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Women's Equality Day: After 90 Years, voting taken for granted

By Jackie R. Broach
Coastal Observer

It’s hard to believe it’s only been 90 years since women won the right to vote with the ratification of the 19th Amendment, said Sue Mushock-Myers.

Yet in under a century, many women seem to have forgotten how hard others of their gender fought for that right.

“They take it for granted,” said Myers, a member of the Georgetown County League of Women Voters. “That’s one of the things we work for — to make women understand we were given this right and we need to respect it. It’s something a lot of women struggled long and hard for.”

Those struggles were highlighted in a rally on Front Street the League hosted last week, on the anniversary of the Aug. 26, 1920 ratification.

About 30 people gathered to celebrate and hear local officials read proclamations declaring it Women’s Equality Day in the county. They thanked famous women’s rights advocates including Susan B. Anthony, Alice Paul and Elizabeth Cady Stanton.

Looking around the small crowd, historian Lee Brockington said “This is a reminder that the movement started with a few tenacious women. And it’s proof that a few people can get things done against incredible odds.”

In their fight, suffragists faced insults, unlawful imprisonment and even assault with brickbats, bottles and other items launched from angry crowds.

“Too often we want to give up and say it’s too hard,” Brockington said. “But think about what these women went through for what they believed in, and they didn’t stop.”

It’s stories of those battles that ensured Myers became a regular at the polls.

When she turned 21 in the 1950s, one of the first things she did was register to vote. That was the age limit in those days and since reaching it, she hasn’t missed a single opportunity to cast her ballot.

Myers was born 18 years after women were given the right to vote and her grandmother, Bertha Riggle, used to tell her all the time what a treasure that right is.

“She instilled in me from the time I was a little tot just how important it is for women to vote in every election and have their voices heard,” she said.

Myers was in college in Ohio the first time she voted and remembers being “so excited.”

“My grandmother had died by then, but I felt I was honoring her and I still do. Whenever I vote, I think ‘Grammy, this is for you.’ ”

But just showing up isn’t enough. Myers said voters should respect their right to vote and those who fought for that right enough to make informed decisions at the polls.

A third-generation voter, S.C. Rep. Vida Miller agreed. She said her mother and her grandmother were always active voters, knowing well the struggles that took place to allow women to vote, and Miller has followed in their footsteps.

“Too many women sacrificed for the rights we enjoy today for us not to respect those rights and take advantage of them,” she said.

As an example of how far the nation has come in the struggle for women’s equality, County Council Member Ron Charlton recalled a story told to him in the 1950s about his great-grandfather, who was sitting on the front porch reading a newspaper when he exclaimed, ‘My God, they’re allowing women to drive cars!”

He called his wife on to the porch to tell her about the article, Charlton said, and told her “This is going to be the ruination of the nation.”

Charlton said he had forgotten the story until he started reading about the struggles of women for equal rights over the years.

“Even in my lifetime I’ve seen a lot of change,” said Georgetown Mayor Jack Scoville.

It was 1960 before women were allowed to serve on juries, he pointed out.

It was 1969 before South Carolina ratified the 19th Amendment after rejecting it in 1920, and it was 1973 before the results were certified.

Several others recalled decades when it was uncommon for women to work as anything other than secretaries, teachers or nurses.

Brockington and Beth Steadman recalled serving as guest speakers at Rotary Club meetings before women were allowed in the organization.

“The only women in the room would be me and the women serving the food,” Steadman said.

That went on well into the 1990s, Brockington said.

Gesturing to Miller and other female elected officials who attended the event, Charlton said they are an example of the progress that has been made.

“Women are stepping into these positions and they do a great job,” he said. “We’re very fortunate to have them as leaders.”

But all agreed, there’s still more progress to be made.

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