Vision 2020: A Historic Commemoration During a Historic Year

The group of 44 women and men who joined Vision 2020’s SHE Leads Road Rally in October from East Falls in Philadelphia to Seneca Falls, NY.
The group of 44 women and men who joined Vision 2020’s SHE Leads Road Rally in October from East Falls in Philadelphia to Seneca Falls, NY.

The centennial celebration of the ratification of the 19th Amendment, formally certified on Aug. 26, 1920, was years in the making, in more ways than one.

The amendment guaranteeing women the right to vote marked an important moment in the women’s suffrage movement in the country and the first significant step toward women’s equality. But women of color were denied access and still had to fight for their right to vote for decades and, 100 years later, voter suppression remains an issue and economic, social and political equality between women and men has not been achieved.

Vision 2020, a national women’s equality coalition formed by the Institute for Women’s Health and Leadership (IWHL) in Drexel’s College of Medicine in 2009, anticipated both the need to celebrate the amendment’s centennial and further advance the quest for gender equality in America. Founded and led by its president Lynn Yeakel, IWHL director and Betty A. Cohen Chair in Women’s Health for the College of Medicine, Vision 2020 built a national network of individuals and organizations dedicated to promoting gender equity. That would culminate in 2020 with a national celebration, called Women 100, looking backward and forward at women’s equality, including special social and cultural events and a voter mobilization effort to encourage a record-breaking turnout of women voters in the 2020 national election.

When the big year finally, finally arrived, Vision 2020 was ready. March 1, 2020 was the opening day of its first big project: an interactive exhibition called Seat at the Table, focused on women’s suffrage and women’s progress over the last 100 years and installed in the lobby of Philadelphia’s Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts.

Soon after the exhibition’s opening, and for the rest of 2020, almost everything planned for the centennial celebration was changed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Events were rescheduled, modified and moved online. Work and plans that had taken years had to be redone in a matter of weeks and months. In-person gatherings and events had to be significantly pared down.

Though its programs ended up occurring in a world that no one could have imagined 100 years ago or even at the beginning of this year, Vision 2020 still succeeded in mobilizing female voters to participate in the 2020 presidential election. The Vision2020Votes nonpartisan, national, online voter mobilization effort helped people get registered to vote, learn how to vote by mail, identify their polling locations and vote in the 2020 election.

Several events were pushed back after originally being scheduled during the spring of 2020, since large-scale public gatherings and travel are contrary to the recommendations of public health experts. Spring Breakthru, a two-day workshop for college students across the country to meet in Philadelphia to learn how to advocate for positive social change, was originally scheduled for March 20-22 but moved to spring 2021.

The Women’s Leadership Forums — in which thought leaders discussed the past, present and future of women’s leadership — was moved from April 1 to Nov. 4, 2020, and was held virtually. The SHE Leads Road Rally still occurred, with a smaller number of participants driving from Philadelphia to the site of the first Women’s Rights Convention in Seneca Falls, New York, from Oct. 16–17. The planned bus road trip, originally scheduled to take place in June, was scrapped due to COVID-19.

Vision 2020’s hallmark Toast to Tenacity®, which became its new kickoff event, still took place on Aug. 26, which was Woman’s Equality Day and the anniversary of the 19th Amendment’s adoption. It was held outside Independence Hall at Philadelphia’s Independence National Historical Park, but with some new features that only added to the day’s gravitas and excitement. The Toast to Tenacity® celebration occurred as a hybrid virtual event of live streaming and pre-recorded presentations, tributes and performances. 

Toast 2 Tenacity 2020

Now, Vision 2020’s Women 100 programming will extend through the summer of 2021. In addition to a fully virtual Spring Breakthru conference for college students across the nation scheduled for March 18–19, a Vision 2020 National Congress will bring thought leaders, experts and organizations together from June 14–16 to develop and present strategies for achieving economic, social and political equality for women.

“Three generations of women’s suffragists worked for more than 70 years to win the right to vote for our half of the population. They faced many challenges and had to change strategic direction often to reach the suffrage goal,” said Yeakel. “I like to think that Vision 2020, in this year like no other, is demonstrating the same kind of tenacity as we modify our plans but never waver from the commitment to advance the unfinished business of women’s equality.”