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Celebration marks 95th anniversary of 19th Amendment giving women right to vote

Gina Austin-Fresh leads the Suffrage Grand March to kick off the night Wednesday for the Wichita League of WomenVoters’ 95th anniversary celebration of the 19th Amendment. (Aug. 26, 2015)
Gina Austin-Fresh leads the Suffrage Grand March to kick off the night Wednesday for the Wichita League of WomenVoters’ 95th anniversary celebration of the 19th Amendment. (Aug. 26, 2015) The Wichita Eagle

John Philip Sousa marching music bellowed throughout the Wichita State University Hughes Metroplex on Wednesday night.

Gold and purple stars hung from the stage as women in white dresses and hats carried “Women Vote” signs, and speakers called for an impassioned recommitment for all women to get involved in the politics of their daily lives.

It was 1920 all over again.

More than 300 people – almost all women – turned out Wednesday night for the League of Women Voters’ National Women’s Equality Day celebration “Women Win the Vote” – the 95th anniversary celebration of the 19th Amendment, which was ratified on Aug. 18, 1920.

Honorary chairwoman of the event was former Sen. Nancy Landon Kassebaum Baker, 83, who before the event said, “It is always important to be reminded of the 19th Amendment. I have always believed it is important to remember the women who were willing to tie themselves to the gate of the White House in efforts to accomplish a constitutional amendment in the right of women to vote. Sometimes we forget history that we need to remember. It takes dedication.”

Kassebaum represented Kansas in the U.S. Senate from 1978 to 1997. She is the daughter of Alf Landon, governor of Kansas from 1933 to 1937 and the 1936 Republican nominee for president.

The evening also included Tony Award nominee Karla Burns of Wichita singing the national anthem and a video that’s gone viral on the Internet on the history of the women’s suffrage movement sung to the tune of Lady Gaga’s “Bad Romance.”

Sandrine Lisk, a Wichita immigration attorney, told the audience she was grateful to the Wichita Metro League of Women Voters.

“I am particularly grateful ... for the work they have been doing since 1920 to protect, educate and engage voters, to defend our right to vote and ensure our democracy works,” Lisk said.

Two years ago, Lisk said, when she and volunteers from the Immigration Advocacy Network took on registering immigrants and their family members to vote, the League of Women Voters helped in registering 15,000 U.S. citizens to vote in Kansas.

“In 2015 ... why is gender equality still unachievable, why is there no equal pay for equal work, why is equal opportunity still a dream?” Lisk asked.

The featured speaker was Sandy Praeger, Kansas insurance commissioner from 2003 to 2015.

“We do have a lot of work to do,” Praeger said. “To all of you who are here celebrating the role women play in the electoral process, we have our work cut out for us. Nancy, when she was in the Senate, she became a role model for what a legislator and elected person should do – seeking out divergent points of view, trying to gather facts and work with both sides – we have to get back to that attitude of being problem solvers and not just be entrenched in political ideology.”

Reach Beccy Tanner at 316-268-6336 or btanner@wichitaeagle.com. Follow her on Twitter: @beccytanner.

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