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SC women celebrate a century of having the right to vote, call on more women to seek office

South Carolina Lt. Gov. Pamela Evette receives applause at the Statehouse during a press conference celebrating the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment Tuesday, Aug. 18, 2020 in Columbia, S.C. Her daughter Amanda is standing beside her. The 19th Amendment delivered voting rights to women in the United States. Sean Rayford/Special to The Post and Courier

COLUMBIA — A century after women across America gained the right to vote, a bipartisan group gathered Tuesday on the Statehouse steps to celebrate the glass ceilings shattered by South Carolinians while recognizing the state still lags in female representation.

The roughly 80 women, many dressed in the traditional white of the suffragists, included the first females to lead two South Carolina colleges — Benedict College President Roslyn Artis and Furman University President Elizabeth Davis — and several legislators who are firsts for their district. 

“Voting is power,” said state Rep. Pat Henegan, D-Bennettsville, the first Black woman to represent Marlboro County. “Women working together is definitely power.”

Dr. Monica Elkins (left) talks with Sherry Thomas on the Statehouse steps in Columbia before a press conference on Tuesday, Aug. 18, 2020, celebrating the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment. The 19th Amendment delivered voting rights to women in the United States. Sean Rayford/Special to The Post and Courier

But it wasn’t until the 1965 Voting Rights Act, which prohibited racial discrimination at the polls, that Black women were really guaranteed the right to vote, said Democratic Rep. Annie McDaniel, the first Black woman representing Winnsboro in the House.

She noted that Gov. Henry McMaster was holding a ceremonial bill signing later Tuesday to formally celebrate the Lactation Support Act, a bill he actually signed in June that guarantees new mothers can take breaks on the job and directs employers to at least try to provide a private setting “other than a toilet stall.”

“It’s 2020! We need more women so bills pertaining to women can be made into law,” McDaniel said. “Vote. Run for office. Lead.”   

In 2020, South Carolina ranks 45th nationwide in women in the Legislature, occupying 16.5 percent of its 170 seats, compared to top-ranked Nevada’s 52 percent, according to Rutgers University’s Center for American Women and Politics.

That’s actually a leap from South Carolina’s last-in-the-nation ranking held as late as 2012, two years after voters elected then-Rep. Nikki Haley the state’s first female and first minority governor. At the time, South Carolina didn’t have a single female senator. There are now four — an all-time-high for the state.

 

Girl Scouts laugh with state Rep. Patricia Henegan, D-Bennettsville, at the Statehouse in Columbia on Tuesday, Aug. 18, 2020, after a press conference celebrating the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment. The 19th Amendment delivered voting rights to women in the United States. Sean Rayford/Special to The Post and Courier

Only one South Carolina woman has been elected to Congress on her own terms: Democrat Liz Patterson, who served from 1987 to 1993. Four other women won special elections between 1938 and 1962 to fill the remaining time in their deceased husband’s term.  

“The women who came before us made it possible for us to be here today, and we are supposed to be setting the example so women ahead of us can go and continue to do the same great work,” said Republican Lt. Gov. Pam Evette, the state’s second female lieutenant governor — following Democrat Nancy Stevenson, who left office after a single term in 1983.

“We still have a lot of work to do, ladies,” Evette said. 

While the 19th Amendment was ratified on Aug. 18, 1920 — putting women’s right to vote in the U.S. Constitution — South Carolina was not among the original 36 states that made that happen. It was Tennessee, which now ranks second-worst in female representation, that supplied that last required approval. 

South Carolina legislators didn’t officially support women’s suffrage with a “yes” vote until 49 years later.

Lou Kennedy, the president and CEO of Nephron Pharmaceuticals, recalled what activist Eulalie Salley, then 85 years old, said at that bill’s signing in 1969. 

“Well, boys, I’ve waited 50 years to tell you what I think about you for taking so long to pass this,” Salley, one of the state’s first female real estate agents, said while standing next to then-Gov. Robert McNair.  

“We can relate to what Ms. Salley said back then,” said Kennedy, who noted she’s often the lone woman in a business meeting. 

Girl Scouts laugh with state Rep. Patricia Henegan, D-Bennettsville, at the Statehouse in Columbia on Tuesday, Aug. 18, 2020, after a press conference celebrating the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment. The 19th Amendment delivered voting rights to women in the United States. Sean Rayford/Special to The Post and Courier

“There are still obstacles each of us face along the road to equality. I’m encouraged that, today, little girls know they can be CEOs, university presidents, board chairs, governors, senators, lieutenant governors and they can run for president of the United States. But we still have work to do,” said the former chairwoman of the state Chamber of Commerce. 

“As we celebrate 100 years of women voting, we should also remember to lift as we climb,” she continued. “Empowering young women to pursue careers in businesses, the life sciences and, yes, elected office. The only way we’ll see more women serving in office is if more women run for the office and vote.”  

Source: The Post and Courier

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