for my paternal grandmother who was a “Roxie” the Riveter during World War II. I walked for my maternal grandmother, Fran, who never fit in a traditional woman mold. I walked for my mother, Connie, who is always liberal in love.  I walked for my sisters, Sandra and Anna, with hopes for their dreams and potential to be fully realized. I walked for my sons with the hope that they understand the value of women and women’s history so that they can teach their sons. 

I walked in honor of my many friends in appreciation of the role each has played in my life--for every laugh and tear shared over the years. 

I walked because women have a history and a future. I am fully aware that there is still much work to do, but on March 3, 2013, I celebrated who had been and what was done. I knew I was exactly where I was supposed to be. And perhaps 100 years from now women will walk in honor of those who preceded them. Those who labored for equal pay. Those who worked to pass the ERA. Those who fought to keep others safe from violence. Those who bore the shame and blame of sexual assault yet put their all into the end of victim blaming.  Those who kept reminding everyone that women’s rights are human rights.  Women are not a special interest group. 

As I relish the memories from the Suffrage Centennial Celebration and contemplate my birthday and the future, two questions come to mind. How will my generation be remembered a century from now? How do I want to be remembered at the end of my life? 


  1. Brilliant! It is like sitting down and having a conversation with you!

  2. this is a great blogpost! so glad you could go!

  3. I'm so jealous that I didn't get to go to this event!!! I loved everything you wrote and what you have told me about the events!!!