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Suffrage to self-sufficiency, women honored

“Men can not speak for women, women’s rights now,” chanted women who re-created a women’s suffrage march Saturday at Marshall Gold Discovery Park in Coloma, Calif.

Women of all ages discarded their blue jeans and T-shirts in exchange for long skirts, shawls clasped with antique cameos and bonnets to honor women in history who have paved the way for the rights of future generations.

The event’s volunteer organizers thought that women who chose to march in blue jeans symbolized just how far they have come from an era of when pants were unacceptable.



At the celebration women made temperance pledges, signed petitions and received white ribbons to place over their hearts as they marched.

In honor of the election year, Sarah Wallis’ quilting party commemorated the right to vote – a right acquired by women in 1920. This year’s theme was activists who defended women’s civil rights.



“There would not have been a California without the Gold Rush or the women who came during that period,” Jan Rose, a park volunteer said.

Rose said that this year’s turnout was larger than in years past and that the films about the movement – which are a part of the day-long event – were excellent.

The women’s suffrage movement began in Seneca Falls, New York in 1848, the same year gold was discovered in Coloma.

More than 50 spectators came to learn about Wallis and other women who played important roles in women’s history.

“This is a special party for a special lady,” Emily Vigus, quilting volunteer said.

Wallis, a Coloma resident, arrived in California in 1845. She overcame illiteracy, abandonment and divorce to become an activist. As the president of the Woman’s Suffrage Educational Association, Wallis led the fight for the passage of a bill that allowed women to practice law in California in 1877.

Wallis also assisted the plights of two visible and influential women activists, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony. Stanton and Anthony shared the belief that equality was the birthright of every woman.

She even received the right to be a property owner, Vigus said, adding that most women lost their property when their husbands died because women didn’t realize they had a claim to the land.

“Quilting has become a wonderful craft in women’s heritage,” Vigus added.

“Ever since I started researching Sarah Wallis there has been no reason for me not to vote. We have to appreciate the fact that we even can go (vote),” said Carol Verbeeck, who dressed as Wallis for the event.

“Would I myself have dedicated 30 to 50 years to women’s rights without seeing progress?” Verbeeck asked herself, “I don’t know if I could say that I would have.”

“Sarah didn’t even live long enough to see (the movement) reach fruition,” Verbeeck said.

The Women’s Suffrage Movement was introduced in 1918. It passed both houses the following year.

This year, 89 California women stitched their names into blocks they quilted for the event and Vigus sewed the blocks into one quilt.

“This year’s event is so exciting,” Vigus said, “I’ve made separate blocks of symbols used on quilts that the underground railroad used to free slaves. The slaves remembered their culture, and while they had no written language they had their symbols. The abolitionists used symbols on quilts airing outside as signposts – pointing the way for slaves fleeing for their lives.”

The secret codes of quilts that innocently hung from porches across America were ignored by law enforcers and provided maps for slaves to follow to safe houses and eventual freedom.


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