EDISON – It was a time for celebration inside the pavilion at Yelencsics Park as members of the community came together to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the women’s suffrage movement, as well as the many women who have made a difference in the township.
“It took a century for women’s voices to be heard … they were finally heard in 1920,” former Mayor Antonia Ricigliano said, noting the process moved quickly after many years of protests. “On May 21, 1919, the 19th Amendment was passed by the [U.S.] House of Representatives and on June 4, 1919, it passed in the [U.S.] Senate.”
Thirty-six states came together to ratify the amendment. On Aug. 18, 1920, Tennessee became the necessary 36th state and on Aug. 26, 1920, the 19th Amendment was adopted and certified into law.
Ricigliano said the 19th Amendment stated the “right to vote could not be denied because of sex (gender).” She said although the 19th Amendment gave people the right to vote, literacy tests and taxes imposed by states made it impossible for all people to vote, especially people of color.
“It took an additional 45 years to when President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act of 1965 that ended [racial] discriminatory practices and gave all people the right to responsibly vote,” she said.
Ricigliano was honored as the first female mayor in Edison – she served from 2010 to 2013 – during the celebration on Aug. 30.
Mayor Thomas Lankey said he had the privilege of running with Ricigliano on her ticket when she first ran for mayor.
“I got to work with her on the Township Council under her administration,” he said. “There were times we might have disagreed on one or two things, but one of the things I’ve always admired is her motive; everything she did was for the best of Edison … there were no hidden agendas.”
Lankey said he is honored to have witnessed the passion Ricigliano had during her service to the township.
“I can honestly say I’m a better person to have known Toni … the township of Edison is a much better community because of her service,” he said.
Council President Joyce Ship-Freeman, who became the first African American woman to serve on council when she began her council term in January, led the celebration as master of ceremonies.
Ship-Freeman said the many women before them have been through so much so they could come together to celebrate.
“I always say [regardless of political affiliation], if someone says something negative about women, it’s important not to join in,” she said. “That’s how women survive – by staying together.”
Elsie Dublin-Foster, a councilperson in Highland Park and a member of the Women’s Political Caucus of New Jersey, and Gail E. Lalla, president of the Middlesex County Young Democrats, served as guest speakers. Casey Kregeloh of Edison High School led the Pledge of Allegiance and Rev. Shelia Hobson, pastor at Grace Baptist Church in Fords, led the invocation and benediction.
A number of township elected officials, past and present, were honored at the ceremony along with members of the public, including Theresa Ward, former Board of Education (BOE) member; Gloria Dittman, former BOE member and president of the Edison Arts Society; Ann Marie Griffin-Usaak, former council member; Eileen Germain-Teffenhart, former council member; Elizabeth Conway, current BOE member; Sapana Shah, former council member; Beth Maroney, current BOE member; Jane Brady, former council member and county freeholder; Falguni Patel, current BOE member; and Jane Tousman, who served as a long-time environmental activist in the township before she passed away in 2014.
Also at the celebration, Kathleen Carlucci, director of the Thomas Edison Memorial Tower, presented “Women Voters,” a short film by Thomas Edison from 1913.