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Eye on NY: Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul leading effort to celebrate women’s suffrage in New York

September 4, 2016 GMT

The 19th Amendment, which gave women the right to vote, was ratified in 1920. But three years before, New York was one of the first states to allow women to cast ballots in elections.

New York’s place in the women’s suffrage movement is the focus of a new commission led by Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul. The panel, the New York State Women’s Suffrage 100th Anniversary Commemoration Commission, will develop ideas for commemorating the historic event.

The 14-member commission held its first meeting Aug. 22 at the M’Clintock House in Waterloo. Hochul has led other meetings throughout the state.

“What’s so exciting is that New York state has a significant place in history,” Hochul said in a phone interview. “We were the very first state — in fact, three years ahead of the rest of the nation — in granting women the right to vote.

“What we’re doing in 2016 is preparing for 2017, which is actually the 100th anniversary. The rest of the country has to wait a few years, but we’re going to start celebrating now because this was accomplished because really, the women’s rights movement started in central New York.”

Hochul noted that the site of the commission’s first meeting, the M’Clintock House, was where women held the first planning session for the Seneca Falls Convention in 1848.

Seneca Falls is home to several historic sites related to the women’s rights movement. The Women’s Rights National Historical Park and the National Women’s Hall of Fame are based in the town.

“There’s so many pieces of this history in central New York,” Hochul said. “We have a history to celebrate, a story to tell and it’s important as women and people who support this that we talk about how far we’ve come in this state.”

The commission’s work won’t be limited to celebrating the past, Hochul said. They’ll also look at ways for present-day women to leave a lasting legacy.

There have been positive developments in recent years. Hochul used Hillary Clinton as an example. This year, Clinton became the first woman to be nominated by a major party for president.

Hochul also referenced one of her personal heroes, Geraldine Ferraro. Ferraro was the first woman to receive a major party’s vice presidential nomination.

“Those are great barriers to break, but at this point, 100 years later, we think there should be a greater critical mass — a higher percentage of women in positions of leadership,” she said.

One issue Hochul is eyeing: voter participation. In recent elections, New York has ranked near the bottom for voter turnout.

“That’s not something we’re proud of given the fact that we were the first to be progressive enough to grant women the right to vote way ahead of anybody else,” she said. “That’s something we should talk about — what we can do to inspire people to exercise this right that was so hard-fought for.”

While Hochul is focusing on commemorating the anniversary at the state level, New York’s junior U.S. senator is pushing for the creation of a national commission to mark the occasion.

U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand announced Friday that she’s supporting the Women’s Suffrage Centennial Commission Act. She outlined the bill during a visit to the Susan B. Anthony House in Rochester.

The legislation would create a commission that would work with state and local partners and private organizations to develop educational activities commemorating the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment’s ratification.

Gillibrand, D-N.Y., is one of 12 cosponsors of the bill introduced by U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin, a Wisconsin Democrat. Other cosponsors include U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and U.S. Sen. Susan Collins of Maine.

“The women’s suffrage movement was born in New York, and nearly a century after the 19th Amendment was passed, our state continues to be at the forefront of fighting for women’s rights, from paid family leave to equal pay for equal work,” Gillibrand said. “I will urge all of my colleagues in the Senate to support the Women’s Suffrage Centennial Commission Act, so that our nation can properly commemorate this pivotal moment in American history.”