This year marks the 100th anniversary of the passage of the 19th Amendment. In 1920, decades after the first suffragettes started their work, the new amendment was ratified on August 18, and eight days later, on August 26, the Secretary of State signed the proclamation that officially granted women the right to vote. In 1973, Congress commemorated this historic day as Women’s Equality Day.
Women’s Equality Day has been observed at The Women’s Center since our founding by five feminists in 1977, and today, we continue to advocate for gender equality. At its core, feminism is the belief that all genders should have equal rights and opportunities. All survivors of all gender identities and backgrounds are welcome here, and all will receive safety, shelter, and support when they arrive at our doors.
Our agency was established during the second wave of feminism, which started in the 1960’s and 1970’s and advocated for full equality for women, expanding the movement’s focus to the issues of women’s safety, rape prevention, and domestic violence.
Domestic and sexual violence affects people of all genders, races, and demographics, yet it disproportionately affects women. At the time, there were very few places in the country for women to seek safety and support, and laws protecting victims of domestic abuse did not exist.
The five Founding Mothers of The Women’s Center were ardent feminists and active members of the National Organization for Women, or NOW. Founded in 1966, NOW’s purpose is to take action through intersectional grassroots activism to promote feminist ideals, lead societal change, eliminate discrimination, and achieve and protect the equal rights of all women and girls in all aspects of social, political, and economic life.
In fact, it was during a NOW meeting in 1976 when the idea of The Women’s Center was born. Several members of the local chapter of NOW had begun to study the problem of domestic abuse in Waukesha, which showed that there was a great need for services to support survivors, even though the general public did not want to acknowledge it as an issue.
After that meeting’s discussion, our Founding Mothers began to put their idea into action, and on May 15, 1977, our doors opened to support survivors throughout our community with nowhere else to turn.
We honor Women’s Equality Day each year as a tribute to their legacy and to recognize that there is still much work to be done to achieve equality for all people. We know that inequality and social injustices are at the core of domestic abuse and sexual violence, and for us, promoting equal rights of all people will always play a key role in ensuring more futures free from violence.