The Gloucester County Commission for Women attended the 100th Anniversary of the Suffragist Victory: Empowering Modern Women on Nov 16, a virtual event that brought together women’s commissions from around the state to hear speeches given by state Sen. Nellie Pou and Joanne Rajoppi, Union County clerk.
“I think it is always good to recognize significant milestones in our history,” said Freeholder Jim Jefferson, liaison to the Gloucester County Commission for Women. “Nothing makes this issue more relevant to me than looking at my own daughters and the issues that they face. I want to make sure they are educated and brought up in a world where their possibilities are endless.”
The commission is a fact-finding and advisory group to the Gloucester County Board of Chosen Freeholders. It addresses the concerns of females throughout the county to keep a focus on inclusion and women’s rights.
“We still have a ways to go to make sure women have access to everything that is available to all of us,” Jefferson said. “Make sure we don’t forget how hard women worked to make sure they got the right to vote.”
Sen. Pou opened the event with a speech about how far women have come in the last century since earning the right to vote, while making it clear there is a long way to go. She has sponsored various bills on subjects that include human trafficking prevention and sexual assault.
“We still have a long way to go in achieving equality of representation in New Jersey’s legislature,” Pou noted. “Right now, we have only 10 women in the senate. The largest number ever, but still only 25 percent of the total.”
Rajoppi, the first female clerk in Union County and six-time recipient of the National Association of Counties Award for innovative government and computerization, also welcomed event viewers with a speech about how New Jersey played its own role in earning women the right to vote in 1920.
“It was a very hard-won fight and New Jersey was in the forefront of that fight,” she explained. “There were the efforts of Reverend Florence Spearing Randolph, who was a leading black New Jersey suffragist and she started the New Jersey State Federation of Colored Women’s Clubs.
“It took another New Jersey activist and quaker to bring a change in the course of history,” Rajoppi added. “That woman was Alice Paul.”
Anniversary event panelists also were introduced, including Dr. Margaret McMenamin, president of Union County College; Rebecca Mark, director of the Rutgers Institute for Women’s Leadership; Dr. Sadaf Jaffer, a post-doctoral research associate at Princeton University; Dr. Joanne Noel, associate dean of Alternative Programs at Pillar College; and Dr. Barbara Ridener, dean of the college of education at Kean University.
The panelists were given questions about women’s issues in the modern world, such as: “‘What roles do race, class and ability play in access to voting rights?” and “What impact has the legacy of the women’s suffrage movement had on our country today?”
Many of the panelists took time in their answers to praise historical figures like Stacey Abrams, voting rights activist in Georgia, and the late civil rights advocate Fannie Lou Hamer, for bringing women as far as they are now, while also reminding each other the fight is not over.
“Every time we think we have won the right to vote, there is some woman who does not have the right to vote because of race, class or ability,” Mark said. “I would add that the women’s suffrage movement never ended; it’s continuing today and I hope that we educate and constantly tell the next generation.
“Until we have as many women in office that we have men, this fight has not begun to be over.”
The anniversary event closed with remarks from New Jersey First Lady Tammy Murphy, who spoke about its celebratory nature and gave words of hope for women still fighting for their rights.
“While we still have a great deal of work to do in reaching the full participation of women in leadership, as well as all levels of decision- making … we must pause for a moment and look back to celebrate how far we have come,” she advised.
“Do not be discouraged: Persist. Your voice matters.”
For more information on the Gloucester County Commission for Women, visit http://www.gloucestercountynj.gov/services/c/cfw/default.asp.