On November 15, America’s military gave a woman four stars for the first time. The Army promoted Lt. Gen. Ann E. Dunwoody, 55, to four-star rank. Breaking the brass ceiling, she will take over as commanding general, U.S. Army Materiel Command, Fort Belvoir, Va.
“I recognize that with this selection, some will view me as a trailblazer, but it’s important that we remember the generations of women, whose dedication, commitment and quality of service helped open the doors of opportunity for us today,” Dunwoody noted.
Yes, we should remember those women who opened the doors.
It is an exciting time for women. Sarah Palin ran for veep. Hillary Clinton came very close to becoming the next president. Condoleezza Rice is Secretary of State. There will be 17 women in the Senate that begins serving in January, the highest total in history. The House will have 74 female Representatives. Eight states are governed by women. And the New Hampshire state senate will have a female majority.
This ascension in politics really accelerated in 1992, when five women (Barbara Boxer [D-CA], Carol Moseley Braun [D-IL], Dianne Feinstein [D-CA], Barbara Mikulski [D-MD], and Patty Murray [D., WA]) were elected to the Senate. Many commentators called it the “Year of the Woman.”
Surprisingly, that was when time apparently stopped at Women’s Rights National Historical Park. This small National Park in Seneca Falls, NY, which consists of four historical properties and a Visitor Center, chronicles the struggle for women’s rights in America. With special emphasis on the First Women’s Rights Convention in 1848, the Visitor Center graphically illustrates the challenges, prejudices, and laws that kept women from equality. It also chronicles women’s victories. But the calendar stops in 1993. Not one of the dozens of exhibits contains any information from the last 15 years!
On a recent visit, my wife and I queried Park staff and learned that funding is the problem. No money has ever been budgeted for data updates. Is New York’s Sen. Hillary Clinton unaware that a federally funded National Park—in her home state—is jaw-droppingly out of date? Why keep the Visitor Center open if the information is incorrect?
In 1848, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and four other women invited the public to Seneca Falls to discuss expanding the role of women in America. After two days, 100 men and women, including Frederick Douglass, made a public commitment to work together to improve women’s quality of life.
In the current economic sleet storm, Congress probably won’t find the small amount of money required to bring this National Park into the 21st Century. (Earmark anyone?) But there must be a women’s group or a foundation with a mission that includes outreach and education about the history of women’s rights in America.
Come on! Fifteen years of nothing?
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The letter below was mailed to each of the 17 women who will convene as senators in January:
The struggle for women’s rights has an extraordinary history…and the struggle is ongoing. You, more than most, are surely and personally aware of this.
My wife and I, on a recent vacation in New York’s Finger Lakes area, made a special pilgrimage to Women’s Rights National Historical Park in Seneca Falls. We were appalled to see the embarrassing state of the Visitor Center.
The exhibits, while attractive and well maintained, were woefully out of date. It appears that the information presented to the public has not been updated since 1993—nothing about a single female world leader of the last 15 years! How humiliating to present an exhibit that lists women in politics and not mention the accomplishments of today’s women! This was not an isolated problem; not one of the exhibits is current.
I inquired and was told by Park staff that funding has never been available to update the data presented. For 15 years? If that is the case, then why keep the Visitor Center, filled as it is with obsolete data, open?
In an effort to publicize this travesty more widely, I have written a blog post that describes this problem in more detail: <http://stevecotler.com/tales/2008/11/15/womens-rights-nothing-since-1993/>
On behalf of women of the 21st Century, please strive to get NPS funding to remedy this embarrassment.