Local News

Women See Great Changes, Opportunities in Past 100 Years

Posted December 28, 1999

— Perhaps no single group has seen greater changes in opportunities this century than women. Previous generations fought hard for things many women take for granted today, like the right to vote and access to education.

"She was a little old lady in tennis shoes. She was dowdy, and she wasn't very smart," said Isabella Cannon.

Critics underestimated Cannon, a Raleigh mayoral candidate in 1977.

"I didn't run to lose. I ran to win," said Cannon.

And, she did win. Wednesday at 95 years old, Raleigh's only female mayor is still a firecracker.

"I've never been scared to do anything," said Cannon.

She says her real claim to fame is living for almost a century.

"It's so exciting to me to look back at it," explained Cannon.

The North Carolina Archives are full of information about the rich history of women in this state. They include details about everything from the women's suffrage movement to civil rights to the equal rights amendment.

At the turn of the century, women could not own property. Women fought for the right to vote and won in 1920. Still, few jobs or schools were open to women.

"At N.C. State in the '30s and the '40s, they would not allow women in the School of Engineering because women could never learn to do calculus," said Cannon.

However, in the latter half of the century, political tides shifted and opened the door for change.

"Women had the opportunity to show that they could write, that they could think, that they could work, that they could be artists, they could be doctors, they could be engineers. It took tremendous effort," said Cannon.

"Everything was a first for me. Everything was a first," said Dorothy Allen Freeman.

Freeman, 73, was the first African-American woman to run a major non-profit organization in North Carolina. Freeman says she had to work harder than a man.

"You had to be better than good. You had to be brave yet not too pushy because they would say you're arrogant," said Freeman.

Today, Freeman says it is a new world.

"Women are now are beginning to make money equal to men," said Freeman.

As the century comes to a close, both women are proud to have helped break down barriers.

"What encouragement and inspiration it has been for women. That still happens. I still get that sort of response from it 20 years later," said Cannon

"I can hold my head up and know that I did the best I could with what I had," said Freeman.

Although the federal right to vote was granted to women in 1920, North Carolina's legislature chose not to ratify the amendment to the Constitution until 1971.

Historians say this is yet more proof that real change can take a long time.

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