Column: Diversity Diplomats Snacks and Chats: Women’s Rights

By: Celeste Powell

On March 5, Diversity Diplomats hosted Snacks and Chats: Women’s Rights.

Going to the event, I had little to no knowledge of the struggles different groups of women have gone through. I only had my personal experiences.

After attending the event, I have received validation—validation that what I’ve felt isn’t on an individual basis.

But with this small win came a major dilemma.

Regarding the beginnings of the Women’s Rights Movement in 1848, history cannot be changed, but the unsavory parts must be acknowledged.

A huge aspect of my college life is centered on the friendships and experiences that have shaped me because of my involvement in a sisterhood.

In 1872, two years before Latin professor Dr. Frank Smalley coined the term “sorority,” 10 of the 20 total women attending Syracuse at the time elected to create a society specifically for women after being shunned from male social circles.

An hour away from Syracuse and 24 years before, Elizabeth Cady Stanton led the Seneca Falls Convention—the first convention of women’s rights. Stanton read her speech titled “Declaration of Sentiments” that outlined rights women should be entitled to.

After the speech, the attendees passed 12 resolutions relating to women’s rights. Only one resolution did not unanimously pass—the right for women to vote.

Feminists at the time feared championing for the vote would affect the movement’s advancement in other areas such as property rights and equality in education, employment and divorce.

This fear of splintering the Women’s Rights Movement’s led to the further disenfranchisement of black women.

Susan B. Anthony, one of the major names of the woman’s suffrage movement, is even quoted saying, “I will cut off this right arm of mine before I will ask for the ballot for the Negro and not for the woman.”

Disenfranchisement and oppression from multiple perspectives can be described using the word “Intersectionality.”

According to Dictionary.com, intersectionality is the “theory that the overlap of various social identities, as race, gender, sexuality, and class contributes to the specific type of systemic oppression and discrimination experienced by an individual.”

For example, I am a woman.

But being a black woman, I may be subjected to multiple facets of discrimination, whereas a white woman may only struggle with the discrimination of being a woman.

Here lies my internal struggle over the history of my sorority, Alpha Phi.

I struggle with the nagging thought that the majority of my founders—my sisters—would not have accepted me because of my skin color.

Alpha Phi’s website boasts “forward thinking since 1872,” making the assertion their innovation originated with the beginning of its founding.

In 1875, Alpha Phi welcomed the first alumna initiate as Francis E. Willard.

Willard was founder of the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) and renowned for her activism for woman’s suffrage.

So profound were her wishes to combine the causes of liquor prohibition to women’s suffrage, Willard left the organization because of their rejection to unite the two.

If first-wave feminists were so adamant in their refusal to link prohibition to women’s suffrage, how much did they consider linking black women to women’s suffrage?

To reiterate—my concern is not in the Alpha Phi of the present. My concern is acknowledging the Alpha Phi of the past.

What I’m not doing is blaming current members of Alpha Phi for difficulties of the past. What I am doing is facing the harsh reality of the hypocrisy and racism of first-wave feminism and the Women’s Rights Movement, of which founders of my sorority were a part of.

I would not have been accepted into Alpha Phi when it was founded.

That is a simple fact.

In 1896, the Supreme Court ruled segregation as constitutional—whereas 10 women founded my sorority in 1872.

To clarify, Alpha Phi’s assertion of forward thinking since 1872, is explained further by stating “The innovative leadership and organizational practices of Alpha Phi’s Founders in 1872 set the spirit for the Alpha Phi of today…a sisterhood that values the past but looks forward to the progress offered by the future.”

If it were not for Martha Emily Foote Crow or the other nine founders, I would not be in this position today; however, that does not mean I cannot recognize their fallacies, too.

I am proud to be in Alpha Phi—I know my sisters today accept me. I, too, look forward to the progress offered by the future.

 

 

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