LOS ANGELES — It took 150 years from the time of the founding fathers for America to adopt the 19th Amendment to the Constitution guaranteeing women the right to vote and another century-plus-one since its adoption by Congress on Aug. 26, 1919. In recognition of the significant contributions by women, the U.S. Army and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Los Angeles District commemorates Women’s Equality Day Aug. 26.
The Army recognizes not only the significance of women’s contributions, but also the value of diversity and inclusivity of women to our fighting force. The observance has grown to include focusing attention on women’s continued efforts toward gaining full equality. The 2022 Women’s History theme, “Providing Healing, Promoting Hope,” is a tribute to the work of caregivers and frontline workers during the ongoing Covid pandemic. It’s also recognition of the ways that women of all cultures provided healing and hope throughout history.
“Women’s Equality Day is a reminder that there is no limit to what we could do as women. There are no barriers we cannot break, no goal we cannot reach,” said Hiliary Innerbichler, South Pacific Division secretary for Contracting Equal Employment Opportunity, Los Angeles District. “It is a reminder to every woman that we have never stopped fighting for our right to be equal.”
Innerbichler volunteered to be the Corps’ local EEO chairperson for the Federal Woman’s Employment Program. She has served as chairperson for three years.
Women’s equality was advocated by Abigail Adams, wife of third U.S. President John Adams, as early as March 31, 1776.
“I long to hear that you have declared an independency. And, by the way, in the new code of laws which I suppose it will be necessary for you to make, I desire you would remember the ladies and be more generous and favorable to them than your ancestors,” Adams said. “Do not put such unlimited power into the hands of the husbands.”
It wasn’t until 1848 that Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott organized the National Woman Suffrage Association and the first women’s rights convention based on the Declaration of Independence. The suffragette movement gained national momentum around the beginning of the 20th Century before World War I saw a dramatic increase of women working in what were traditionally men’s jobs, such as factory workers, aviation, medicine, construction and engineering.
In 1917 during the war, New York adopted women's suffrage. Once President Woodrow Wilson changed his position to support an amendment in 1918, the political balance began to shift in favor of enfranchising women. The amendment had been offered in the previous 42 sessions of Congress; however, there was still strong political opposition to enfranchising women. Many of the women who peacefully protested as “Silent Sentinels,” standing outside the White House six days a week were arrested and jailed, with some going on hunger strikes during detention. It was the first time the White House was picketed. Still, the women persisted and public sympathy grew.
While women got the hard-fought right to vote in 1919, they still faced the glass ceiling. Since then, remarkable women have risen in the military ranks to general, DoD Senior Executive Service, governorships, to congresswomen and senators, and vice president of the United States. The private sector lags in equality, with women today earning 82 cents per dollar men earn.
According to a recent Pew survey, “women in the United States continue to earn less than men, on average. Among full-time, year-round workers in 2019, women’s median annual earnings were 82 percent those of men.” However--and hopeful with the 2022 theme--the survey goes on to note that 22 out of 250 American cities now pay women more than men at roughly 102 percent.
In a women’s symposium in January, Corps division commander Col. Antoinette Gant and district commander Col. Julie Balten addressed the challenges they faced as young engineer officers encountering entrenched societal pressures.
“It’s a great thing you are doing, having a women’s forum, where it’s not just about women; it’s also about males, who are part of your organization, to be able to be a part of it,” Balten said. “That is important because this is not just a women’s issue. This is something we want to make sure, all around, that everyone understands some of the challenges, especially with being a woman in some of the environments we’re in, and some of the challenges we face, so that we all can be able to help each other.”
During the event, Gant also shared one of her favorite quotes – one of many she tells herself daily to keep her motivated: “You may succeed if no one else believes in you, but you will never succeed if you don’t believe in yourself.”
First Lady Abigale Adams summed up her message of equality for women in 1776: “Remember, all men would be tyrants if they could. If particular care and attention is not paid to the ladies, we are determined to foment a rebellion, and will not hold ourselves bound by any laws in which we have no voice or representation.”