Photos by Asia Morris.
Congressman Alan Lowenthal hosted a commemoration of Women's Equality Day Wednesday evening at the City Hall Equality Plaza in partnership with Councilwoman Lena Gonzalez, the League of Women Voters and the American Association of University Women.
The 95th anniversary of the 19th Amendment passed on August 26, 1920, finally giving women the hard-earned right to vote, was celebrated under the shade of the towering Civic Center building, as many of the women who have shaped Long Beach into the revered city it is today congregated in high spirits.
"Today we can step back, and use today to share our stories about what it's like for women's equality and know that tremendous progress has been made, there's no doubt," said Lowenthal.
Lowenthal stated that in 1969 there were 11 women who served in the United States Congress. Today there are 108 women.
"But there's more to go," he said. "We know that there's much more to go in terms of pay disparity, income inequality, paid sick leave, family medical leave throughout the nation[...]."
Long Beach Mayor Robert Garcia said the city has been a place that supports and believes that women are equal to "us men" and that their contributions have made the city a stronger place.
Currently the city has more women serving on commissions than ever in its entire history. For the first time, women majorities are serving on the Board of Harbor Commissioners and Long Beach Transit Board of Directors, women are leading the council office and five of the nine Chief of Staffs are women.
"Of course, we have many great women leading our departments, women are involved in all aspects of government, half of my staff is women, they're also some of the best staff around," he said. "That's something to be very proud of. Women continue to grow their influence and their voice in Long Beach."
Councilwoman Lena Gonzalez said that if it weren't for the women who a came before her, she wouldn't she wouldn't be able to do what she does on city council today.
"We're a major voting block, so many women are voting now," she said. "It's tremendous to think that not too long ago we didn't have that right."
She went on to say that only 24 percent of the state legislature is women and only 19 percent of them are in congress, and that there are some women who are only making 70 cents to every dollar that a man is making. If you are a women of color, she said, you're usually making even less.
Renee Simon, who was elected to city council in 1972, was the first of many to share her story at the event. She pondered Women's Equality Day.
"What do you mean 'day'?" she said. "Women's equality year, women's equality era, not just a day."
She spoke of her friend Pat Russell, who was the second woman to be elected to Los Angeles City Council who told Simon that her name was the reason she had gotten elected; people didn't realize the name "Pat" described a woman. Simon described the moment she knew she would have to speak with the secretary allocated for all eight councilmembers, soon after she was elected in Long Beach.
"She'd never had a woman boss, so to speak," Simon said. "So I asked her how she felt about that and she was really very appreciative of the sensitivity of recognizing that this was something new for her. And it may seem strange to us today to have to say to a woman, 'Hey, your boss is going to be a woman, is that okay?' But that's where we were in 1972."
She said when people elect a woman to office, "it's more than a woman sitting up there; it's a woman thinking in terms of needs for the total community." According to Simon, her time on the council made her a "wedge" that women needed to get a shot at equality.
In 1961 Simon had just graduated from Stanford with a graduate degree in biochemistry. She tried to land a job at the small Dow Chemical plant in Seal Beach.
"I said, 'I'm ready to go back to work and here I am,' and what they said to me was, 'We don't hire women,'" she said. "I think what's even worse is that I didn't stamp my feet and shout and scream, I ended up saying, 'Oh,' and I walked away. Because I was as much indoctrinated with the view of women's roles as everybody else in our society was."
Even the Long Beach Junior Lifeguards only accepted boys. "Nobody thought that a girl could be a lifeguard," she said.
"What we must assure our community of elected leaders, like Alan Lowenthal, who will continue to look at career opportunities where women are few or none, is to keep asking the question, 'Why not?'" she said.
Carmen Perez, Bonnie Lowenthal, Kim Ritter-Martinez and Tracy Egoscue also told their stories during the commemoration, sharing with the audience a message of encouragement and inspiration to keep moving forward, that the relatively recent progress toward equality is certainly not a reason to slow down now.