Trail Blazers: Women making history


Ellen Annette Martin was an attorney who fought for women’s right to vote.

Alexia Leal, Staff writer

In the past women have been suppressed and overlooked because society believed that women didn’t have the same potential that men did. Nowadays, however, women all over the world are trying to change these outdated and untrue views by pushing for equality and starting the conversation for change.

In honor of National Women’s Month, I had the privilege to attend the Women’s Leadership Conference. I got to meet some extraordinary women. I had the honor to listen to Diana Dretske, Lake County historian and museum curator for the Lake County Discovery Museum, Judy Armstrong, a board member of The Lake County Community Foundation, and Annette Negrete-McGinley the secretary for the Round Lake District 116’s Board of Education. They each spoke about many important women in Illinois history.

One woman in Illinois history that stood out to me was Ellen Annette Martin, who was an American attorney who achieved an early victory in securing women’s suffrage in Illinois and was the first woman to vote in Illinois. The fact that she was the first of the many women to vote after her made me greatly respect her because it takes a lot to be the first of anything and it couldn’t have been easy to deal with the aftermath and all the discrimination she must have dealt with afterwards. Her bravery is what stuck out to me and that’s what March’s Women’s Month is about is about—the bravery of the women that came before us and that paved the way for us to have the rights that we have today.

I also got to learn about many other monumental accomplishments that historical women have made. In the past, women had no voice in the government they were not allowed to take on any sort of governmental position, let alone vote for who could. And despite these harsh facts, they still had to obey the laws the government came up with.That is until August 18, 1920 when the 19th Amendment was ratified, which gave women the right to vote. Unfortunately that displeased men and women faced a lot of discrimination and hatred. Since then, women have fought for the right to have legal abortions, fight in wars, and marry who they want to. 

The first example I can think of is in 1922 women gained the right to marry a person from another country and still keep their citizenship. Prior to that, if an American woman married an immigrant, she would be stripped of her  citizenship because of the Expatriation Act. However, nothing happened to men if they married an immigrant. After women won the right to vote, the Expatriation Act was repealed. Another example is in 1960 women were able to purchase the birth control pill, giving them a say in their own bodies and gave women reproductive freedom. To add, in 1968 woman gained the right to equal access to job listings, giving women equal amount of places to apply. But that didn’t mean that they didn’t experience sexism or hostility in the workplace.

Then, in 1970 women gained the right to be paid the same as men for the same work in the court case Schults vs. Wheaton Glass Co. , preventing employers from giving women different job names for the same job in order to pay them less. Another example of women taking change into their own hands is in 1973 when the Supreme Court give women the right to legal and safe abortions in the court case Roe vs. Wade. And in 1974, women gained the right to open credit cards in their own names. The Equal Credit Opportunity Act of 1974 made it so women could get credit cards without their husbands signature, giving them power over their own money. Bringing us to 1978 when women gained the right to work without discrimination due to pregnancy, making it illegal for employers to pass on qualified women applicants for being pregnant or for the assumption that they could become pregnant. Before this law, women were usually fired for getting pregnant to save the company health care and maternity leave costs.

In 1985 women won the right to divorce their husbands because of “irreconcilable differences,” which means that women could file for divorce for reasons not related to mistreatment, abuse, abandonment or infidelity. Until 1985, those were the only reasons a woman could legally request a divorce.  California was actually the first state to pass this right in 1969. In 1998 women could access the morning after pill because the FDA approved emergency contraception, yet it wasn’t available over the counter until 2013. Bringing us to 2013 when women were allowed to fight on the front lines when Secretary Leon E Panetta lifted a military ban on women in combat. All of these revolutionary rights were passed because women had the right to vote and voice their opinions and were brave enough to do so.