Like the suffrage movement itself, Kenosha County’s effort to celebrate the centennial of the women’s right to vote didn’t come quickly.
But come it did on Wednesday, on a beautiful early-autumn evening on the lawn outside the Anderson Arts Center.
The Kenosha County Suffrage Celebration capped off the current season of Anderson’s Twilight Jazz Series, offering the occasion to reflect upon and celebrate the movement that resulted in voting rights for women.
First scheduled for August 2020 to coincide with the 100th anniversary of the ratification of the 19th Amendment, the event was postponed last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Then, rescheduled for last month in celebration of the 101st anniversary, it was again delayed due to stormy weather.
Ready to celebrate
Despite the delays, the crowd that turned out for Wednesday’s reschedule of the reschedule was still ready to celebrate.
Local blues musician Ivy Ford and her band provided the musical entertainment. Her band took an intermission for a “March to Vote” parade and remarks by recently retired Kenosha County Circuit Judge Mary K. Wagner on the county’s role in the suffrage movement more than a century ago.
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“Kenosha County women were very active in the suffrage movement,” Wagner said. “There were regular meetings of the Kenosha County Equal Suffrage league, and from that group, several women became leaders in the state and in the nation.”
Among those women: Mary D. Bradford, Sarah Barter, Dr. Helen Harbert, and Beatrice Welles, the mother of Kenosha-born actor Orson Welles.
Wagner noted that the passage of the 19th Amendment essentially gave white women the right to vote; it would take another 45 years for women of color to receive the same right in every state.
“The lesson learned is one of persistence,” Wagner said. “As Susan B. Anthony said, ‘Failure is impossible.’ She knew women would receive the right to vote, even if it took a few decades after her death.
“Women of color had to wait twice as long and work twice as hard to receive the right to vote. Men and women of color were partners in the fight for the 19th amendment.”
Long time in planning
Wagner and fellow retired Judge Barbara Kluka co-chaired a committee that Kenosha County Executive Jim Kreuser appointed in 2019 to organize and promote local events celebrating the suffrage centennial. Crediting Kreuser for recognizing the importance of commemorating the anniversary, Wagner also thanked the many women who followed through with this work.
Wednesday’s event also included recognition of the winners of a Susan B. Anthony-Women of Influence Awards essay contest on women in national leadership.
Not all of the winners were able to be in attendance as it was a school night, but three were: First-place elementary school entrant Liliana Kolczaski, second-place high school entrant Emma Wideman and first-place high school entrant Katelynn Ripper. The latter two received respective prizes of $250 and $350.
Presenting the awards, Kenosha County Clerk of Circuit Court Rebecca Matoska-Mentink said these young students are “just a little bit of our hope and glimmer for women’s rights moving forward in our community.”
More information about the Kenosha County Suffrage 100 Committee, including biographies of local women involved in the suffrage movement, is available online at https://bit.ly/KCSuffrage100.