DG Women's Suffrage

Kimberly Scott, left, political awareness and involvement chairwoman, and Janette Goodman, president of Frederick County Alumnae Chapter Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, pose Wednesday next to a display of artifacts they mounted in the C. Burr Artz Public Library from the 1913 Women’s Suffrage March in Washington, D.C.

The 5,000 women who descended on Washington on March 3, 1913, made headlines across the country, including in Frederick.

The Daily News heralded the event advocating for women's voting rights as "the most splendid procession of women in equal suffrage history," according to an article published in its March 4, 1913, paper. The Evening Post predicted the high turnout event "would fulfill the highest expectations of the parade committee."

What the stories and photos leave out, however, were the 22 African-American women, founders of the Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, who walked down Pennsylvania Avenue on that historic day. Theirs was the only African-American women's organization to participate, according to an article published in The Washington Post.

They marched despite the safety concerns, despite being relegated to the back of the parade lineup. It was their first public act of service, a spirit continued now through the more than 200,000 chapter members worldwide, according to the organization website.

And though the fight for women's voting rights was won nearly a century ago, under the 19th Amendment, equality and education problems persist in the American electoral system.

Addressing modern civic topics while paying homage to the Delta Sigma Theta founders' courage are the dual goals behind an event in Frederick on Saturday, exactly 105 years after the original march.  The Women's Suffrage Reenactment March, organized by Delta Sigma Theta's Frederick County Alumnae Chapter, will lead participants on a 1.5-mile march from Nymeo Field at Harry Grove Stadium to the Weinberg Center for the Arts.

There will be chants and songs along the way, with period costumes and banners encouraged. The route was specifically chosen to pass by iconic locations in Frederick, including the historic Asbury United Methodist Church and the Frederick County Courthouse, according to Kimberly Scott, chairwoman of the local chapter's political awareness and event committees.

Scott named a similar re-enactment organized in D.C. in 2013, on the 100th anniversary of the historic march, as inspiration for the Frederick counterpart. The emphasis on voting rights is even more relevant today, in a political climate muddied by allegations of voter suppression and plagued by constituent apathy, she said.

"With all the stuff going on locally, statewide and at the national level, recognizing that voting matters, getting everybody informed and engaged in their civic duty ... is so important," agreed Janette Goodman, chapter president.

Voter education will take center stage during the post-parade programming at the Weinberg. Delta Sigma Theta will offer voter registration, interactive "find your polling place" exhibits and letter-writing to congressional representatives. Supporting organizations such as the Frederick County Commission for Women, the Frederick County Board of Elections and the Frederick County League of Women Voters will also provide information and education.

Keynote speaker Charlene Dukes, president of Prince George's Community College and fellow sorority alumna, will offer insight into how voters can influence the issues they care about most through local, state and national elections. Dukes, emphasizing her perspective as an educator, noted how making informed voting decisions can be difficult when facts are muddied by political rhetoric.

"Education is the civil rights issue of today," Dukes said in a phone interview Wednesday. She also named prison reform and gerrymandering — which holds particular relevance in Frederick with the challenge to Maryland's 6th Congressional District in the U.S. Supreme Court — as among her top issues as a voter and activist.

Asked what she thought the sorority's founders would think of the modern political climate, Dukes answered that they would be proud of the progress achieved and the legacy of the organization they founded.

"But I believe they would also say the work is not done," she added.

Follow Nancy Lavin on Twitter: @NancyKLavin.

Nancy Lavin covers social services, demographics and religion for The Frederick News-Post.

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