By SGT. JUSTIN SILVERS
3rd Sustainment Command (Expeditionary) Public Affairs
The old lady limped slowly through the crowd, assisted only by a weathered cane. Covered in a lightly colored dress and adorned with a white shawl, she moved until she was at the front of the room, her back to the crowd. As she turned around the glasses could do no justice in concealing the passion in her eyes as her arm pointed out amongst the crowd.
“That man, he says women should be helped in a carriage, lifted over mud puddles and have the best place everywhere. Ain’t nobody ever helped me into no carriage or lifted me over any mud puddles and ain’t I a woman? Look at my arms, I could have plowed and planted and gathered in barns and no man can head me and ain’t I a woman!”
The crowd watched in anticipation as Staff Sgt. Candice Funchess, a public affairs non-commissioned officer with the 3rd ESC, continued her speech “Ain’t I A Woman” by Sojourner Truth. The reenactment was part of the Women’s Equality Day Observance hosted by the 3rd Sustainment Command (Expeditionary) Monday at the Saber & Quill.
The Women’s Equality Day Observance was held to honor and pay tribute to the women who fought to create equal rights and to celebrate the passing of the 19th Amendment to the United States Constitution, granting woman the right to vote.
Brig. Gen. Flem “Donnie” Walker Jr., the commanding general of the 3rd ESC, said he was truly honored to host the ceremony.
“Command Sgt. Maj. Roberts and I are truly honored to serve as your ceremony hosts,” said Walker. “We couldn’t think of a more significant and worthwhile event to host, which is a day we reflect upon, observe and celebrate the contributions and great sacrifices women have made for, and continue to make in support of our great nation.”
Walker also said he believed the future for women in the military would be bright.
“As we look ahead I have no doubt that the future of women in all of our armed forces and especially in our Army will be a bright one.”
Col. Maria Gervais, the deputy commander of U.S. Army Cadet Command, was the keynote speaker at the observance. Gervais was the first female commander of HHC in the 101st Airborne Division
(Air Assault), the 82nd Chemical Battalion, and the Army Environmental Command at Fort Campbell, Ky.
Gervais said she was honored and humbled to be speaking and said she couldn’t imagine her life without the 19th Amendment and the changes that followed.
“As a youngster growing up in South Carolina I could never imagine not being able to obtain an education, not being able to pursue my dreams or being pegged into a certain career field simply because I was a woman,” said Gervais.
“The reason I am unable to fathom any of these things is simply because of the people who fought for change, both men and woman, who convinced America in 1920 that it was the right thing to do to ratify the 19th Amendment and give women an equal role in America.”
Gervais also described the women in the military and the advances in women’s equality.
“Women now serve in ninety-five percent of all Army occupations and make up nearly 16 percent of the Army,” said Gervais. “In 2015 we’ll see the removal of the combat exclusion rule which will open even more roles for woman to serve in the Army.”
While Gervais said we have made incredible strides in our country and our Army by providing equal opportunities for women, she said there is still a long way to go.
“In the civilian sector we must recognize that inequalities remain, including the low percentage of female chief executive officers,” said Gervais. “There’s inequality in the earnings between a man and a woman performing the same type of work and women lag behind in the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics occupations.”
After Gervais’s speech, Funchess reenacted the speech, “Ain’t I A Woman” by Sojourner Truth. Funchess said she felt honored to play the part of Truth.
“When the 3rd ESC equal opportunity team asked me to perform Sojourner Truth’s “Ain’t I A Woman” speech, I was humbled at first, but I didn’t grasp the full effect the speech had on women’s rights,” said Funchess. “As I did my homework I felt honored. The more I read it the more it moved me to know that one speech really changed the way women were viewed in voting in the U.S. and that one single act changed the course of history. Being able to represent her is one of the biggest honors of my life.”
The event concluded with a play by the Looking for Lilith Theater Company called “Failure is Impossible” and a cake cutting. The play tracked the long fight of women’s suffrage up until the passage of the 19th amendment in 1920.