Less than 100 years ago, women didn’t have the right to vote in America — doing something as easy as casting a ballot for a candidate was forbidden. It wasn’t until the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was ratified Aug. 26, 1920, that led American women along the path to equality —and that journey still continues.
The U.S. Army NATO Brigade sponsored a Women’s Equality Day event at the Tiger Theater here, Aug. 28, to bring awareness to women equality issues and celebrate the 19th Amendment granting women the right to vote.
Guest speaker, Installation Manage-ment Command Chief of Staff Kari Otto, explained how the suffragist movement was effective because the women and men who came together served as a catalyst for change.
“Today, you can see the results of that movement in every part of our society, as women sit on our nation’s highest court, run for our highest political office and serve as leaders in our boardrooms, schools, communities, government and armed forces,” Otto said.
Women’s Equality Day provides an opportunity to reflect on the contributions women make every day, especially in today’s workforce, including service at every level of the Department of Defense. In recent years, women in the Army have made great strides in chipping away at what some may call a glass ceiling, she said.
“Many years ago, I was an Army ROTC cadet, and I wanted to go to Ranger school. I vividly remember my frustration when I was told this was not an option. I demanded to know why — imagine my shock, when the response was — because you’re female,” Otto said. “I was incensed, because it was the first time I had been told ‘no’ to something because of my gender.”
Fast forward a generation to a landscape that changed tremendously — where the Army recognized the achievements of Lt. Shaye Haver, Capt. Kristen Griest, and Maj. Lisa Jaster, the first women to graduate from Army Ranger School in 2015. Ranger school can be a brutally demanding environment, she explained, and their success was notable for anyone, male or female. But for her, this was tantamount to shattering the glass ceiling.
When asked who inspired her, Otto named women who were closer to home — strong women thriving in positions at IMCOM-Europe installations — among them, she named Deborah Reynolds, U.S. Army Garrison Rheinland Pfalz deputy to the commander, and 1st Sgt. Japonica Armstrong, acting USAG RP command sergeant major.
“What a privilege to serve with this great team,” said Otto, a former active-duty garrison commander. “Thanks to these incredible leaders and others like them, the gender barrier is dissolving — the ceiling is shattering.”
For Staff Sgt. Tyesha Cox, NCO in charge of personnel operations division with USA NATO, it’s important to recognize the history and people who paved the way for the equality women share today.
“It was a challenge that took decades to accomplish,” said Cox, a 12-year Army veteran. “Women back then had a lot of courage and took risks in something they believed in, and eventually, the 19th Amendment became a reality.”
Once the glass ceiling began to crack, there was no going back. Trailblazers like Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony, Sojourner Truth and Alice Paul began breaking the social norms of their day and making ideals of equality into reality.
“One thing I learned at today’s event was the first woman to run for president wasn’t Hillary Clinton in 2016; it was Victoria Woodhull, who ran for president in 1872 — more than 100 years prior,” said Cox, who will be promoted to sergeant first class Sept. 1. “That was pretty brave for her time, and I hope that in my lifetime, I’ll see a woman become president.”