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Sandy area female representatives pay homage to suffragists, take stock of current situation

PMG PHOTO: BRITTANY ALLEN - Councilor Jan Lee has served Sandy for two years and Councilor Bethany Shultz has served for one. While many women and supporters of gender equity are already celebrating 2020 as the 100th anniversary of women's suffrage, the underlying message remains: "We're still not there." Women still aren't entirely equal.

Even before the 19th Amendment was ratified on Aug. 18, 1920, Sandy had its first female mayor, Blanche Shelley, and two female city councilors, Edna Esson and Alice Scales, in 1919. Now Sandy is represented again by three women on the council, but all agree there is still room for progress in terms of overall women's equality.

"We'd like to live in a world where it didn't matter what your orientation, gender or color of your skin was," said Sandy City Councilor Laurie Smallwood. "But we're still not there."

"The 19th Amendment was the biggest expansion of voting rights in the history of our country," added Rep. Anna Williams of House District 52. "But that expansion comes with an asterisk. Indigenous women in the U.S. were not even granted citizenship until five years after the 19th Amendment was adopted. Women of color, especially in the South, did not have a legal right to vote until after the end of the Jim Crow era, and they still don't enjoy the same voting rights as white women due to voter suppression. It's important that we celebrate the centennial, but we should also be honest about the fact that rights are only equal when we fairly enforce laws and uphold our founding principles."

'Foremothers' making progress

While the 19th Amendment is very noteworthy, many of our local female representatives made sure to note the steps forward that have been made even since that day in 1920.

"In some respects, we live in the aftermath of suffrage," Smallwood said. "If you think of the things that have changed in my lifetime even. I was born in 1972, and women couldn't even get a credit card without their husband's signature until 1974. To me the 19th Amendment laid the groundwork for us as a society and where we are now. I can't imagine living in any other time."

Smallwood has years of experience playing professional sports, such as football, basketball and body building, and she acted for a time as personal trainer then later, as a softball coach. Now she works as a firefighter for the Sandy Fire Department.

As of 2016, only 4% of firefighters were women, according to the U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics. Smallwood is part of that 4%.

"It's definitely not a typical career field for women," Smallwood said. "I think it's important as a female to be out there showing kids, not just girls, that anybody can do this job. When I was a kid, I didn't see this as a possible career for me."

PMG PHOTO: BRITTANY ALLEN - Councilor Laurie Smallwood was elected to Sandy City Council in November 2018. Smallwood personally thinks of Pat Summitt, the late American women's college basketball head coach, as a female role model in her life.

"She really took women's athletics to where they are now and sports are so influential in the lives of a lot of Americans," Smallwood said.

Similar to Smallwood, Councilor Jan Lee has worked for decades in very male-dominated fields, including the pulp mill industry, construction and water and irrigation.

"When my daughters were growing up, I worked in industries with men and fought to be equal," Lee said. "I really instilled in them that women deserve to be equal and should have equal rights."

If Lee had to name a woman who influenced her life and empowered her, she said it would be Barbara Roberts, the first woman to serve as Oregon's governor.

At the time Roberts was in office in the mid 1990s, Lee was working as an executive director and lobbyist for a local irrigation district. Lee was one of multiple women in directors' positions to be invited to Roberts' monthly dinners.

"It was really neat having a woman of that stature inviting women lobbyists and agency directors to her table so we had a chance to talk about issues," Lee explained.

When Councilor Bethany Shultz was first appointed, she said "the decision to run for council wasn't influenced by one figurehead but the group of foremothers."

"(Suffrage) is one of the things I don't think they should've had to fight for but I'm grateful they did."

She said she is also grateful for her state-level colleague Rep. Anna Williams and to have had her as an example when starting out in local government.

"I remember when I got appointed, I met Anna and she was so inspiring," Shultz explained. "To meet another young mom in government was huge for me. It's great to have her there to talk to. Maybe me being in this position will also mean my daughters will be encouraged to get involved."

PMG PHOTO: BRITTANY ALLEN - Rep. Anna Williams, D-Hood River, has served House District 52 since January 2019 and is running for re-election. Working toward equity

While tackling issues like the pay gap are difficult to do at the city level, Shultz, Lee, Smallwood and Williams are all involved in addressing the local and statewide childcare shortage — an issue they all see as an issue of underlying gender inequity.

According to statistics from the Clackamas Workforce Partnership, about 99% of the people operating home-based childcare centers are women and 94% in commercial childcare are women.

"I knew about (the problem) just from being a mom," said Shultz in an earlier interview. "It's difficult having that choice between working or staying at home."

Shultz has a college degree in early childhood education and taught preschool until she had her first child and had to make the decision to stay at home with her daughter because of the cost of childcare.

Now as a city councilor, Shultz is working with the city and the Clackamas Workforce Partnership to address the lack of childcare in Sandy by potentially providing incentives for providers, changing codes to make the opening of facilities easier and other obstacles facing childcare providers.

"I see this as a way we're working at the local level to further equality," Shultz said.

"The privilege I've been granted (to serve on city council) is not lost on me," she added. "It feels like the 19th Amendment made it so I could be in this position. So I could be a role model to my girls. For my daughters, when they know what we have and that we had to fight for it, that makes it more powerful and makes it a bigger deal. I hope my girls know this isn't something I take for granted."

Lee noted that in order to take steps forward toward equity, women have to "be mentors to other women," and Williams agreed.

"I think it's easy for people to lose track of the rights and privileges they enjoy if they don't reflect on the history of the people who had to fight for them. Today, I don't have to actually "fight" for my voting rights, and that's because those brave women did, literally, fight for them," Williams added. "There are so many areas that can still be improved, (but) one exciting thing I see is that when I'm at decision-making tables in Oregon and in my community, there are always other women sitting there with me. Sometimes, those tables are peopled entirely by women. As this trend continues, I think the movement toward gender equality is inevitable. I hope to see ongoing improvements in the representation of people of color and indigenous people so that our policies and policymakers truly reflect the diversity that makes our state strong."


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