Speeches

Justice Sharon L. Kennedy
Women's Equality Day: Service Achieves Equality for All
Aug. 26, 2016

Thank you Major Shaun Robinson for the invitation to be here today and Ms. Schaal for that wonderful introduction. I am honored to be with all of you and thank you for attending.

As we mark this day, August 26, as a day of Women in Equality, we celebrate the passage of the 19th Amendment to the United States Constitution which certifies in law and recognizes our foundational principle that we—men and women—are created equal.

In doing so we recognize all of those women who have gone before us who dedicated their lives and persevered and advanced the cause of women.

We particularly remember the women who answered the call to serve their country, for it was through that service and the recognition of that service in conjunction with our advancing society that equality for women was propelled into all aspects of our daily lives. From the colonial times, to the turn of the century, and now modern day, we remember all of them.

In early American history women came to the battle field playing largely a supportive role. They gave aid during America's Revolutionary War by helping to cook, clean, mend uniforms, and nurse wounded and ill soldiers.

But others, like Deborah Sampson, grabbed a musket and in the spring of 1781 enlisted in the 4th Massachusetts Regiment under the name of “Robert Shurtliff.” Disguised as a man she would fight to give birth to a new republic until the summer of 1783 when her true identity was discovered.

Margaret Corbin was arguably the first woman in American history to openly serve. At the Battle of Fort Washington in November 1776, she followed her husband onto the battlefield to assist him in loading his cannon. She took over firing upon the British when both her husband's loader and her husband were killed in battle.

Sixty five years later the Women's Suffrage Movement was born in July of 1848 when Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and Lucretia Mott organized the first women's rights convention. Susan B. Anthony would later join that cause.

With the onset of the Civil War the suffrage movement waned, but during that war the role of women would still grow. There are more than 400 documented cases of women assuming disguises and fighting alongside the men during the Civil War.

Other women mark that history with service, such as Clara Barton, the “Angel of the Battlefield,” who gave aid to the dying and wounded. Dr. Mary Walker, who joined the Union Forces as the first female assistant surgeon and was the first woman to receive the Medal of Honor. We would also witness the first federally appointed woman, Dorothea Dix, Superintendent of Women Nurses for Union Army Hospitals.

Four years after the end of the civil war the Wyoming territory would become the first to grant women full voting rights in 1869. Soon other territories and states followed. It was during the 1800's that many states also began to acknowledge women's property rights. The legal right to acquire, own, sell and transfer property, the ability to collect and keep rents, to keep their own wages, to make contracts and bring an action in our courts. By the turn of the 20th century all states had given married women significant control over their own property and four states acknowledged women's rights to vote.

Then came the Spanish American War and the desperate need for competent and certified nurses. That period was marked with the creation of the Army Nurse Corps: The first military unit in history specifically designated for and permitting women to serve in an official capacity.

As World War I began, public sector jobs previously reserved for men opened to women, creating the advent of women clerks, stenographers, phone operators, bank tellers, munitions and factory workers, railway guards, ticket collectors, architects, and many more.

Beyond the public sector, the military began to fill administrative vacancies with women.  On August 13, 1918, the first woman enlisted in the Marine Corps, Opha Johnson.

But it was following that Great War that President Wilson recognized the enormous contribution women had made to the war effort and ultimate victory, which led to his strong support for the passage of the 19th Amendment.

On June 14, 1919, the Amendment was passed by Congress. On August 20, 1920, it was ratified by three-fourths of the states and on August 26, 1920, the passage was certified by the Office of the Federal Register.

With the passage of the 19th Amendment came the rush to place women on the ballot. While many would have to wait until the 1922 election, one Ohio woman, because of the swell of support for her, was elected to a court of common pleas: Florence Allen. She was the first in the nation elected to judicial office and in another two years she would become an Ohio State Supreme Court Justice. Later in 1934 she became the first woman appointed to a federal court of appeals.

Joining her in public office in 1922 were six women elected to serve at the Ohio State Capitol: Senators Nettie Bromley Loughead (Hamilton County) and Maude Comstock Waitt (Cuyahoga County); and House of Representatives members Nettie Clapp, Lu Lu Gleason, C.J. Ott, and May Van Wye.

After the passage of the 19th amendment the role of women serving in the military continued to grow. With the onset of World War II came the creation of the Women’s Army Corps, Women’s Auxiliary Ferrying Squadron, and Women Airforce Service Pilots. In 1948 Congress enacted the Women’s Armed Services Integration Act creating permanent status for women in the military.

During Korean and Vietnam wars women continued to serve in administrative and nursing capacities. With the end of the formalized draft in 1973 we witnessed greater military opportunities for women. In 1976, women are able to enlist in the service academies. 1978: Women approved to serve on non-combat ships as technicians, nurses, and officers. From 1991 to 1992, 41,000 women were deployed to the combat zones in the Persian Gulf War, and in 1991 women became eligible to fly on combat missions through an act of Congress. In 1993 Congress authorizes women to serve on combat ships. 2000: Captain Kathleen McGrath becomes the first woman to command U.S. Navy Warship. 2004: Colonel Linda McTague becomes the first woman commander of a fighter squadron in U.S. Air Force History. In 2005 Sgt. Leigh Ann Hester’s valor in action earns her the Silver Star.

We have also witnessed the promotion of two women to the rank of four-star generals: Army General Ann Dunwoody (2008) and Air Force General Janet Wolfenbarger (2012), Commander of Air Force Materiel Command, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base.

On August 21, 2015, America witnessed the first two women graduate from Army Ranger School: Captain Kristen Griest and 1st Lieutenant Shaye Haver.

Tomorrow we will see more.

Our history is marked with women's service in the military which advanced and propelled a changing society. It opened hundreds of doors to occupations previously denied to women. It was the recognized role of women in the military that gave the final push to usher in the modern era of women and the passage of the 19th amendment guaranteeing us equal rights. We are indebted to all those women who worked, fought, and persevered to make it possible. But our work is not done, and it is our responsibility to pick up the mantle.

As they have paved our way to this point in time we have an obligation to them and to the next generation of young women to clear the path ahead.

Together we must continue to mark this date and honor those who came before us. We should honor their Motivation—their desire to serve. Recognize their Merit—for in that meritorious service came the change of a nation. And seize the baton to Mentor—for through mentoring, we build a future for the women who come behind us.

Thank you for the opportunity to be with you. Thank you for your service to this great country. May God bless you and the United States of America.