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Award-winning student essays shine light on 100th anniversary of women's suffrage
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Award-winning student essays shine light on 100th anniversary of women's suffrage

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Nine students were recognized and awarded cash prizes during a special presentation this week for their essays that reflected on women’s suffrage and the effect it has had on them and the world over the last 100 years.

The essay contest was sponsored by members from the Kenosha Community Foundation Women’s Fund and the Susan B. Anthony Award Committee. The contest commemorates the 100-year anniversary of the 19th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which gave women the right to vote. Congress passed the amendment on June 4, 1919, and it was ratified by states on Aug. 18, 1920.

The contest was coordinated in June and open to students in grades 3 to 12 attending public or private schools or who are home schooled in Kenosha County. The committee selected the top three essays at the elementary (grades 3-5), middle and high school levels.

Honored during the brief ceremony at the Twilight Jazz Concert on the lawn outside the Anderson Arts Center were: Joshua Cao, Casey Christiansen and Grace Eltoft — who were the first, second and third place winners, respectively, in the high school division; Genesis Goodman, Maggie Salmon and Lily Smith — first through third place winners, respectively, at the middle school level; and Isabella Foltz, Heidi Wright and Ellie Drissel — first through third, respectively, at the elementary level.

Drissel was unable to attend the ceremony, according to essay committee officials.

The top award at the high school level was $350, $250 for second place and $150 for third place. At the middle school level, the first-place winner received $250; second place, $150; and third place, $100. At the elementary level, the first place winner received $100, while $75 went to second place and $50 to third place.

“Congratulations to these young people. They have a bright future ahead of them,” said Becky Matoska-Mentink, representing the Women’s Fund and presenting the awards.

She said the committee considered more than 50 entries, with the winners receiving the highest combined scores from members tallying results from both the organizations.

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During the event, students wore masks and followed pandemic protocols for physical distancing as they lined up to receive their awards on stage. Prior to receiving their awards they also assembled in a specially-marked area for their group photo.

Joshua Cao, 16, of Pleasant Prairie, who won the first-place award in the high school division, said that, in researching his essay, he noted the roles of women activists not only as suffragists in the early 1900s, but also into the civil rights movement, as well.

“Their influence affects me in the way it continues to affect the world today,” he said, referring to women’s activism in the Black Lives Matter Movement, among others.

“I think that, especially with the events in the world that have happened recently, it’s important to realize that just like how women weren’t equal back then, people still have these inequalities right now,” said Cao, who attends Indian Trail High School and Academy. “What the women have really showed us is that, through their movements, they really can foster change and create the world they want to live in.”

Genesis Goodman, 14, the first-place winner in the middle school division, said she initially thought to focus strictly on the essay question, but then took a different tact in the hopes of shedding light on how the suffrage movement excluded Black women and other women of color.

Her essay expounds on how the right to vote, in general, while guaranteed by the 15th Amendment despite a person’s race or religion, wasn’t applied equally to Black voters who were subject to Jim Crow laws and the legacy of disenfranchisement that continues in other forms today.

“For black women … we had to focus on race instead of just our person being women,” said Goodman, who was a student at Washington Middle School and will be attending Bradford High School in the fall.

First-place winner at the elementary level Isabella Foltz, 11, of Pleasant Prairie, said that writing her essay about the suffrage movement taught her the importance of women’s representation in the civic process.

“It is important because we should have a say in what happens in our world and to be able to have a voice,” said Isabella, a Jeffery Elementary student.

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