Each month we’ll feature a Q&A with one of the commissioners of the Indiana Women’s Suffrage Centennial Commission. January’s feature: Chief Justice Loretta Rush
Q: Why is it important for the state to mark the centennial anniversary of women’s suffrage?
A: Marking the centennial anniversary of women’s suffrage is important for two reasons. First, we get to seize the opportunity to honor American suffragists—including many Hoosier women—and their efforts in winning the right to vote. This was truly a democratic milestone. And, second, this anniversary is an important time to reflect on the value of being engaged in a democracy.
In other words, a hard-fought battle was won a hundred years ago—and we must recognize the countless steps it took to move society toward equality. But that doesn’t mean our work is done. My hope is that the State’s celebration reminds all Hoosiers of the importance of voting rights and how we must always remain vigilant in keeping those rights secure.
Q: Who is a woman who has inspired you in your life and/or career?
A: Often, I speak about three trailblazers—true Hoosier pioneers—who I feel we all owe an incredible debt to: Polly Strong, Antoinette Dakin Leach and Helen Gougar.
Polly was a slave who demanded her freedom by virtue of the 1816 Indiana Constitution’s prohibition against slavery, and the Indiana Supreme Court ruled in her favor. Antoinette Dakin Leach, a law school graduate, sought her right to practice law. She took her case all the way to the Indiana Supreme Court and also won. And, finally, Helen Gougar crusaded for suffrage and equality in Indiana courts, trying to secure the right to vote for Hoosier women.
But these historical heroines are not my only source of inspiration. I’m not sure if Hoosiers are aware, but last year, for the first time, all Indiana courts were led by women. My hard-working sister chiefs—Jane Magnus Stinson, Nancy Vaidik, Marth Wentworth, Theresa Springmann and Robin Moberly—also inspire me every day.
Q: As Chief Justice of the Indiana Supreme Court, how would you encourage women to continue to break barriers?
A: When I went to law school, there had never been a woman on the U.S. Supreme Court, so I could not have ever imagined being a judge. It is important that we reach back and encourage others. A favorite saying of mine is “you have to see the ‘robe’ to ‘be the robe.’” I overheard a young girl in our courtroom exclaim to her father, “OMG, Dad, the Chief Justice is a girl!”
The suffragists’ legacy must motivate women to continue to break barriers. Because although we’ve come a long way these past hundred years, women still have not achieved true equality. The only way we will get there is by not giving up—even in the face of adversity. The suffragists encountered roadblocks, ridicule and rejection, but they were ultimately successful.
Q: What advice would you give to the next generation of female leaders?
A: My advice is simple: support each other, mentor young women and give back. Female leaders must encourage other women to take up positions of leadership. Female leaders must be role models, ensuring that they mentor young women so that women continue to break barriers. And female leaders must become a face of their communities, by giving time and effort to causes that truly make a difference.