Webster President Elizabeth Stroble and legal studies professor Anne Geraghty-Rathert received awards for women’s leadership at the League of Women Voters’ Celebrate the Vote festival Sept. 3.
The festival and awards commemorated the 100th anniversary of the “Golden Lane” demonstration in 1916, during which a parade of women dressed all in white with gold sashes protested the Democratic National Convention in St. Louis, asking the party to include a woman’s right to vote in its platform.
The two other women recognized were Build-A-Bear Workshop founder Maxine Clark and YWCA leader Adrian Brady.
Elizabeth Stroble described her grandmother as a “feminist before her time;” her mother got a job as a bank teller with one year of junior college.
As president of Webster University, she said those role models have inspired her to balance her career in academia with her family.
“Webster historically has been a place that offered opportunity for women,” Stroble said.
According to Forbes Magazine, while 57 percent of today’s college students are women, only 26 percent of college presidents are.
Stroble said there are many things colleges can do to make that representation more equal; ensuring that there are women on the board of trustees, search committees and in other leadership positions can help female candidates feel more welcome.
“We’ve worked hard here at this institution to do those things,” Stroble said.
Stroble said she felt she was accepting the Golden Lane award of behalf of Webster University.
“At a time when bachelor’s degrees for women were little known west of the Mississippi and even less favored, our Golden Lane and before the 19th amendment,” Stroble said in her speech at the event.
Stroble said being a woman is one of the experiences that helps her lead and work for diversity at Webster.
“I use those experiences to try to give me a lens through which to understand other people’s experiences,” Stroble said.
Anne Geraghty-Rathert be- gan a new chapter in her legal career when she received a request from a former student, Amy Lorenz-Moser.
Lorenz-Moser, a personal injury lawyer, works with the Missouri Clemency Coalition to advocate for the release of women imprisoned for killing their abusers. When she ran into a client that did not fit her usual profile, she asked Geraghty-Rathert for help.
That client was Angel Stewart, who, according to the WILLOW Project’s website, was “kidnapped and physically, sexually, and mentally terrorized” starting at age 19. When her kidnappers murdered two other women, Stewart was threatened with the death penalty because she was present during the crimes. She pled guilty to a lesser charge and is serving life in prison.
Geraghty-Rathert decided to take on the case, and discovered that there were others like it.
“I kind of stumbled along – I was a lawyer, but this was out- side of my knowledge base and outside of my world,” Geraghty-Rathert said.
In response, she hired her first intern and eventually start- ed the the WILLOW Project – “WILLOW” stands for “Women Initiate Legal Lifelines to Other Women”.
The WILLOW Project provides legal aid to women who are imprisoned for life for crimes they did not commit, often because they were prosecuted for the actions of men who abused them or held them captive. Because they are assigned public defenders, Geraghty-Rathert said, they do not receive the advocacy they deserve.
“Those lawyers are forced to prioritise cases in ways that would horrify most of us,” Geraghty-Rathert said. “My clients fell through every crack.”
The project is currently staffed by Webster University students, past and present, who have worked as Geraghty-Rathert’s interns.
Geraghty-Rathert says that her goal is to “empower women on every side of the legal system” to stand up to these convictions, as well as to raise awareness about why women are imprisoned for these crimes.
“When people hear the story through the lens of abuse, they understand in a way they didn’t before,” Geraghty-Rathert said.
All three of the project’s cur- rent clients are post-conviction, meaning that appeals are no longer available to them. Geraghty-Rathert said that those interested in getting involved can help by writing a letter to Missouri governor Jay Nixon.
Geraghty-Rathert said the award reminded her of the ongoing struggle that her organization and clients face.
“The Golden Lane award is an important award because it has to do with the struggle for equality,” Geraghty-Rathert said. “It commemorates an event on the way to getting women’s suffrage, not the end result.”
Stroble said the award re- minds her of the continuing importance of the right to vote and of exercising that right.
“The work that still needs to be done is that we still need to preserve people’s right to vote,” Stroble said.