Voices of Mature Women Matter: Women’s History Month
It is Women’s History Month. Last Sunday, March 8th was International Women’s Day. Along with several other women from our area, I attended “Women and Words: Celebrating Creativity.” The celebration began with a chorus singing about the power of women’s voices. Then women from the Southern Oregon Women Writer’s Group read their poems and stories honoring women’s lives and their often-unspoken truths. These readers were mature women who communicated the kind of wisdom and insight that typically takes years to earn—if ever.
After the final reading, all of us rose to our feet and sang the opening song along with the women’s chorus. As I drove home from the celebration, I felt renewed. I was reminded that I am a strong, older woman whose work is still evolving. I was also reminded that all of our voices matter.
Women’s History Month: Theme
This year’s theme for Women’s History Month is “Valiant Women of the Vote.” The theme recognizes those women who courageously fought for woman’s suffrage. One of the best-known suffragists who ever visited the region where I live (Southern Oregon) was Susan B. Anthony. I suspect Miss Anthony would have been quite at home celebrating women’s voices on International Women’s Day. Undoubtedly, she would have told us that the ballot box was a very important way our voices could be heard—locally and nationally.
A Woman Who Knew Her Voice Mattered At Any Age
Susan B. Anthony made her first of three trips to Oregon in 1871; Oregon suffragist, Abigail Scott Duniway invited her to travel around the Northwest to help promote the suffrage cause. As the two women traveled around Oregon and Washington, I imagine they started many of their meetings with songs that lifted and encouraged other women. (Duniway was also a suffragist songwriter.) In an article about music and the suffragist movement, The Library of Congress stated, “Suffragists consistently unified, rallied, and united their unbreakable spirit through song.”
Miss Anthony was fifty-one-years-old when she first visited Oregon and was already at least a decade beyond the average life expectancy of that time. Newspapers and critics continually referred to her as a cranky old maid or as someone advanced in her years. Little did her critics realize, Miss Anthony hadn’t even begun to create the tidal wave of change she would leave in her wake. Her mentor and good friend, Elizabeth Cady Stanton once advised her in a letter, “We shall not be in our prime before fifty, and after that, we shall be good for twenty years at least.”
After spending a couple of months in the Northwest, Susan B. Anthony began heading south. Early one November morning, she took a stagecoach from Eugene and traveled to Oakland, Oregon. That evening, she gave a rousing speech for suffrage at the Oakland Academy. The next morning, Anthony traveled to Roseburg and gave a presentation at the Methodist Church. (Bethenia Owens, a Roseburg businesswoman, had coordinated Anthony’s visit. Three years later, Owens became one of the first female physicians in Oregon.)
Speaking for a Cause Great Than Her Own
For the next 35 years, Susan B. Anthony fought for suffrage. She continued to speak all over the country, she wrote articles, and she lobbied Congress each year. She even met with three sitting presidents as part of her effort to gain support for woman suffrage. And she led the National American Woman Suffrage Association from 1892-1900—until she was 80 years old. In 1905, Anthony, who was by that time a celebrated woman, made her final trip to Oregon.
Our Voices Matter
In 1912, the majority of Oregon men voted to approve voting rights for women. No doubt, the courageous voices of women like Susan B. Anthony and Abigail Scott Duniway were instrumental in making the case for voting equality. On November 30, 1912, at the age of 78, Duniway authored and signed the Oregon Equal Suffrage Proclamation and was the first woman to vote in Oregon.
Susan B. Anthony took her last breath in 1906—14 years before the 19th amendment was ratified on August 18, 1920, giving all American women the right to vote.
I am again thinking of the celebration I attended on International Women’s Day. I hear women lifting their voices in song. I hear strong, mature women sharing their words of wisdom and inspiration. The voices of mature women have always mattered.
All of our voices matter. As we age, we have perspective and wisdom that the world needs. Speak up. Speak out. Be the difference.