Yesterday, Women AdvaNCe joined the NC Council for Women and Youth Involvement and a host of organizations for a celebration of Women’s Equality Day that included a proclamation signed by Governor Roy Cooper.
Cooper’s speech gave a nod to the 19th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution that granted American the right to vote, a right known as women’s suffrage. The amendment was ratified on August 18, 1920 (it was only ratified by North Carolina on May 6th 1971).
But Cooper’s speech also posed an important question, “What took so long?”
In highlighting the struggle of trailblazers such as Lillian Exum Clement, he acknowledged the history of women working for change. At 26 Clement was asked by the Buncombe County Democratic Party in 1920, to run for a seat in the House of Representatives. She would beat two male opponents in the primary election before the Equal Suffrage Amendment had passed, and on Jan. 5, 1921, she would take her seat in Raleigh as the first woman to serve in the North Carolina General Assembly and the first woman to hold a legislative office in the South. She is the namesake of our sister organization, Lillian’s List.
Cooper quoted words from the suffragettes many letters outlining her fight for equality and acknowledgement that, “I can’t do it alone.” Indeed she wasn’t alone. Decades of women, advocates and righteous brothers have stood on the side of equal right for women. And although the governor touted having one of the most diverse leaderships in the history of our state and the fact that NC has more women represented in the tech industry than the national average, he also acknowledged the shortcomings of unequal pay.
Cooper said, “At the current rate, analysis has shown that we’ll get to equal pay for equal work by the year 2060. That’s not fast enough. We have to do more to make that happen.”
The Governor also noted that the number of women in the overall workforce has been declining since 2006 in part due to the lack of affordable childcare and paid family leave. Cooper was joined by his wife Kristin, who after graduating law school, worked as a staff attorney to the legislature in Oklahoma and in North Carolina. In addition of being a mother to two daughters, Kristin has served as a guardian ad litem for children in Wake County since 2003, using her legal training to represent foster children in court.
The room was filled with modern trailblazers like Kristin. The Governor committed his administration to seeing continued progress for women for the sake of the women in his household and families across North Carolina. His speech was inspiring but his administration can’t do it alone.
As we celebrate on August 26, let’s remember how these battles for equal rights were won! It was won by trailblazers. The governor’s gathering reminds that we must work together to make changes in our political system to ensure that all have equal rights, opportunities, and the ability to succeed in all areas of life.
Women AdvaNCe needs your help in amplifying the voices of Women in North Carolina. We are committed to working with partners such as the NC Families Care Coalition to highlight issues of discrimination against pregnant workers, hardships for nursing mothers and equal pay to share real stories about how poor policies impact our daily lives. Join us in AdvaNCing the Change.
To reiterate the theme of yesterday’s proclamation… “None of us can do it alone.”