Pembroke Mayor Mary Warnell served as the guest speaker for a Women’s Equality Observance on Wednesday in Club Stewart’s main ballroom.
The event — intended to commemorate the Aug. 26, 1920 signing of the 19th Amendment, which gave women the right to vote — was attended by soldiers and civilians from across the installation and surrounding communities. The event was sponsored by the 42nd Fires Brigade.
“I think this (day) gives us an opportunity to look back at our country’s heritage and the role women have played throughout the years — significant roles, whether we had the right to vote or whether we had the right to run for office,” Warnell said. “It’s a privilege to serve (as mayor) and an honor (to speak here today). … If I wanted to see things change in my community, then I needed to step up and offer my name for public office.”
Warnell, who is serving the third year of her first term as mayor of Pembroke, began her political career by serving two four-year terms on the Bryan County Board of Education. Her father, Charles F. Warnell, and grandfather, D.B. Warnell, also served on the Bryan BoE.
She was born in Groveland, Ga., and graduated with honors from Bryan County High School in Pembroke. After earner her Bachelor of Science degree in home economics in 1971, she was employed for 24 years by the Dairy Council of Atlanta. Warnell often attends events and ceremonies on Fort Stewart, which she said is a way of expressing her appreciation for the service and dedication of the soldiers and their families.
“Without them, I don’t know where we’d be today,” she said. “There’s also another connection. This is my home. I’m a native of northwest Bryan County. My grandparents’ property is right here at Fort Stewart.”
Warnell’s remarks focused on the women’s suffrage movement and the long struggle equality. She said that back in 1776, Abigail Adams, wife of the man who later would become the first vice president and second president of the United States, gave her husband advice as he set off for the convention that resulted in the Declaration of Independence.
“’Remember the women,’ she told her husband,” Warnell said. “It wasn’t the first time in history that a man didn’t listen to his wife.”
Warnell said the struggle for equal rights between genders continued for another 144 years, culminating in 1917 with an event in which women protesters were abused by spectators and police, punched, dragged and choked, then locked up for weeks. Though public sentiment toward the women’s suffrage movement saw them as traitors for not supporting the Great War in Europe, the extreme abuse they endured for exercising the right to protest slowly turned public opinion. Three years later, the 19th Amendment was signed by President Woodrow Wilson, she said.
With the right to vote gained, the new struggle was equal pay for women. That struggle continues, Warnell said. She relayed in detail the efforts to pass the Equal Rights Amendment in the 1970s and early 1980s, which ultimately failed when time ran out for ratification. Since that time, she said, the ERA has been proposed in Congress every year but hasn’t been brought for a vote.
Warnell said the greatest opposition to the ERA was not from men but women, who were concerned what total equality with men might mean. They were concerned it might change the Selective Service requirements and allow women to be drafted, she said. Women might lose their preferred status for child custody during divorce proceedings, and public restrooms might become gender-neutral.
Despite the disappointment associated with the failed passage of the ERA and the fact that women still make less than men doing the same jobs, Warnell said the gains women have made all can be traced back to Aug. 26, 1920.
“Young people today have no earthly idea the opportunities presented to them,” she said. “And it’s all because of the 19th Amendment.”