From Clara Barton tending to the wounded during the Civil War, to 10th Mountain Division’s own Gen. Ann E. Dunwoody, strong female leaders have been serving the nation and setting the bar higher and higher for women across the country.
Soldiers, Family Members and Civilians gathered Aug. 28 to honor the trials and strength of these heroes during the Women’s Equality Day observance at the Commons.
The annual event was dedicated to the more than 2.5 million female veterans.
“They served with distinction in the defense of our nation,” said Sgt. 1st Class Doris D. Twitty, 10th Mountain Division (LI) equal opportunity adviser. “(The event is also dedicated) to retired Gen. Anne Dunwoody, the first female brigade commander of (then) Division Support Command, as well as the Army’s first female four-star general.
“This year, the U.S. military leaders formally lifted the ban on women serving in combat positions,” she continued.
Twitty quoted former Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta: “It’s clear to all that women are contributing in unprecedented ways to the military’s mission of defending the nation.”
The theme for this Women’s Equality Day observance was “Celebrating Women’s Right to Vote.”
In 1971, the U.S. Congress designated Aug. 26 as Women’s Equality Day. The day was selected to commemorate the passing of the 19th Amendment in 1920, which granted women the right to vote.
“This was a pinnacle of a massive, peaceful, civilian rights movement by women that had its formal beginnings in 1848 at the world’s first Women’s Rights Convention in Seneca Falls,” Twitty said. Women’s Equality Day not only commemorates the passing of the 19th Amendment, but also calls attention to women’s continual efforts toward full equality, she added.
“The word ‘gender’ describes the socially constructed roles and responsibilities that society considers appropriate for men and women. ‘Gender equality’ means that men and women have equal power and equal opportunities for financial independence, education and personal development,” Twitty explained. “From 1941 to 1945, more than 200,000 women served in the U.S. military while over six million flooded the American workforce.”
Eleanor Stearns, a living history performer, was guest speaker during the event. During her presentation, she gave a “firsthand” monologue about the life of Elizabeth Cady Stanton, a pioneer in the women’s suffrage movement.
She spoke of Stanton’s upbringing in a male-dominated world. As the daughter of a lawyer, she learned about the inequality of men and women at an early age. Stanton dedicated her life to the journey to gain more independence and equality, not just in voting rights, but in land ownership, legal matters and education.
Stanton and her male and female supporters began paving the way more than 70 years before the 19th Amendment was passed. At the Seneca Falls Conference in 1848, Stanton and her fellow suffragette, Lucretia Mott, obtained 100 signatures – from men and women – for the Declaration of Sentiments, which outlined and demanded rights for women.
“There was a great deal of negative reaction following this convention,” Stearns said. “Newspapers criticized and ridiculed … but it stirred up people to begin to think. When men and women start to think about a new idea, the first steps toward progress have been taken.”
After Stearns’ presentation, Brig. Gen. Mark J. O’Neil, division deputy commanding general – operations, provided closing remarks. O’Neil thanked Stearns and the audience for participating in the observance.
“Women’s Equality Day … not only commemorates the first Women’s Rights Convention in 1848 in Seneca Falls, N.Y., and the passing of the 19th Amendment in 1920, but also how women have directly influenced American history, society and our military.”
O’Neil spoke of Molly Pitcher, who served water to the troops during the American Revolutionary War and then picked up the gun to continue firing at the enemy. He also mentioned Dr. Mary E. Walker, Oswego, the first women to receive the Medal of Honor for her service during the Civil War.
“Recent Silver Star awardees – Sgt. Leigh Ann Hester and (Sgt.) Monica Lin Brown – were the first women since World War II to earn the (award),” O’Neil said. “They are the only women to earn the honor through direct action with the enemy.
“Women who serve in our ranks and are still serving in Afghanistan have earned over 400 valorous awards,” he continued. “The first all-female combat mission flew out of Bagram Airfield in Afghan-istan in 2011.”
After his remarks, O’Neil presented Stearns with a gift of thanks.