Nancy Mayfield

Nancy Mayfield

The Year of the Woman page in today’s Sentinel-Press features stories on Alice Paul and the meaning of suffrage.

They are part of a series of stories, spearheaded by the Maquoketa Friends of the Library, that will be running on a special page twice a month to celebrate the 100th anniversary of women gaining the right to vote.

Today’s stories are particularly timely as the state of Virginia Wednesday became the 38th state to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. 

The proposed 27th amendment reads: Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex.

Paul first introduced the amendment – now known as the ERA and sometimes as the Alice Paul amendment – in 1923. Congress passed the resolution for it in 1972, setting a seven-year deadline for the 38-state-minimum needed to ratify it into law. That deadline was extended to 1982, but only 35 states had ratified it (Iowa did so in 1972) by then. 

In 2017, Nevada became the first state to ratify it after the long-ago deadline, and Illinois followed in 2018. Despite the vote by Virginia this week, the amendment faces some legal hurdles before it can be enacted. The U.S. Justice Department last week said the amendment expired in 1982, so it can’t be ratified. Others say the expiration date is null and void since it wasn’t included in the original amendment. Muddying the waters even more is that five states rescinded their ratification after the 1982 deadline failed to garner the support of 38 states. It’s unclear whether the Constitution allows for states to rescind a ratification. So, there will be more wrangling on this in weeks and months to come.

It’s remarkable to me that it’s only been 100 years since women could vote. Since that time, and despite a stalled ERA, many things have changed, including female representation in all levels of government and women’s advancement in the workforce.

While the country has yet to elect a female president, women are mayors, judges, and state legislators. They’re members of city councils and Congress. They hold top presidential cabinet positions. 

Women represent almost half of the workforce; they earn more than half of the bachelor’s, master’s and doctorate degrees each year; and they hold slightly more than half of all management positions, according to federal government statistics. 

At home when I was growing up, my parents didn’t treat me and my four sisters differently than my brother. There weren’t “girl” jobs and “boy” jobs. We all mowed the lawn, held the flashlight or handed over the screwdriver for household maintenance jobs and car repairs, washed dishes, folded laundry, learned how to change a tire. 

I entered the newspaper industry in the late 1980s as a reporter alongside as many women coworkers as men. And while I saw instances of sex discrimination, my career path certainly was much easier than women before me as it had been paved by their hard work and sacrifice — and that of many men — to push equal rights. 

Women and men still are working to correct wage disparity (women make about 80 percent of what men make on average for like jobs, according to labor surveys) and for more equal representation on corporate boards, among other things. But we can thank Alice Paul and others, who sometimes paid a high price, for where we are today. 

The story of Paul and her fellow suffragettes is portrayed in the movie “Iron Jawed Angels,” which will be shown at the Voy Theatre for the price of a quarter (1920 prices!) at 7 p.m. on Monday, Jan, 27. This is one of the many events the Friends group is sponsoring this year. Jackson County Recorder Alisa Smith will talk about voting before the movie.

Come on out! It would be a great way to learn more about these remarkable women and take part in a community celebration.