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Count on women

A few days before the November 2008 election, traffic in Boone, Iowa, came to a standstill. A political rally -- hardly unusual this year -- was taking place.

But the streets were closed that day to stage an historical political event: a 1908 women's voting rights parade.

The Boone Equality Club hosted the Iowa Equal Suffrage Association Convention that year. The National American Woman Suffrage Association president and two British students from Bryn Mawr College in Philadelphia joined the marchers. It made news in The New York Times and The Boston Globe.

Women also marched in New York City and Oakland, California, in 1908. But it was 1920 before the 19th Amendment was ratified.

Many of the 1908 marchers had died before women were allowed to cast a ballot. Several of their descendants returned to Boone to dedicate a memorial near the parade site.

No one knows if any farm women marched that day. But Mary Lease, a Kansas mother of four, was active in the National Farmers Alliance in the 1890s. She urged farmers to "raise less corn and more hell" and advocated for women's suffrage.

My grandmothers were over 40 before they could vote. Neither one ever drove a car. My mother and her sister were the first women in my family to attend college.

Today it's hard to imagine that the women who marched in 1908 risked schisms in their families as well as intense social disapproval. Or is it?

The 2008 election was the first to include women candidates for president and vice president. Sexism, the last acceptable form of discrimination, detracted from both campaigns.

Women make up 51% of the population, but only about 17% are in Congress, 18% are governors, and 24% are state legislators. After 200 years, a woman is House Speaker.

One challenge is that 98% of incumbents who run (mostly men) are reelected. Another challenge is that not enough women run. They enter office older than men, with less time to gain seniority and leadership.

Our daughters need these mentors. So many issues are vital to women: war, economic stability, health insurance, education, jobs -- and more.

In the 1958 musical comedy Damn Yankees, Applegate (the Devil) is annoyed by an inquisitive woman reporter. "Go get married," he tells her. "Have children."

The message echoes in subtle ways today. But putting children first is precisely why women must run.

A few days before the November 2008 election, traffic in Boone, Iowa, came to a standstill. A political rally -- hardly unusual this year -- was taking place.

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