SALEM — Women’s rights are hard won in this country. The generations of struggle have been long, methodical and, at times, met with brutality. And yet these efforts continue to evade our collective awareness. Playwright Thea Iberall decided to do something about that.
On Wednesday, October 21, from 6:30 to 8 p.m., The House of the Seven Gables presents a live-streamed theatrical event that commemorates the courage and accomplishments of 25 women who have made our world better for women and their families. To attend “We Did It For You! Women’s Journey Through History,” and to participate in a special Q&A with the actors and playwright, use this link: https://7gables.org/event/we-did-it-for-you/. The virtual event is free, but The Gables and the producers of the performance gratefully accept donations.
Iberall says that the live performance shows us how women have scored significant achievements despite cultural and institutional resistance. She keeps it current by adding women, like Emmanuelle Charpentier and Jennifer Doudna, who just last week won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for developing the tools to edit DNA. Iberall works with actors from across the country to portray, in a performance, 25 notable activists/history makers going back to the 17th century. “These women inspire us into action,” says Iberall. “It is our sacred trust to carry on the work of our foremothers.”
The obstacles put in front of Fannie Lou Hamer, for example, in her attempt to cast a ballot were phenomenal, says Iberall. Born in 1917, Hamer picked cotton with her family of sharecroppers when she was just 6 years old. By the time she was 13, she picked between 200 and 300 pounds of cotton each day even with physical limitations caused by polio. When she tried to vote in 1962, she was fired from her job and driven from her home on the Mississippi plantation. Punished for her mother’s actions, her daughter was refused hospitalization and bled to death. Fannie was beaten so severely in the county jail that she never fully recovered. “I’m tired of all the beatings and hate,” she said. “Only God has kept the Negro sane.”
Says Iberall, “It’s one perseverance story after another.”
Alice Paul, another of the activists depicted, was a vocal leader of the women’s suffrage movement. While protesting, she was arrested for the trumped up charge of obstructing traffic. To break her subsequent hunger strike while jailed, she was force fed, a move that garnered much sympathy. Three years later, the 19th Amendment to the Constitution was passed. Paul persisted and went on to author the Equal Rights Amendment.
The performance will be streamed live, with costumed actors moving in and out of the frame as the drama progresses. Originally conceived and performed as a musical, the music will still be included. Slides take the place of backdrops, bringing context to the live performances. Adept editing allows Iberall to cover 400 years of women’s history in just 60 minutes.
Despite the years of struggle Iberall depicts in her presentation, she made a vow to keep the message positive and inspiring. Among the frequent comments she hears from the audiences are, “I didn’t know any of this” and “This was so uplifting.”
This performance will be dedicated to the late Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
Enterprising Women: The 19th Amendment to the Constitution guarantees and protects a woman’s right to vote. To honor the 100th anniversary of this historic milestone in 2020, The House of the Seven Gables celebrates the enterprising spirit of women and their continuing impact with a year of special events. “We Did It for You! Women’s Journey Through History” is part of this programming.
About The House of the Seven Gables Settlement Association
Vision: To preserve, share and continue the American story.
Mission: To be a welcoming, thriving historic site and community resource that engages people of all backgrounds in our inclusive American story. For more information visit www.7gables.org.