On March 3, 1913, the day before the inauguration of President Woodrow Wilson, 5,000 suffragists paraded in Washington, D.C. to encourage support of women’s suffrage—the right to vote and to hold office. As the suffragists, whose numbers did include a few men, marched down Pennsylvania Avenue, they were met with some support but also a lot of abuse. Marchers were spit at, insulted, and physically attacked. The local police did little to control the mobs and at the end of it all between 100 and 200 women were hospitalized. The response only fortified the women’s resolve to continue to publicly demonstrate in the pursuit of greater equality.
99 years later times have changed, and evidence of that change in American women’s status will be seen right here in Long Beach on September 23 and 24, as The (resurrected) California Women’s Conference (CWC) returns for a weekend of discussion, display and action that was seeded in the 1980s by California Governor George Deukmejian and his wife, First Lady Gloria Deukmejian, long-time Long Beach residents. The first incarnation of the CWC, the California Governor and First Lady’s Conference on Women, came about in response to high rates of failure among women owned businesses. The idea was to give women better access to the resources and funding to bolster their fledgling ventures.
The Women’s Conference continued to be hosted by successive Governors’ wives, and culminated with last year’s blow-out conference/rave put on by the glamorous Maria Shriver. Tickets sold out within minutes. But then Governor Brown and his wife Anne Gust Brown decided, in a new era of California austerity, not to hold the conference. In fact, they even eliminated the official post of First Lady in their effort to cut budget costs.
Recently I had the opportunity to speak to the new organizer of the California Women’s Conference (CWC), Michelle Patterson, CEO of EventComplete, and we talked about what we can expect from this relaunched event. Her concept for the new CWC is that it will return to an emphasis on women entrepreneurs and to a more “business-centric focus”; in the spirit of the original conference which Former First Lady Gloria Deukmejian hosted starting in 1985. Patterson is excited about bringing the Women’s Conference back to life here in Long Beach. She says that others had been approached to resurrect the huge event, but nobody wanted the job. Basically, there was “no one else to do it.”
Patterson has become the biggest cheerleader for the CWC, cultivating investors, and building relationships with Long Beach dignitaries like First Lady Nancy Foster and Peace Builders founder Michelle Molina. The story that Patterson likes to tell, and which nicely couches her new conference in the lore of the old, is about her experience as a 13 year-old girl who got the chance to interview Governor Deukmejian and was inspired by his encouragement. She hopes to inspire women, in the same way Governor Deukmejian did for her, to follow their dreams and passions.
In her previous corporate life Patterson said she “absolutely” encountered the glass ceiling. “I was coached on being tougher...It was very much about the dollar and there was no emotion. It was really tough.” But she, “got to the point in corporate America where there was no creativity.” It is part of why she felt the conference still needed to be here, because this is a historical time for women. “There are more women in the workforce than ever before. Here we are in the State of California with phenomenal organizations supporting women and (support for women) is what is getting cut…This event is about women for women…I feel like, definitely, this is what I am supposed to be doing.” She exclaims, “Do what you love because you will fall in love every day.
The CWC, like previous ones, will host panel discussions, an exhibit hall set up as a city center with a stage and a community feel. The "streets" will be named for sponsors. 20% of ticket sales will go back to charities chosen by ticket buyers. Goodwill, a major conference partner, was able to pre-release tickets to their supporters. Often in the past many people who were not connected to corporate sponsors and could not get tickets. Patterson hopes the refocusing on the woman entrepreneur will make the event more accessible, less star-studded. Tickets are still available and may be purchased at the Conference website: https://register.eventcomplete.com/step_2.php
How different this event will be from that day the Suffragists marched in Washington DC. Police may still be on hand in Long Beach in September, but only to direct traffic and watch as thousands of women come to explore their ideas and dreams with like-minded women and men from around California, and beyond.