Next week, with the congressional, state and local elections, is a good time to remember that the vote is a privilege that did not come without effort. In the United States, that privilege was denied to women until 1920.
In honor and remembrance of the effort that went into that struggle, we are printing an interview with a living symbol of the women's movement, Evelyn Dubrow, vice president of the International Ladies' Garment Workers Union.From a childhood trailing her older sister, who was an active suffragette, to her involvement in politics starting in 1940, to her accomplishments as one of the few women lobbyists and women union executives, to her current strong support for the Equal Rights Amendment, Ms. Dubrow has been a living symbol of what women can do in U.S. politics.
The interview was conducted by Justine Young, daughter of Leah Young, a Journal of Commerce reporter in Washington. Q:What do you feel women gained when they gained the right to vote?
A:It took them a little time to take advantage of it, and to become interested in politics, and even to this day, women still don't have a major role in running for office, and getting elected. It's still a very tough thing, just as it's tough for the minorities: the blacks, the Hispanics, the Asiatics. But I predict that will be moving very swiftly now as time goes on. So women did a very good chore in getting the right to vote. I think they set the pattern for other groups to get their rightful place in this country of ours.
Q:Do you feel that women would have joined unions, or otherwise demanded better working conditions, if they hadn't had the right to vote?
A:Oh, I think women's demanding working conditions came before the right to vote. As a matter of fact, in 1910, when our union was officially organized, it was the women in the union movement who really put charge and spirit into it. A young girl of 18, who just died last year, Clara Lemlett, is the one who when men and the women workers were meeting to decide what they should do about the terrible sweatshop conditions in our industry - it was she who stood up and said: "Now we've made enough speeches, let's go out on strike."
Q:Do you feel that at the time women gained as much as they expected when they won the right to vote, and do you think today we've gained what was expected would be gained in 65 years, or so?
A:I think they considered it a great advancement. But as the years went on, I think they became less and less convinced that this was the most important thing, in terms of how they used it. It took them a very long time to recognize that this was just the beginning of what was to be called either the feminist movement or the women's movement in this country. Compared with, say, the growth of the trade union movement, the women's movement, in 65 years, didn't really develop as quickly as it should have.
Once it started, once it really began to get going, and women began to recognize that, after all, they were at least 50 percent of the population, they began to realize that a major part of the investment decisions are made by women. It all ties together: the right to vote; the fact that the population of women in this country is a majority; the fact that they learned how to handle finances; and so forth.
Q:Did you have to fight for a good job and promotions within the labor movement, and do you feel that women still have to fight just as hard in the job market, or has it gotten easier over time?
A:Well, I'm very lucky, in the sense that every man I worked with never really worried about my being a woman. From the very first employer I had in the labor movement, I was given an opportunity to do things that most women did not have a chance to do.
There were some in the labor movement prior to my being in who had the opportunity. But it was an uphill fight for them. It was not that much of an uphill fight for me. But I think maybe I was almost an exception to the rule.
For many years, there were very few women lobbyists. There were only three of us in the labor movement. I think it has become a lot easier for women who get an opportunity to prove that they can do a job as well as men, and in some cases better. And in industries that don't ordinarily give women that opportunity.
I don't think we have reached the peak of equality yet. It is still very difficult for women to get into certain areas of activity. Even in the trade union movement, how many women do you have who are presidents of unions? You have the flight attendants, and you have the Actors Equity Association, but otherwise, there are no women heads of unions. And until that is possible, there will be inequality.
Q:Do you feel that the passage of the Equal Rights Amendment is necessary if women are to further progress toward equal rights and equal opportunities in the job market?
A:I don't think it is absolutely necessary. But I think because of the attitudes of so many people, it is important to put those few words in the Constitution of the United States. I'm one of those who for many years believed that when they talked about the Constitution and the rights of man, that they were talking about people, that they were not saying just men.
But it was to underscore the need to make it clear that the Bill of Rights meant women as well as men, that we need to have the ERA. I don't think it's going to stop us from trying to develop more equal treatment for women while we're attempting to get it into the Constitution.
It's the women themselves who did us in on the ERA. It wasn't the men. It was the Phyllis Schlaflys; it was the Right to Life people who were opposed to it; it was the ultra-right-wing groups, in which there were many women who were opposing us on ERA. And it's strange that Phyllis Schlafly, who talks about women being in the home and being housewives, is never home herself.
Q:Do you believe it (ERA) will have any other actual affects if it becomes law?
A:I think emphasizing it in the Constitution can be helpful, with the Supreme Court, for instance.
Q:Is there anything else you have to add about the suffrage movement or how it has affected politics, or what you do?
A:I think there is no question that the right of women to vote, which came in with the 19th Amendment, was the beginning of a peaceful revolution in this country. Women could begin to think about what their contributions to making this country great could be.