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Delegate Q&A: Eugenia Potter in Kentucky

Meet Eugenia Potter, a Vision 2020 Delegate in Kentucky

 

Posted on December 4, 2017

Eugenia Potter, a Vision 2020 Delegate in Kentucky.

How long have you been Vision 2020 Delegate, and why did you become involved?

In 2011, celebrating the 19th Amendment was my initial impetus for joining Vision 2020. I am a firm believer in the cliche, "you can't know where you are going until you know where you have been," so my continued commitment to Vision 2020 is that we can’t commemorate 2020 without knowing its history.

All Vision 2020 delegates have demonstrated a commitment to advancing women and girls. Tell us about your experienced as it relates to this work. What projects related to women’s progress are you working on now? What do you plan to do to celebrate 2020?

I am a founding member of The Kentucky Woman Suffrage Project, an Allied Organization of Vision 2020. We reveal a little-known chapter of Kentucky history, inspiring young women to learn the value of their voting rights. Whether it is our planned scavenger hunt, wall murals, play, opera, book, re-enactments, symposium, website, digital trail map, Derby parade theme, museum exhibits, or film, discernment has become our watchword. With the benefit of clear-eyed hindsight, we have begun to scrutinize suffrage vis-a-vis racism. Instead of only documenting Kentucky suffrage from white women’s perspectives, we are doing more difficult research on the suffrage politics of black women. It is an opportunity to gain a better understanding of how race mattered in acquiring the vote. That’s why suffrage history is important.

What’s an interesting piece of women’s history from your state?
In 1890, Kentucky women could not make wills, own property or wages, or have custody of children. When suffragists stepped out of their parlors to parade, march, canvas, speak and petition, they forced the public to take notice. Our two most important suffrage leaders, Madeline Breckinridge and Laura Clay, came from fabled Kentucky families who began unified as Progressive Era reformers, but they viewed the path to suffrage through very different lenses: Clay via states’ rights and Breckinridge via the federal amendment. For Clay, her state's rights agenda was a systematic attempt to disenfranchise African Americans. For Breckinridge, her staunch support of a federal amendment arose from working for parks and education, against child labor. She believed if women could vote, they’d change society’s ills. An anomaly with a thoroughbred’s indifference to conformity, her humor was often evident: “Kentucky women are not idiots even though they are closely related to Kentucky men.” As a state and national suffrage leader, Breckinridge's lifelong struggle with tuberculosis added dramatic adversity as she tirelessly criss-crossed the country as one of the movement’s best orators. She died a few weeks after she cast her first and only vote.

Name a woman you look up to and explain why.
With intention born of insidious discrimination, Pauli Murray (1910-85) was a poet, writer, professor, lesbian, feminist lawyer and the first African American female Episcopal priest. In October, Yale University dedicated a new residence in her honor; her childhood home in Durham, North Carolina, was just designated a National Historic Landmark. An early civil rights leader, Murray fought demeaning injustice but also promoted reconciliation across race, sex and class — a trio she considered inextricable. She was a co-founder of the National Organization for Women (NOW) and mentored such icons as First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, Marian Wright Edelman and Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg. My inspiration comes from her groundbreaking, personal grit fighting humiliating inequities: she was rejected in 1938 from the University of North Carolina for being African American, and later Harvard for being a woman; she organized sit-ins in the '40s when she was not allowed to eat in restaurants; she was arrested for not sitting in the back of the bus in 1940; and she confronted sexism, which she called “Jane Crow.” Pauli Murray exemplified how discrimination and racism shape a woman’s political advocacy and life work.

Summarize what women’s equality means to you in 7 words.
Unfinished struggle for all rights, opportunities, inclusion