Women in the room are sporting blouses with starched lace collars; feathers perch atop their wide-brimmed hats. Earl Grey tea is served in fine china – cups that have descended to the hostess from her grandmother. Voices hum and rise as the discussion grows livelier. The women are talking about the right to vote, the role they play in U.S. politics, the ways to advocate for equity and justice for all.
No, this is not an excerpt from a history novel. It’s a current event, planned by a loyal Mary’s Pence supporter. Author and multi-medium artist Patricia Hruby Powell is amping up the fun in fundraising by hosting a suffragist tea party in honor of Mary’s Pence – all for a serious cause. The tea party will support the women we work with through the Mary’s Pence Grants and ESPERA programs, who are committed to advancing women’s rights through advocacy, social entrepreneurship, hands-on workshops, community organizing, arts opportunities, leadership development, and educational initiatives. Patricia’s party, to be held in late January at her home in Champaign, IL, is a reminder to continue building a culture of feminist activism today. It also testifies to the legacy that the early suffragists entrusted us with, and to the continuity of feminist movements worldwide. Mary’s Pence values echo the voices of generations of feminists that came before us.
The women in Patricia’s family are part of a feminist legacy that includes the women’s suffrage movement and more. Patricia’s grandmother, Elsie, rebelled against her family and became an artist. Patricia’s aunt, Henrietta, refused to marry and earned her own living. “In fact, she supported her whole family during the Depression and put her much younger brother through college,” says Patricia proudly. Patricia’s mother Dolores was a committed supporter of Mary’s Pence. She contributed regularly through the Compañera program since our founding in 1987. Patricia commented that “When asked what she wanted for her birthday or Mother’s Day, [her mother] would usually want a donation given to Mary’s Pence.” So for Patricia, choosing Mary’s Pence for her fundraising tea party was an appropriate way to honor and continue her mother’s commitment to social justice and dedication to women’s rights.
Patricia is compelled to use her art to protect civil rights, and particularly women’s human rights. “I was taught by example that when you see an injustice, you do something to try to make it right,” says Patricia, “Growing up we boycotted grapes and supported Cesar Chavez’s United Farm Workers. We’d sometimes join my mother in a picket line in our Chicago suburb. We were taught empathy and compassion.” In her dance and theatre pieces, as well as in her writing, Patricia promotes awareness of the histories of oppression and resistance that shaped the U.S. and the world today. Currently, Patricia is working on a book that follows through with the theme of her upcoming party – women’s suffrage. The book is documenting three centuries of work for women’s rights, and stories of notable suffragists.
Around the world and in the United States, the suffragist movement has come far – but our work is never over. Apart from voting, we must attend to other means of political action. The ‘suffragists’ of today must fight to develop and protect women’s rights – whether by supporting their community, building an economy that works for all, writing legislature, or promoting woman-owned businesses. Women work together on the everyday activism that keeps women’s rights and human rights in focus. To that, Patricia says “It’s a frightened world that we’re walking into. I want it to be an era of engagement, so that we don’t backslide. I want to see us move forward, get others to be involved, and make this an era of activism.”
Learn more about Patricia’s work at http://talesforallages.com/
Svitlana Iukhymovych, St. Joseph Worker