Women's Equality Day: Honoring historical triumphs

INCIRLIK AIR BASE, Turkey -- Times change, and they change quickly. Less than 100 years ago, people could only imagine the successes of hard-charging woman pioneers in recent years, the social equality woman have since obtained or the dream of having equal voting rights regardless of gender achieved.

The teasing and taunting can be plentiful: "Go make me a sandwich." "Where's your ironing board?" "Your role is in the home as a housewife." "You can't do that because you're a woman!"

Try telling that to German Chancellor Angela Merkel or President of Indian National Congress Sonia Gandhi, both listed in the top ten most powerful people in the world by Forbes Magazine, or First Lady Michelle Obama, who tops Forbes' list of the 100 most powerful women.

Many spent their lives determined to quell the mindsets that women were not able to meet the same standards or take on the same responsibilities as men. Because of early efforts, women are continuing to rise to top positions in companies, in the government and in the military.

Those bold women of today stand on the shoulders of predecessors who labored, petitioned and wedged their way into positions alongside male counterparts - the shoulders of Victoria Woodhull, the first woman to run for president in the 1870s; Harriet Quimby, who became America's first licensed female pilot in 1911; Bertha von Suttner, who, in 1905, became the first woman to receive the Nobel Peace Prize; and Esther Blake, who became the first woman to join the Air Force in 1948.

While women pursued male-dominated professions, the nation also found itself in a quarrel for equal voting rights for women.

Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony, Lucy Stone, Julia Ward Howe, and Thomas Wentworth Higginson founded the National Woman Suffrage Association and the America Woman Suffrage Association, which combined in 1890 to form the National American Woman Suffrage movement. Carrie Chapman Catt founded of the League of Women Voters. These names represent a mere fraction of those committed to the fight for women's rights.

"Beginning in the 1800s, women organized, petitioned and picketed to win the right to vote, but it took them decades to accomplish their purpose," according to www.ourdocuments.gov, a site maintained by the National Archives and Records Administration. "Victory took decades of agitation and protest ... Few early supporters lived to see final victory in 1920."

Aug. 26, designated as Women's Equality Day by Congress in 1971, signifies a momentous occasion in the pursuit of equal rights for women. Ninety-one years ago on that date, then Secretary of State Bainbridge Colby certified the ratification of the 19th Amendment that afforded women the right to vote.

The 19th Amendment states, "The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex."

"As we celebrate this important milestone and the achievements and shattered ceilings of the past, we also recognize the inequalities that remain and our charge to overcome them," stated President Barack Obama's 2010 Women's Equality Day proclamation. "If we continue to fight for our hopes and aspirations, there will be no limit to the possibilities for our daughters and granddaughters ... Women's rights are ultimately human rights, and the march for equality will not end until full parity and equal opportunity are attained in every State and workplace across our Nation."

Editor's note: Information from the Public Broadcasting Service website and www.ourdocuments.gov was used in this story.