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 April 09, 2010

Observance

Women History Month speakers
cover evolving roles of women

Story by Rob Schuette, Public Affairs Staff

Today’s military is an example of the continuing efforts to improve the lives of women, said the guest speakers at Fort McCoy’s Women’s History Month observance March 24.

Nancy Hill, Marilyn Hempstead, Betty Kruck and Erica Koonmen talked about the League of Women Voters and the American Association of University Women (AAUW) and the mission of these organizations in seeking better lives for women throughout history.

PHOTO: Betty Kruck (left), Marilyn Hempstead (second from left), Erica Koonmen (second from right), and Nancy Hill (right), members of the League of Women Voters and American Association of University Women (AAUW), talk to a Fort McCoy audience prior to the installation’s March 24 observance of Women’s History Month. Photo by Herb Dowell
Betty Kruck (left), Marilyn Hempstead (second from left), Erica Koonmen (second from right), and Nancy Hill (right), members of the League of Women Voters and American Association of University Women (AAUW), talk to a Fort McCoy audience prior to the installation’s March 24 observance of Women’s History Month. Photo by Herb Dowell

Each organization has its separate mission, but often wind up addressing common interests.

Marilyn Hempstead, the president of the La Crosse Branch of the AAUW, said the history of women not receiving full rights goes back to the drafting of the constitution. Despite Abigail Adams’ urging of her husband, John, who became the second president, many rights were reserved only for white males. Females and minorities had limited rights in such areas as voting, owning property and serving in the military.

“Women (reportedly fought in disguise) in the Revolutionary War, and also served as spies and camp followers, where they set up camps for the men,” Hempstead said. “Women often took over for their husbands at home and at work (on the family farm) when their husbands were at war.”

Betty Kruck, who is on the board of both the AAUW and the League of Women Voters of La Crosse, said women continued to strive for their rights over the years. In the Civil War, they served as nurses and, again, some joined the fighting disguised as men.

The 14th Amendment, which was ratified in the late 1860s, defines legal citizens of the United States and what their protections are under the law.

Originally, it also was to address voting for all citizens, but the wording was changed to cover only males.

Wyoming became the first state, in 1869, to allow women to vote.

PHOTO: Members of the Fort McCoy Community listen to a presentation given by members of the League of Women Voters and AAUW during a March 24 event at Fort McCoy held to observe Women’s History Month. Photo by Herb Dowell
Members of the Fort McCoy Community listen to a presentation given by members of the League of Women Voters and AAUW during a March 24 event at Fort McCoy held to observe Women’s History Month. Photo by Herb Dowell

The women’s suffrage movement began to gain momentum, with women such as Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton leading the effort. In 1878, the AAUW was formed and advocated opening educational and work opportunities to women.

When Wyoming applied for statehood, state officials were asked not to allow women the right to vote. But even though they declined, Wyoming was admitted to the union in 1890.

Women continued to press for their rights and often faced harassment and arrest.

An amendment guaranteeing women the right to vote was introduced in every congressional session for 40 years before the 19th Amendment was passed and ratified by enough states to be enacted into law in 1920.

World War II marked another turning point for women in the military as separate organizations were formed to allow women to serve openly in a number of military fields.

That helped set the stage for the presence of women in today’s military forces, and in prominent roles, including those at Fort McCoy.

Women also worked in the factories and keeping the home front going until the men returned from World War II.

The 1940s and ‘50s had stereotypical roles for women. Erica Koonmen, a former Army spouse and member of the AAUW, said the 1960s brought successes, such as President Kennedy’s Commission of Women in 1961.

The Patsy T. Mink Equal Opportunity in Education Act (also known as Title IX) and the Equal Rights amendment occurred in the 1970s.

Title IX was more successful bringing women’s equality in educational programs and the related realm that are seen to this day.

Women still face many challenges. They only earn 77 cents on the dollar compared to what men earn, Koonmen said.

The AAUW, the League of Women Voters and the National Organization for Women in the La Crosse area continue to advocate for the advancement of women and their communities through many informational means, such as legislative breakfasts, various studies, etc.

“We learned a lot about the military during our research for this presentation,” Hempstead said. “We will draw on that information during other presentations we make.”

For more information about ethnic observances in the Fort McCoy community, call the Equal Opportunity Office at 608-388-3246.

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