This guest post is by Lynn Yeakel, founder and president of Vision 2020, a national coalition of organizations and individuals working together to achieve economic, political and social equality for women. She is a long-time member of the Junior League of Philadelphia. 

Never tell a woman something can’t be done.

  • At 20, Anne Sullivan arrived at the home of Helen Keller, to teach the blind and deaf child how to communicate.
  • At 28, Alice Paul founded the Congressional Union for Woman Suffrage.
  • At 28, Lorraine Hansberry wrote the compelling drama “Raisin in the Sun.”
  • At 32, Amelia Earhart became the first woman to fly solo over the Atlantic Ocean. Half-a-century later, at the same age, Sally Ride spent six days in space.

If certain women had not ignored warnings about the impossible, women’s history would still have empty pages.

  • How many times was Susan B. Anthony told that women would never win the right to vote?
  • How much abuse did Rosa Parks endure for simply declaring she had a right to sit in the best available seat on the bus?
  • How much ridicule did Janet Guthrie overcome to prove she could compete with 32 male drivers in the Indianapolis 500?

No matter how high the hill they were trying to climb, these women may not have realized they were making history at the time they were living through it.

That may have been true of Lucretia Mott and Elizabeth Cady Stanton 168 years ago when they called a meeting on women’s rights in Seneca Falls, New York. Their message to women – and men – became a powerful communication, in small words, short sentences, big ideas.

A lot of women were there to hear that message. Remember, we’re talking about 1848. Seneca Falls is a beautiful part of upstate New York, but in those days you didn’t get into Syracuse and take a rent-a-car to your five-star hotel. You really had to want to be there.

What those women brought with them to Seneca Falls was what we still need today to finish what they started — the recognition that commitment is the source of solutions; courage is the source of action; and human dignity is the source of purpose.

Those of us at Vision 2020, a nationwide campaign for equality for women, remind ourselves daily that we need the same kind of resolve, the relentless perseverance, that history’s heroes found so necessary to bring about change.

  • When women occupy such a small percentage of top leadership positions in business and government, and progress is glacially slow, we need to work harder to change things.
  • When women continue to be paid less than men in the workplace, we need to stand up and speak out.

We all understand obstacles. A path with no obstacles probably isn’t leading anywhere worth going. Besides, the greater the obstacle, the greater the example we set for others by overcoming it.

Vision 2020 is about “Honoring the Past, Enriching the Present, Shaping the Future” for American women.

  • We need to learn from the achievements of other women in other times.
  • We need to communicate the well-documented benefit of having the United States utilize all its brainpower.
  • We need to define a future where equality is not a promise, but a reality, and to provide the leadership to reach that elusive goal.

What Vision 2020 is undertaking in all 50 states is aligned with Junior League values and we are proud to have AJLI among our Vision 2020 Allied organizations. Together we will celebrate in the year 2020 the centennial of the passage of the 19th Amendment granting women the right to vote.

We will host in Philadelphia a series of events, involving all 50 states. In educational and entertaining fashion, we will honor the past, measure our progress in the present, and put some shape to the future. The celebration has a name: “Women 100.”

That year – 2020 – will be an election year. Vision 2020 has set a modest goal, to get 100% of eligible women voters to cast their votes that November. Yes, we know the goal is outrageous. We’ve been told it can’t be done. And every time we hear “can’t,” we think of Elizabeth and Lucretia and Susan and Alice and …