Vanessa Biegel, 11, a fifth grader from Saugerties, can probably tell you a thing or two you didn’t know about the women’s suffrage movement in the state, which was so strong that New York women won the vote in 1917, three years before the ratification of the 19th Amendment to the American constitution in 1920.
Scouts like Biegel can earn a new women’s suffrage “patch” for participating in an extended consciousness-raising experience. This special program, which celebrates the centenary of women’s suffrage in the state, is a partnership between Girl Scouts Councils and the New York State Women’s Suffrage Commission chaired by lieutenant governor Kathy Hochul.
Hochul unveiled the new patch at a ceremony March 27 at the National Museum of the American Indian in New York City. Biegel, a scout for six years, attended the March 27 event.
A scout for six years, Vanessa Biegel describes her Saugerties troop as small but eager. “There are ten of us. We’re all interested in women’s rights, but I was the only one who went to the ceremony. It reminded me that it was not easy for women to get the vote.”
The patch program requires girls to think about what justice means to them and how the women’s-rights movement affects them today. It celebrates advocacy as a meaningful activity. Scouts learn about key suffrage activists and about the meaning of civil disobedience. They visit key historical sites in the women’s-rights movement, among other activities.
The Saugerties troop is part of the Hearts of the Hudson Valley Girls Scouts Council, one of seven councils in the state. The patch program was developed by the Girl Scouts of Northeastern New York council.
Vanessa Biegel is inspired by what she learned about the women’s movement in her fourth grade class last year. “Reading about it, I learned how important voting was to the women of New York,” she said.
She’s on her way to earn the new patch. She has already visited the Ulster County Courthouse, where abolitionist and women’s-rights advocate Sojourner Truth won a lawsuit in 1828 that resulted in the return of her young son from slavery in the South. The courthouse is one of many historical sites recommended in the patch instructions. Vanessa is looking forward to visiting Seneca Falls, site of the first Women’s Rights Convention in 1848.
“The civics component of girl scouting is critical in helping girls understand the importance of voting and the electoral process,” said Mary Buszuwski, CEO of the Northeastern Council. “Not just here, but around the world. Democracy is not a spectator sport.”
Hochel said at the announcement ceremony that a key part of the Women’s Suffrage Commission’s work was “to inspire the next generation of young women who want to rise up and achieve great things themselves.” Vanessa Biegel has been inspired.
For more information, visit the website www.ny.gov/suffrage.