A quote from Penner sums up her philosophy as one of those outstanding and talented “broads” with a Dorothy Parker-esque perspective.
“In the 1970s, I was a vigorous believer that women needed better representation in business and society, and I worked hard to make that happen. I doubt my demeanor resembled the TV-film stereotypes of the obedient, dutiful babe in the background.”
How do we honor a woman who was one of the most astute interviewers of politicians in San Diego? We need only look back in time to the 19th Amendment, giving women the right to vote. We vote this Nov. 6 to honor Penner and because we have the right to vote, thanks to some hardworking women who went before us and fought for women’s rights.
On Aug. 18, 1920, the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was ratified and gave women the same right men had since the Revolutionary days. Women and some sympathetic men fought at the state and national levels to achieve that vote. It overruled Minor vs. Happersett, in which a unanimous Supreme Court ruled that the 14th Amendment did not apply to women or give them a right to vote. Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton led the battle and drafted the 19th Amendment.
Women have only had the right to vote for 92 years — a blip on the radar screen of American history. Young women and teenage girls would be surprised to learn that the right to even get a credit card in your name or buy a car in 1970 was not available to many women, even those ladies with personal wealth.
Judy Schreiber, a University City psychologist, shared this personal anecdote.
“The only thing that pops into my mind is that when I got divorced in 1970, I could not get a credit card on my own. My dad had to get one in his name … not exactly a right-to-vote issue, but a comment on women’s rights.”
Another woman reported she had a full-time job in 1962 and was over 21, but she had to get her father to co-sign a car loan.
Now times have changed for the better, according to District 1 City Councilwoman Sherri Lightner.
“We have seen a lot of progress since the passage of the 19th Amendment, but the fact that we still do not have an Equal Rights Amendment shows there is more work to do,” she said. “We must continue to mentor and empower young women as they strive to achieve goals.”
U.C. Planning Group chairwoman Janay Kruger weighed in on the subject.
“Democracy is based on being able to vote for representatives and initiatives to further our goals for our country,” Kruger said. “I believe that freedom of speech and voting are two of the greatest gifts we have. Giving women the right to vote in 1920 was one of the most important days for democracy in the United States.”
Pia Mantovani-Sud has been a longtime activist in University City. She grew up in Switzerland, and when asked about her view of women’s right to vote, she reminisced about the past.
“The suffragettes come to mind. Do you remember the scene in ‘Mary Poppins’ when the mother goes out to demonstrate in favor of women’s rights? How far have we come? My mom would ask my father how she should vote. I couldn’t wait until I was 20, the legal age back then to vote in Switzerland,” she said. “I think we have come a long way, but still we need more women to step up and get elected. Why is 51 percent of the U.S. population underrepresented in Congress and Sacramento?”
Abigail, a young mother of a toddler, grew up in Vietnam and came with her parents to the United States. When she was in high school, she studied Abigail Adams and her relationship with husband John Adams, second president of the United States. She loved the role Abigail Adams played on the sidelines. As a founding father, John Adams was away from the Boston home and family, and the letters Abigail and John exchanged inspired her as a student. “Remember the ladies!” admonished Abigail Adams in a letter to her husband, who was working on the writing of “The Declaration of Independence.” No vote for women was forthcoming.
In less than three weeks, American women everywhere will wake up on Nov. 6 with media reminders to get out to vote. Is voting just a rote thing to do? Is it a privilege that comes with citizenship in this great country? One has only to turn back the calendar to Nov. 16, 1917 to remember when 33 women were convicted of obstructing the sidewalk in front of the White House that was occupied by Woodrow Wilson. These women were arrested and some were beaten for their picketing about the right to vote. Lucy Burns, Dora Lewis and Alice Paul ended up in Occoquan Workhouse in Virginia, where they were brutally treated.
Women owe it to past heroines like Abigail Adams, Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and today’s angel, Gloria Penner, to honor their efforts.
— Sandy Lippe is a 36-year resident of University City and the former president of the UC Community Association.