West Point commemorates Women’s Equality Day
By Kathy Eastwood
“And nearly a century after the battle for women's franchise was won, a new generation of young women stands ready to carry that spirit forward and bring us closer to a world where there are no limits on how big our children can dream or how high they can reach.” —President Barack Obama proclaiming Aug. 26 as Women’s Equality Day.
The West Point Equal Opportunity Office, the Simon Center for the Professional Military Ethic, the U.S. Corps of Cadets Respect staff and the Margaret Corbin Forum hosted the annual Women’s Equality Day luncheon at the West Point Club Aug. 24. The event began with a brief history of the women’s suffrage movement by Class of 2013 Cadet Elizabeth Kim.
“We are here today to celebrate the 1920 passage of the 19th amendment giving women the right to vote,” Kim said. “The women’s suffrage movement began here in New York at Seneca Falls in 1837 with Susan B. Anthony, Lucretia Mott and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, who fought for equal pay and the right to vote.”
Anthony and Stanton devoted 50 years to the suffrage movement, but neither lived to see the passage of the 19th amendment.
Guest speaker Rear Admiral Sandra L. Stosz, U.S. Coast Guard Academy superintendent, spoke about the progress made due to the suffrage movement and the progress still to come.
“We start with a look back at history, to evaluate where women are today, and to look ahead at what each of us can do in the future, especially the cadets in the audience. The future is yours,” Stosz said. “Three generations ago, we saw World War I and the 19th amendment giving women the right to vote. Two generations ago was World War II and the (beginning) of women in the military with the women’s auxiliary military services, the Women’s Army Corps; Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service, or WAVES; Women’s Air Force Service Pilots, or WASP; and the women in the Coast Guard were Semper Paratus Always Ready, or SPAR.”
Women in the auxiliary military services were the forerunners of women’s acceptance into the military and military academies to become Soldiers and officers, a subject Stosz spoke of by using the “glass half-filled” analogy in regards to equality.
“We started with an empty glass, but over the generations, that glass is filling. We all need to think of what we can do to continue to fill that glass,” she said.
Stosz spoke of the early ‘60s and ‘70s when she first heard the names of Gloria Steinem and Billy Jean King and how they added a few drops to fill the glass of equality by stepping up and being heard.
“Then in 1976, the military academies began to accept women. I came in with the third class of women in the Coast Guard,” she said. “But I was into sports and had to swim with the men’s team. I wanted to break rules to get a women’s swim team, but a critical mass of one isn’t going to work. It took a few years and talking to the coach before the Coast Guard Academy began a women’s swim team.”
Stosz told the cadets in attendance that it took a generation for her to go from being a cadet to becoming the superintendent.
“Take your time; it comes one day at a time and one tour at a time,” she said. “Take the tough jobs; get out of your comfort zone. You can’t grow just by sitting in your comfort zone and not moving forward.”
The cadets are too young to remember women’s fight for equality back in the day, but they do have a point of view.
“I think we have come a long way since women were able to vote,” Class of 2014 Cadet Jazlyn McCaw said. “We have women in the military, who are officers, but the female cadets who entered the academies in 1976 had a rough time, although we’ve come a long way since then. However, a woman is capable of doing what the military calls “high stress” jobs, such as the infantry. So we still have a way to go.”
Class of 2015 Cadet Zachary Hall admitted he is too young to remember how far women have come.
“But I am glad to live in an integrated world with women as opposed to (some) other countries,” Hall said.
After seeing a frown cross McCaw’s face, Hall quickly added, “I do realize though that some glass ceilings still need to be broken.”