Womanspeak!

American Voices celebrate Women’s History Month

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By Sarah West, Messenger Correspondent

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ST. ALBANS – The Bliss Room at the Historical Society Museum echoed with voices from the past Saturday evening, as local women participated in a reader’s theater version of Womanspeak, in celebration of Women’s History Month.

Womanspeak, originally written by Gloria Goldsmith in 1976, is a play about the history of iconic American women who each impacted the legislation and liberties that we value today. Abigail Adams, Sojourner Truth, Margaret Sanger and Eleanor Roosevelt are only a few of the woman whose contributions are highlighted.

Hosted by the St. Albans Historical Society and Museum, volunteer director John Bielicki organized the production along with stage manager Alex Lehning, museum director.

Bielicki had directed the play twice before, in prior decades and locations.

The performance features dialogue between a contemporary woman in search of her place and position in the world, visited by the historical characters from America’s past. Harriet Beecher Stowe, played by Mary Jane Machia, reminds the modern day woman of the impact that her novel, Uncle Tom’s Cabin, had on America during the time of the Civil War.

Sojourner Truth, read by Winnie Wilkinson, explains the plight of an African American woman, as a slave and after her emancipation. Susan B. Anthony got fired-up about Woman’s Suffrage and the eventual passing of the Nineteenth Amendment; while Emma Goldman defends herself from the label of an anarchist radical.

The cast of local women spanned seven-decades, nearly as diverse as the characters they portrayed, representing African, Hispanic and Russian-born Americans; as well as women of notable New England society.

“This performance was an opportunity to represent women who endured many challenges and left a legacy for us to learn from,” shared Kathi Haak, who portrayed Victoria Woodhull, a nineteenth-century woman both admired and loathed for her ideas of free-love.

“Miss Woodhull regarded free-love as an idea of being able to marry or divorce; and have children without the interference of the government,” Haak explained. Victoria Woodhull, in 1872, was the first woman candidate for president, a position in which she attempted to achieve five times. Woodhull, along with her sister, were the first women to run a stock brokerage firm on Wall Street; and were also among the first women to found a newspaper, Woodhull & Claflin’s Weekly, which began publication in 1870.

Mrs. Haak implores women to learn about the lives of other women, through time spent with a mentor or just listening to the plights of a stranger. “I believe it is important for women to exchange stories of their challenges and successes to empower other women to move forward in manifesting their dreams and callings.”

This Womanspeak performance came at the tail-end of Women’s History Month, which is celebrated annually in the U.S. every March. The national celebration originated in 1981 when Congress requested the President to proclaim the week beginning March 7, 1982 as “Women’s History Week.”  Throughout the next five years, Congress continued to pass joint resolutions designating a week in March as “Women’s History Week.”  After being petitioned by the National Women’s History Project, Congress designated the month of March 1987 as “Women’s History Month.”

According to the Law Library of Congress’ guide to the legislative history of Women’s History Month, between 1988 and 1994, Congress passed additional resolutions requesting and authorizing the President to proclaim March of each year as Women’s History Month. Since 1995, Presidents Clinton, Bush and Obama have issued a series of annual proclamations designating the month of March as “Women’s History Month.”

American women of every race and background helped mold the nation in innumerable ways. American females worked to secure their own rights of suffrage and equal opportunity. They advocated in the abolitionist, temperance, mental health reform, labor and social reform movements, as well as the civil rights movement.

“There are many future women leaders out there, that just don’t know it yet,” Kathi Haak encourages young women to stay focused on their God-given purposes.

Saturday night’s performance was a small reflection of centuries filled with struggle and suppression. With no props or microphones, each woman’s voice alone carried the message of her character, boldly reminding us that the rights and liberties of most American Women are not yet even a century old.

To learn more about the history of Women in America, visit: http://womenshistorymonth.gov/about.html