Bergman Lecture Celebrates Women's Right to Vote and Efforts to Move Forward

Berman Memorial Lecture recognizes 100th anniversary of women's right to vote.USD School of Law Professor Miranda McGowan moderated an online panel that celebrated the 100-year anniversary of the 19th amendment that guaranteed and protected women’s constitutional right to vote.

The 100th anniversary of women’s right to vote in the United States is a time to celebrate but also a time to work toward greater equality and justice for everyone in society.

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That was the message from the USD School of Law’s annual Bergman Memorial Lecture, which was held remotely on Sept. 23.

A panel, moderated by USD Law Professor Miranda McGowan, celebrated the 100-year anniversary of the 19th amendment that guaranteed and protected women’s constitutional right to vote.

“From our vantage point today in 2020 it’s unimaginable that women didn’t always have the right to vote and unbelievable that the campaign to secure the right to vote took 75 years of, to quote (Winston) Churchill, ‘blood, sweat, toil and tears,’” she said. “The more I immerse myself in this topic, the more improbable and astonishing the suffragettes victory seems to me.”

Reflecting on how far women have come since then, the discussion also included a moment of silence honoring the late U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and noting the 2020 Liberty Medal that was awarded to her on national Constitution Day, Sept. 17, in honor of her efforts to advance liberty and equality for all.

And yet, the 19th amendment did not guarantee the right to vote for all women with Native American and Asian women left behind completely and Black and Latina women disenfranchised through Jim Crow laws and often brutality, noted Dora Rose, deputy director of the League of Women Voters in California. The centennial should be a time of celebration, but also “a reckoning to ensure that we learn the lessons of the past and pull them forward into the new era and don’t repeat them.”

In particular, Voting Rights laws have been weakened in recent years, said U.S. District Court Judge Cathy Ann Bencivengo. To paraphrase Ginsburg, "It's still raining and we've thrown out the umbrella." 

The advocacy that's needed shouldn’t just extend to women of color but also to other members of society, including formerly incarcerated citizens. “We are in the midst of a new voting rights movement,” said Taina Vargas-Edmond, executive director of Initiate Justice, who talked about the laws that make it confusing and difficult for people to regain their voting franchise. 

Working to change those laws, strengthening the Voting Rights Act, and serving as a poll worker, are just a few of the ways to ensure voting rights for all, panelists said. 

The Jane Ellen Bergman Memorial Lecture Series on Women, Children and Human Rights is a gift from Dr. Barbara Yates, a longtime professor at the University of Illinois, and a friend of the late Bergman. According to Yates, Bergman was “an ordinary citizen who chose to devote her professional life to public service.”  The USD School of Business and School of Leadership and Education Sciences also co-sponsored the event. 

— Liz Harman


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