Past voices, current issues

Historic women come to life in local production

By Elaine Ezerins

Staff Writer

The Facts

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ST. ALBANS — Abigail Adams: second First Lady of the United States. Harriet Beecher Stowe: author of anti-slavery novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Susan B. Anthony: leader of women’s suffrage movement. Margaret Sanger: birth control activist.

“Each one of them represents hundreds, thousands, millions of women that have contributed to our country and our world and are so often unacknowledged,” Caroline Bright said at the Bliss Room Wednesday.

“You open any textbook, count how many times you read a women’s name,” Bright continued. “And its not that women weren’t a part of history. It’s that the contributions of women were so often ignored and shoved aside.”

Bright, 2016 Franklin County Senate candidate and former Miss Vermont, introduced the second annual performance of Womanspeak, a play about the lost history of American women, held in honor of women’s history month at the St. Albans Museum.

The play brings alive the ideas and voices of past influential women and shows the evolution of the women’s movement through cross dialogue between the historical figures.

Sometimes the women are in agreement, like Sojourner Truth and Harriet Beecher Stowe because although they never met in real life, they supported the same ideals.

Other women approached the issue of rights from two different directions, like Susan B. Anthony and Victoria Woodhull, whose personalities clashed onstage.

But overall, each woman’s perspective was important to hear because they were ahead of their time when they were alive and because many of the same issues exist today.

“I thought it was interesting and important to see the perspective of women dialoging with each other across time and bringing up issues that are actually timeless,” said Leigh Smith, who played the role of the contemporary woman.

In the play, the contemporary woman interacted with the 11 different historical female figures, bouncing ideas off of them and learning more about the past and the woman’s role in it.

“These are things that continue to be argued in the public square,” Smith continued. “I want my daughter well versed in them and I want her daughter to continue on, to be well versed in it.”

Playing the part of Stowe, Teresa Lewis said of slavery, “I believe any evil that lasts long enough becomes taken for granted.”

“If they cared about people then they could never accept the premise of slavery again,” she continued, referring to slave owners and others who opposed abolition.

The abolitionist movement was closely connected to the movement for women’s rights, including the right to vote. Anthony, played by Sarah Brooks, was a prominent member of both.

“And where were you? Somewhere else?” she asked. “Everyone’s head is somewhere else when it comes to women’s rights.”

She continued to question why women were told to wait their time before earning the right to vote. Can’t everyone receive human rights at the same time, she asked.

“Those who create the wealth of the world are permitted to share,” said Mother Jones, a prominent labor organizer of the late 1800s, played by Bilijean Smith.

“Her mission is not to enhance the masculine spirit but to express the feminine. She must not accept, she must challenge,” Sanger said, voiced by Rebecca Anne Bennett. “Women must have the freedom of choosing whether or not she should be a mother.”

Emma Goldman, the anarchist known for her commitment to freedom for women, was played by Julie Linstedt. “I believe passionately in individual freedom,” Goldman said.

Leigh Smith said these women’s accomplishments are uncelebrated in textbooks. “Maybe we’ll see more of a change as plays like this are performed and women continue to speak out,” she said.

“The theme for 2016 women’s history month is working to form a more perfect union: honoring women in public service and government,” Bright said.

“Women have been a part of our political system from the very earliest days,” she said. “And today we still don’t have gender parody in politics. Women make up 51 percent of the population in this country but only 18 percent of Congress.”

“We only won the [right to] vote 96 years ago,” Bright reminded the audience. “It hasn’t even been a century. We’ve come a long way, but we still have a far distance to travel.”