Women’s Equality Day: 17,000 inspirational stories sought ahead of suffrage centennial

On Women's Equality Day, Aug. 26, 1970, protesters march down Fifth Avenue as part of a nationwide strike.
On Women’s Equality Day, Aug. 26, 1970, protesters march down Fifth Avenue as part of a nationwide strike. Photo Credit: Craig Ruttle

With one year to go until the women’s suffrage centennial, the city is marching along with its efforts to collect 20,000 stories of inspirational women.

The catalog is one of several projects by the city’s Department of Records and Information Services under its Women’s Activism initiative, which is wrapping up five years of celebrations ahead of the centennial.

“There are so many hundreds of thousands of women whose stories could be entered into the catalog,” Department of Records commissioner Pauline Toole said. “I think it’s going to continue to show the diversity of people working toward social change.”

The 20,000 by 2020 project was launched on Aug. 26, 2016, in honor of Women’s Equality Day, which marks the anniversary of when women won the right to vote in the United States. While the 19th Amendment was ratified on Aug. 18, 1920, it wasn’t official until the secretary of state, Bainbridge Colby, signed a proclamation eight days later.

The city initially hoped to have the catalog completed closer to the centennial, though it has still been part of the yearslong celebrations leading up to it. 

The project got off to a slow start, Toole said, but submissions are picking up. As of Friday, the department had cataloged 3,051 stories, with 16,949 left to go before the project closes on Dec. 31, 2020.

“The big challenge is people thinking they don’t know someone special enough to go into this listing, and I want to reassure people that they absolutely do,” Toole said. “There are so many inspirational women who we come into contact with all the time.”

The catalog is not meant solely to document the most notable women activists of our time. Instead, it opens up the opportunity for women from all walks of life to lift each other up in a way that will be remembered for decades to come.

Toole said some of the best story submissions have been from people who wrote about a family member who encouraged them to seek a career path despite the challenges it posed.

“One woman was a single mother and she talked about being encouraged by her mother and grandmother to pursue a doctorate — that she got — and she became a professional in her field,” she added. “Those are extraordinary stories and we want them to be here so that in 50 years when people look back at who were memorable women in America in the early 21st century, they see these stories.”

The catalog, once complete, will be part of the municipal archives, which holds the city’s historical records. It is the city’s first permanent listing of women activists from around the world.

"The municipal archives are such a phenomenal institution, such a rich resource but it’s hard to find a lot of women in that. So adding these stories to the government record as part of our collection will be very interesting,” Toole said. “It takes about two minutes to enter a story and it’s going to last for centuries.”

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