For many years Michelle Freeman, CEO and president of the Carl M. Freeman Companies, has wanted to find a meaningful way to honor her late mother-in-law, Virginia.
As the wife of Carl M. Freeman and mother of Joshua M. Freeman — Virginia Freeman wasn’t always in the spotlight.
Both men were at the helm of the companies, which Carl Freeman founded in 1947, and which develops and manages commercial and residential properties in Maryland, Delaware and Virginia.
But Virginia Freeman was one of the driving forces behind the establishment of the Carl M. Freeman Foundation — a private family foundation that provides grants to nonprofits in the Mid-Atlantic region.
So, when the National Archives approached the foundation for funding toward its “Rightfully Hers: American Women and the Vote” exhibit, Michelle Freeman said, she realized it would be a great fit to honor her mother-in-law, who quietly supported women’s rights throughout her life.
The “Rightfully Hers” exhibit commemorates the 100th anniversary of the 19ths Amendment’s ratification and highlights the struggle of diverse activists throughout U.S. history to secure voting rights for all American women.
“I’m thrilled that the Freeman family and the Carl M. Freeman Foundation found a significant way to honor Virginia Freeman,” Michelle Freeman said. “As a person who knew the value of hard work and grit to further her education and career, Virginia found her voice to improve the quality of life for many through the arts and her philanthropic activities — many specifically for women. I believe Virginia would be proud that we are bringing awareness to the centennial of the 19th Amendment ratification and she would insist that we keep the conversation ongoing for progress and equity for all, especially women.”
After the Carl M. Freeman Foundation funded the “Rightfully Hers” exhibit, Michelle Freeman said she saw an opportunity to also commemorate this historical milestone through the Joshua M. Freeman Foundation, the fundraising arts nonprofit she founded after the death of her husband, Josh, in 2006.
Throughout the year, the Joshua M. Freeman Foundation will present a myriad of events to celebrate the centennial of this historical milestone via arts programming — including a Celebration March on International Women’s Day, March 8.
The celebratory march will begin at 3 p.m. at The Circle in Georgetown and will honor the suffragettes who marched for women to have the right to vote. The event is open to the public and will include a few brief speakers, a proclamation from the Town of Georgetown, music and hot beverages and sweet treats from SoDel Concepts, as well as Girl Scout cookies for sale.
Keeping with the spirit of the event, the League of Women Voters will be on site for voter registration. The foundation has also commissioned JoAnn Balingit, a past Delaware Poet Laureate, to create a poem for this special event, which will be recited by three local high school students.
“The ability to vote is a fundamental right of American citizens. It is hard to imagine that just 100 years ago, 50 percent of our population did not have the right to vote,” said Freeman Foundation Executive Director Patti Grimes. “The suffragette movement was decades-long. We believe being able to present events to celebrate our nation’s history will educate and inspire citizens to understand the voice each person brings to strengthen our democracy.”
The events will span the state of Delaware and in addition to the march includes three speaking engagements and two screenings of the “Iron Jawed Angels,” which will also feature pre- and post-screening discussions.
The first event, a speaker panel titled, “Votes for Women 100 Years Later and Beyond,” took place March 3 at Delaware Technical Community College. Moderated by David Young, the executive director of the Delaware Historical Society, the panel looked back at how the expansion of the right to vote for women affected the last 100 years and looked forward to its future impact. In addition to the public, nearly 150 students from Sussex Academy were in attendance.
The first screening of “Iron Jawed Angels” is set for 6 p.m. Wednesday, March 18, also at Del Tech’s Faucett Lecture Hall in Georgetown. The 2004 American historical drama stars Hilary Swank as suffragist leader Alice Paul, a feminist who risked her life to fight for women’s citizenship and the right to vote. The screening will feature pre- and post-screening discussion with Joanne Guilfoil. That event is being sponsored by Delaware Tech.
The second speaking event will take place at 6 p.m. on Thursday, March 19, at the Delaware Historical Society in Wilmington. That panel will also be moderated by Young and will feature Erin Zoranski, instructional coordinator at Delaware Technical Community College, Anne Boylan, Professor Emerita of history at the University of Delaware, and Jean Baker, a history professor at Goucher College.
Additional events will include a women’s rights speaking engagement sponsored by Delaware Historical Society slated for March 25 at the Lewes Public Library at 6 p.m., and the final screening of “Iron Jawed Angels” will take place on Oct. 14 at the Delaware Historical Society.
These events not only fit into the purpose of the Joshua M. Freeman Foundation, which is creating opportunities that elevate the human spirit, but also demonstrate the resiliency and commitment to the community, Grimes said.
“The Joshua M. Freeman Foundation strives to make the arts accessible to all,” she continued. “When we can combine an important moment in our country’s time with the arts for all to learn and celebrate, our mission is in action and we believe our community will be stronger.”