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This article by Kathleen McGinn Spring was prepared for the August 7, 2002 edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.

Women’s Equality And Baseball

Women won the right to vote 82 years ago, at a time

when baseball was just becoming the national pastime. Now that sport,

so often a metaphor for life, is the venue through which the New Jersey

Department of Community Affairs, Division of Women is celebrating

the event.

Women’s Equality Day takes place on Sunday, August 25, at 10 a.m.

at Waterfront Park in Trenton. Jane Moffit, a Pittman resident

who played for the Kalamazoo Lassies and went on to become a teacher

and high school principal, and Ernestine "Teeny" Petras,

a Passaic County resident, who played for the Grand Rapids Chicks

and went on to work for the American Can Company, speak. Both women

played for the All American Girls Baseball League that was featured

in the movie A League of Their Own, and both were inducted into the

National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1988.

There is no cost to hear the former baseball stars speak. After their

presentations, Women’s Equality Day moves into Waterfront Park for

a Thunder game, at which the women will throw out the first pitch.

Admission to that portion of the program is $17, and includes $10

in Boomer Bucks that can be used for lunch or souvenirs. Call 609-292-6055.

"This is a fun, family event — no dressing up," says Bear

Atwood, director of the Division of Women. The late-August anniversary

date of the passage of the 19th Amendment lends itself to an informal

event, she says, adding that the sports tie-in is significant.

"One area in which women have made strides is sports," says

Atwood. "I’m so delighted to hear Liberty scores on the radio

in the morning. They’re role models for girls," she says of the

women on the professional basketball team.

Atwood, a graduate of Denison University (Class of 1981), holds a

law degree from Catholic University. As a prep schooler at Phillips

Exeter Academy, she rode crew in an eight-person scull. At 44, she

says she was just on the cusp of women’s inclusion in high school

and college sports. Participating in team sports teaches girls valuable

lessons. She says crew, for one, "is all about team work, about

having a plan, and following directions."

Sports also teach how to face challenges, to compete effectively,

and to overcome adversity. "The skills I learned," she says,

"certainly affected how I interact in my career."

Atwood grew up in Massachusetts. Her parents took several weeks to

decide on a name for her, and in the meantime, her older sister had

christened her "Bear," a name she likes so well that she refuses

to divulge the name her parents finally bestowed. "Bear is who

I am," she says.

She studied Spanish literature in college, but was "always interested"

in going into law. "I had a plan," she says. "I wanted

to be a public defender doing important work on poverty law issues.

My long-term goal was to work in a city with a Spanish-speaking population.

Instead, she got a job offer from a public defender’s office in rural

New Hampshire, and that is where she went.

While women have made considerable gains in so many ways, she found

that equality was far from complete on the legal front in rural New

England in the mid-1980s. "I was the only woman lawyer in the

two counties I practiced in," she recalls. "There was a real

learning curve for the system to adapt to me." She had to work

with judges and prosecutors who were not always welcoming, as well

as with clients who, she says, "didn’t expect to get a girl lawyer."

By the time she left her job eight years later, there had been "tremendous

changes," she says. For one thing, there were many more female

attorneys — in large part because, as managing attorney, she hired

them. Also, she adds, there were many more women coming out of law

school at the end of the 1980s.

After leaving New Hampshire in 1991, Atwood moved to New Jersey, where

she became active in the National Organization of Women (N.O.W.),

serving as president of N.O.W. New Jersey for three years. She took

on the job of director of New Jersey’s Division on Women last May.

She now lives in eastern Monmouth County with her 14-year-old son,

Corey,

Among the issues facing New Jersey women, she says, is pay disparity.

New Jersey women make more than the national average, but also trail

Garden State men by more than the national average. New Jersey does

have pluses for women, especially when compared with more rural states

such as New Hampshire. The state’s density is a help, says Atwood,

because public transportation is available in many areas and because

health care is never very far away. Another plus, in her view, is

that "the state takes education very seriously."

The state’s Division on Women administers grants in areas that include

prevention of domestic violence and services for displaced homemakers.

It also works on legislative initiatives to benefit women.

Women have enjoyed a number of new opportunities in the 82 years since

the 19th Amendment gave them access to the ballot box, but there is

still work to be done. On August 25, women gather at Waterfront Park

to celebrate the victories, tell their children about the struggles,

and perhaps even envision a day when a woman will not only throw out

the first ball at a professional baseball game, but will don a uniform,

take center stage, and play the whole game — as Moffit and Petras’

teams did while the boys were off fighting World War II.


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