Women of all ages and walks of life gathered Saturday afternoon to listen to an array of speakers paint a picture of the tireless journey to equality.
The Women's Rights Convention commemorated the 160th anniversary of the First Women's Rights Convention held in Seneca Falls, NY.
Sisters Patricia Callan, Molly Carver and Jan Carver Young organized the downtown event after they were inspired by a documentary of the 1848 movement.
"I've been asked why hold a women's convention,” Callan said. “Well, the reasons are as varied as the smiling faces I see around me."
Callan spoke of the strength and courage of Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and of more recent inspirational women.
"In 2008 we had the first viable woman presidential candidate," she said. "The first woman in 232 years. Two hours is hardly enough time to tell the stories that are dying to be told. A woman's work is never done."
A crowd of women, families and men sat in chairs or on blankets upon Washington Park’s cool grass. The group – at least 70 strong – listened intently to each speaker and applauded frequently.
"The speakers couldn't have been better picked if Susan B. Anthony had transported and done it herself,” attendee Vera Ellson, 74, said.
Ginger Packert, history instructor at EHOVE Career Center and BGSU Firelands, entertained the crowd with the history of the Declaration of Sentiment, modeled after the Declaration of Independence. The Declaration of Sentiment added that all women, not just men, were created equal.
"Until all Americans have civil rights, there is no equality,” she said. “We need to hold our elected officials accountable to the promises they have made."
Director of Serving Our Seniors and community activist Sue Daugherty spoke of how women's rights have gotten lost in the "social norms."
She shared a quote from Margaret Mead.
"Never doubt that a small group of citizens can change the world, indeed they are the only ones who can," she read.
Linda Mitchell, executive director of Safe Harbour Domestic Violence Shelter said she was "tickled" to be invited to speak. Her mission was to remind women that although equality is stronger now than ever, abuse toward one another still exists.
"Our work in Erie County is not done," she said. "As long as there's even one person in our county that is abused, our work is not done here."
Stephanie Alexander-Johnson, member of the Sandusky branch of the NAACP, shared with the audience her humor and pride for being not only a strong woman, but also a strong woman of color.
"We are fighting some of the same things now (that) we were then,” she said. “We need to encourage and empower our fellow sisters."
Alexander-Johnson said women are no longer relegated to the kitchen or home.
"We no longer take orders from bosses," she said. "We are the bosses. After 160 years of protesting, shoving and pushing, we've come a long way baby, don't let anyone turn you around.”
Looking behind her, Alexander-Johnson praised the next speaker, former police Chief Kim Nuesse.
The audience offered the same round of applause they mustered for the other speakers, but after a few rounds, the crowd didn't cease clapping.
They stood and clapped harder.
"Thank you," Nuesse said. "Thank you all so much. I want you to know that I'm still standing. I'm not going anywhere. We tell our kids when they fall off the bicycle, you get back up again. We tell them, you don't let anyone keep you down. You get back up."
Nuesse spoke of the importance of voting and how voter apathy leads to the election of “counterfeit leaders” who don’t serve the community. She also spoke of her admiration for the U.S. Constitution and the free country in which we live.
"Our only threat to democracy is apathy," she said. “We need to have a voice … vote and hold leaders accountable to their community."
Maggie Marconi, museum curator for the Follett House, then spoke about the women’s rights movement locally and how Erie County had the first all-female jury in the state.
Her history lesson was followed by speakers Kay Gilbert, coordinator of the Erie County Health Department’s Pregnancy Prevention effort, and Firelands Chapter of PFLAG co-founder Deb Presser.
"Every young girl in our community is valuable," Gilbert said. "We can't waste them. We need to help them with a vision, mentor them and tell them that they can do great things.”
Presser spoke of the continuing struggle of equality of all people.
"Today we are one," she said. "Today we stand under one banner. Women have come a long way, but the fear is still there. People of all races, all lifestyles are still being discriminating against … the fight for equality is still going strong."
The final guests of the day were Mary Blatnik, daughter of the late Virginia Manning, and Orpha McGee, friend and former co-worker of Manning, who spearheaded the civil rights lawsuit in the 1960s, Virginia Manning v. General Motors.
McGee told stories of hatred and the disrespect toward women at New Departure prior to and following the Civil Rights Movement. The local women won the case and brought the movement's idealism home.
"I want to thank the women who put on this wonderful event and the 72 courageous woman who fought for equality along with my mother," Blatnik said.
Wrapping up the event that ran over by a half hour, Carver Young left the audience with a few words to ponder.
"Each one of us has the seed within us to be what we will be," she said. "What we will become is what we already are, we can't be scared. Each one must take her own journey."