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The first women’s rights convention was held in 1848 in Seneca Falls, New York.  It took grassroots organizing, activism and 72 more years for the 19th Amendment to pass in the US Congress giving women the right to vote.  In 1971 Representative Bella Abzug (D-NY) was successful in advocating for a Joint Resolution of Congress marking August 26th as Women’s Equality Day.

August 26th not only commemorates women’s rights to vote, but provides opportunities to raise awareness of women’s continued battle for full equality.  Organizations in Massachusetts, and around the country, continue to advocate for reproductive rights, economic justice, racial justice, equal pay and the right to live free of violence.

The passing of the 19th amendment, although monumental, was only the beginning of ensuring equality and corresponding protections for women.  

Fast forward another 23 years, the Violence Against Women Act was passed by Congress in 1994 following four years of committee meetings that included state attorney generals, attorneys, advocates, law enforcement, and scholars that made clear that violence against women was a pervasive problem across the country.  The  Violence Against Women Act incorporates protections for both women who are US citizens and immigrant women whose abusers use immigration law to control their partners, as well as providing funding for services for victims of domestic violence, sexual assault and stalking.

Throughout the Patrick Administration, Massachusetts has been on the forefront of supporting services and legislation that promotes equal rights and safety for women and all it’s citizens of the Commonwealth.

In June 2007, Governor Patrick created the Governor’s Council to Address Sexual Assault and Domestic Violence, co-chaired by Health and Human Services Secretary John Polanowicz, and consisting of 30 community-based experts appointed by the Governor, and representatives of various state agencies responsible for sexual and domestic violence service providers throughout the Commonwealth.

In February 2011, Governor Patrick issued and order to ensure that non-discrimination, diversity, and equal opportunity shall be the policy of the Executive Branch of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts in all aspects of state employment, programs, services, activities, and decisions.

Governor Patrick then established a state office to ensure non-discrimination, diversity and equal opportunity in all aspects of state employment, programs, services, activities, and decision-making, including but not limited to state contracting, including contracts for construction, design, and goods and services provided to state agencies.

  • Chapter 197: An Act to Promote Public Safety and Protect Access to Reproductive Health Care Facilities

“I am incredibly proud to sign legislation that continues Massachusetts leadership in ensuring that women seeking to access reproductive health facilities can do so safely and without harassment, and that the employees of those facilities can arrive at work each day without fear of harm.” ~ Governor Deval Patrick

  • Chapter 402: An Act Relative to Housing Rights for Victims of Domestic Rape, Sexual Assault and Stalking:

“We must do all we can to protect victims of sexual and domestic violence. I thank the Legislature and the many caring advocates for giving us additional tools to do so.” ~ Governor Deval Patrick

“By partnering with the legislature and community based advocates, we are helping to improve the safety of victims in their own home and providing opportunities to improve their safety without further financial penalties.” ~ Lt. Governor Tim Murray

Legal services, advocates, human service agencies, policy makers, legislators and others worked tirelessly on creating comprehensive legislation that was aimed at protecting victims of domestic violence, the majority of whom are women (but inclusive of all victims).  This legislation is aimed at developing better responses, holding offenders accountable, increasing education and providing resources to support victims to keep them safe and opportunities for support.

We are proud to recognize today as Women’s Equality Day, acknowledging the suffrage of the past and efforts for the future to ensure women’s equal access to opportunity for generations to come.

Women's Equality Day Proclamation



Written By:

Director of Violence Prevention

Communications Director, Executive Office of Health and Human Services


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