A group of voting advocates celebrated a civil rights milestone Tuesday evening by presenting one of their own with an award for her efforts to register residents to vote.
The League of Women Voters of Tyler and Smith County celebrated the 94th anniversary of the ratification of the 19th Amendment, which gave women the right to vote.
Women’s Equality Day was designated on Aug. 26, and the group gathered at the Grand Piano Bar and Supper Club, 5524 Old Jacksonville Highway to celebrate.
Mary Claire Rowe, of the league, asked attendees to imagine the world that their ancestors lived in.
“For the majority of women, their thoughts and activities were dictated by convention,” she said. “Few laws recognized them as (a) person in their own right, with rare exceptions. Unusual was the woman who could own property, manage her own affairs, or seek, much less hold, political office.”
Mrs. Rowe commended all the women who participated in the 72-year fight for voting equality, and those who are still fighting prejudice today.
“Tonight we honor those ‘invincibles’ who made our lives better, and we pledge to keep up the good work,” she said.
Shirley Hightower was honored with the “Making Democracy Work” award for her efforts with the league. The National League of Women Voters recognizes the distinction, organizers said.
Mrs. Hightower moved to Tyler in 2005 and began working with the organization in 2007, league member Andie Rathbone said.
She forged relationships with the Hispanic community and organized a league presence at naturalization ceremonies. During her tenure with the Tyler league, she served as secretary, director in charge of voters and voters service vice president.
Her passion was getting new voters to register.
“Over 1,300 new voters have been registered since Shirley stared her efforts in the 2008/2009 year. … She’s moving back to San Antonio next month, and she is going to leave some very, very large shoes to fill,” Mrs. Rathbone said.
Mrs. Hightower spoke of her mother who died at the age of 97. Born in 1915, she lived in a world where women were prohibited from voting but lived to see women’s suffrage and to see them appointed to the Supreme Court and run for the highest office.
“What progress we have made,” Mrs. Hightower said. “Voter registration has been my passion. I think we are not proud that Texas is dead last in voter turnout, and I would love to see that changed.”