Story last updated at 8/28/2013 - 2:58 pm
The nation will commemorate two anniversaries in the next week: Women's Equality Day on Monday, Aug. 26, recognizes the day in 1920 when the 19th Amendment was signed into law and women were granted the right to vote. Wednesday, Aug. 28, marks the 50th anniversary of the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, when Dr. Martin Luther King gave his stirring "I Have a Dream" speech at the Lincoln Memorial.
It is especially fitting these two important dates are paired because the fight for racial equality is intertwined in the fight for women's equality in our country's history. Ultimately, what history teaches is that there is no racial equality and no gender equality without equality for all.
As an Alaskan delegate of Vision 2020, a national initiative to advance women's economic and social equality, we work to build bridges across gender and racial divides.
In the 1830s, thousands of women were involved in the movement to abolish slavery, but at the World Anti-Slavery Convention in London in 1840, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott were refused seats on the floor by male abolitionists. As a result, Stanton and Mott vowed to hold a convention on women's rights, which they hosted in 1848 in Seneca Falls, New York. At the convention, delegates adopted a "Declaration of Sentiments" modeled on the Declaration of Independence. It was signed by 68 women and 32 men, including African-American abolitionist Frederick Douglass.
After the Civil War, the 14th Amendment granted the right to vote to adult males and the 15th Amendment affirmed voting rights could not be denied on account of race. Suffragists were bitterly disappointed that women were not covered by these amendments and they continued the struggle for women's rights.
Women of all races finally were enfranchised in 1920. But it took more five decades before there was a celebration of this event. Women were inspired by the positive results of the 1963 March on Washington and impelled by the sexism many encountered while making substantive contributions to civil rights.
In 1966, the National Organization for Women was founded. Four years later, NOW organized a national Women's Strike for Equality on August 26, 1970, demanding equal opportunities in education and employment.
The following year, Congress passed a resolution sponsored by Rep. Bella Abzug (D-NY) that designated August 26 as Women's Equality Day.
Vision 2020 recognizes Aug. 26 and 28 as both proud celebrations of what peaceful protest can accomplish and as pointed reminders of what is yet to be achieved.
Barbara Belknap lives in Juneau and is an Alaska delegate of Vision 2020, a project of Drexel University College of Medicine.