Last week, Chargé Yael Lempert joined the 2020 Women’s Vote Centennial Initiative ( @2020centennial ) for their virtual book launch of “A Vote for Women” to mark the 100th anniversary of the Flag of United States 19th Amendment & women’s suffrage. Chargé Lempert’s remarks are below.
Chargé Yael Lempert
Speech at Virtual Book Launch of “A Vote for Women” Celebrating the 100 year Anniversary of the Passage of the 19th Amendment
St. James’s House
London, United Kingdom
March 31, 2021
Chargé Lempert: Good evening to everyone here in the UK – and good afternoon to all of you tuning in from America. I am absolutely delighted to join you all for this event today – so thank you to Anna and the team at St. James’s House for inviting me to say a few words.
And thank you to Nancy and Krysta of the Women’s Vote Centennial Initiative for all the work you have done to celebrate that huge moment in American history, when the 19th Amendment was finally passed in the summer of 1920.
Last year, at the U.S. Embassy in London, we celebrated that milestone achievement with a number of events. And I wanted to share with you why it meant so much to us at this Embassy, and also why it meant so much to me personally.
Because the passing of the 19th Amendment, holds a very special place in my heart – and has since I was a little girl. I grew up in New York state, near a place called Seneca Falls. And it was there, in 1848, that heroes like Lucretia Mott, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and Frederick Douglass gathered to demand the vote for women and dared to declare for the first time the words that still deeply resonate to this day:
We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men and women are created equal.
Well – that was 1848. You can do the math. It took over 7 decades to turn that vision at Seneca Falls into victory on Capitol Hill. For over 70 years, the suffragists kept going – one generation after the next. They kept meeting. They kept marching. They were spat upon. They were beaten. They were arrested. They were force fed. They were put in solitary.
And let’s not forget that many women of color had to battle racism as well as sexism. When Ida B. Wells arrived to march for women’s rights in Washington in 1913, she was told to march at the back. She marched at the front. She refused to give up on what was right.
And those women, as a collective, refused to give up on what was right. Even if it cost them their lives. In fact, one of the most memorable activists of that time, for me, was Inez Milholland. She rode a white horse all across America to campaign for votes for women, despite the fact that she suffered from a chronic health condition. At the age of just 30, she collapsed in the middle of a speech and was rushed to hospital. They couldn’t save her. But before she died, do you know what her very last words were? She said:
“Mr President, how long must women wait for liberty?”
That is the kind of stuff those women were made of. They were, if I may say so, truly badass. And they succeeded in changing the entire course of our history.
The very fact that I’m speaking here today – not only a woman with a vote, but a woman in the U.S. Foreign Service, leading one of America’s most important embassies, serving a President who is committed to equity for all and a Vice President, who is not only the first female Vice President, but also the first African American Vice President, and the first Asian American Vice President – all of that, you can trace directly back to the courage and determination of all those women, who, over a hundred years ago, refused to take no for an answer.
And it was particularly special for us at the U.S. Embassy in London to be in the UK to celebrate the passing of the 19th Amendment. Because the fight for women’s rights has always been one without borders. And in this fight, as in every other, the U.S. and the UK have been the very closest of allies. American women were inspired, trained, and supported by some amazing British women.
Famous American suffragists like Alice Paul, Lucy Burn, and Harriot Stanton Blatch lived in England. It was here they met and learned the ideas and techniques of heroes like Emmeline Pankhurst, Millicent Fawcett, and Emily Davison. They took those ideas back to the United States – and the rest, as they say, is history.
Of course, the 19th Amendment wasn’t the end of the journey for women’s rights in America. It took four more years for Native Americans to get the vote. Even longer for Asian Americans. And it wasn’t until 1965 that Black women could freely exercise their right to vote.
But the passing of the 19th Amendment in 1920 was nevertheless one of those transformational moments in American history, when we truly succeeded in forming, if not a perfect union, a more perfect union. So, it’s really meaningful to celebrate that today – and also, to take inspiration for the future, and what remains to be done.
Because we all know – from our own experiences – that the reality for women is still really hard sometimes. There are still perennial challenges and institutional barriers for women to overcome. And that holds true in business as it does in the public sector.
There’s still not nearly enough female leadership – across all organizations. There are still huge challenges for women in reaching the top, or juggling childcare, or being paid the same for equal work. And it may be 2021, but we still find women being dismissed or harassed or overlooked in the workplace.
And on top of these challenges, when you look at the biggest global challenges we face, we also see that they are having – or will have – a disproportionately tough impact on women – whether it’s COVID, or climate change.
So it’s up to us to pick up the baton and continue to fight for greater equity. And you’ll be glad to know that we are still very much teaming up across the Atlantic to do that. That’s something I’m very focused on. Because ultimately, what is the best way to celebrate the achievements of those badass women 100 years ago?
I think it’s by being a badass woman – or proudly feminist man – 100 years later. And continuing to follow in the footsteps of those 19th Amendment heroes along the road to genuine equality. Fortunately, thanks to those women – and to use the words of great American suffragist, Lucy Stone:
“The road before us is shorter than the road behind.”
Thank you everyone.