On October 23, 2020, the St. John’s Law Review brought legal scholars together to explore the past, present, and future of women’s rights in the United States during its 2020 symposium: Commemorating the 100th Anniversary of the 19th Amendment.
Women have always played a vital role in shaping the cultural landscape of America by persistently demanding equality and opportunity. In 1920, the first women exercised their newly secured constitutional right to participate in our democracy, 244 years after this country’s founding. For most women, however, the fight for voting rights continued for decades. For some, that fight is ongoing, and gender equality is still far from a reality.
Against this backdrop, the symposium explored the current state of gender equality in America, what can be learned from the past 100 years, and what the next 100 years should look like. “Our main goal for the symposium wasn’t to celebrate white women’s suffrage,” says Sam Gagnon ’21, who took the lead in organizing the event as the Law Review's Symposium Editor. “We invited a diverse group of seven women lawyers and educators to share their scholarship and work in the field so we could use this milestone as an opportunity to think critically about the role of the law in women’s lives. As soon-to-be lawyers, it’s important for us to think about what comes next, and the role we’re going to play.”
After opening remarks from Gagnon and Law Review Editor-in-Chief Kimberly Capuder ’21, Dean Michael A. Simons welcomed the presenters and attendees. He shared that the 19th Amendment was “critical in allowing us to define the soul of our nation,” and recognized the symposium’s meaningful contribution to the Law School’s growing diversity, equity, and inclusion and anti-racism agendas.
Next, the first panel convened as moderator Rosemary Salomone, the Law School’s Kenneth Wang Professor of Law, introduced the speakers:
Cheryl L. Wade, St. John’s Harold F. McNiece Professor of Law, then introduced Taunya L. Banks, the Jacob A. France Professor of Equality Jurisprudence at the University of Maryland Carey School of Law, who delivered a keynote address titled Commemorating the Forgotten Intersection of the Fifteenth and Nineteenth Amendments.
Following Professor Banks’ impactful remarks on women’s quest for social equality, the second panel of the day opened with St. John’s Law Professor Catherine Baylin Duryea, who served as moderator and welcomed the presenters:
The symposium’s timely and inspiring exploration of the 19th Amendment would not have been possible without the generous support of St. John’s Law alumni David Wollmuth ’87, a partner at Wollmuth Maher & Deutsch LLP, and Roselind Hallinan ’14, an associate at the firm. The symposium also received support from a number of co-sponsoring student organizations, including the:
Children’s Rights Society, Coalition for Social Justice, Dispute Resolution Society, Federal Bar Association, Health Law Society, Historical Society, Labor Relations and Employment Law Society, Latin American Law Student Association, Multilingual Legal Advocates, Polestino Trial Advocacy Institute, South Asian Law Students Association, Student Bar Association, Transforming Justice Initiative, and Women’s Law Society.
“Organizing the symposium has been a highlight of my time at St. John’s,” Sam Gagnon says. “It was an awesome opportunity to increase awareness about two of my greatest passions—gender equality and voting rights—while lifting up the voices of brilliant women in the legal field. And to do so on behalf of, and with the full support of, the Law School community made it all the more empowering.”
The symposium presentations and proceedings will publish in a future issue of the St. John’s Law Review. In the meantime, you can view the recorded symposium in its entirety online.