Alice Paul was a brave suffragette, not afraid to participate in hunger strikes and face nights in prison to support her passionate views about equality for women. Even though her journey unfolded many years ago in 1917, when she formed the National Women's Party, her unwavering conviction remains an important lesson for youngsters today.
Celebrating its 20th anniversary, the Connecticut Women's Hall of Fame is sharing the stories of such inductees as Paul through a new, innovative program launched in the last few weeks in honor of Women's History Month. The mission: to bring knowledge and motivation to the public in a meaningful, personal way.
"They are powerful stories about very tenacious and courageous women that will inspire young women to see their own possibilities," says Executive Director Katherine Wiltshire, noting that the group's annual induction event in the fall funds dozens of free programs for kids across the state each year, such as a recent event at East Hartford High School. Educator Bambi Mroz showed students photographs of the suffrage movement and was impressed with their insight.
"Some of the things that they came up with were things, I think, as adults we just wouldn't even consider," she says, explaining that they examined period clothing, deciphered the season and studied the ethnic makeup of the group of women holding signs. "These could have been their mothers, their sisters, their grandmothers even, who were involved with this, and they're kind of like, 'Wow! My mom could change the world!"
The CWHF, based in New Haven, has a "virtual hall" (www.cwhf.org) where Internet surfers can learn all about such inductees as Annie Leibovitz and Katharine Hepburn.
"What the Hall has been trying to do is provide role models for the next generation of women leaders," says Wiltshire.
But the presentation is also important for boys. "One of them, who was an international student, a young man, said to me, 'I had no idea that women in the U.S. didn't always have the right to vote.' He had no idea," says Mroz.
Although the Hall will continue to bring its lessons into classrooms, the new DIY Program enables community educators, teachers, librarians or scout leaders to share the stories on their own time.
"They can take these materials, adapt them for what their students or their group needs," says Mroz. "It really links the inductees' accomplishments and stories to what is going on in today's world."
Wiltshire is excited that Sheryl Sandberg's new book, "Lean In," has enlivened a national discussion: "You can tell that the dialogue is still ongoing about what women's roles are and where they can contribute, how they can contribute."
But there was a time when these thoughts were quashed and ridiculed, a history that now serves as a reminder to our youth to celebrate our valiant predecessors and never take our rights for granted.