About 80 women and men gathered in former state Rep. Barbara Ross' garden Wednesday afternoon to celebrate the 90th anniversary of the ratification of the 19th Amendment, granting women the right to vote.

Some were dressed in sashes and turn-of-the-20th-century clothing, in honor of the suffragettes who fought for that right.

"It was a decades-long struggle that a lot of people forget about," said Annette Mills, the president of the Corvallis chapter of the League of Women Voters, which organized the event. "It was a major, major hurdle."

The women's suffrage movement formally began with the 1848 Seneca Falls Convention in upstate New York, followed by further conventions and years of rallying.

Oregon, like many other states, didn't wait for the 19th Amendment to grant women the right to vote. Oregon granted women suffrage in 1912 - long after many other Western states.

But the struggle for a national amendment giving all women the right to vote continued. Some suffragists were beaten and arrested before the 19th Amendment was first introduced in the U.S. House in 1915. President Woodrow Wilson (who eventually was forced to sign the amendment into law) had opposed the amendment, saying women did not have the intellectual capacity to vote.

After passing the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate, the amendment needed the support of the legislatures from at least three-quarters of all 48 states. On Aug. 18, 1920, the Tennessee General Assembly - by a one-vote margin - became the 36th and final state needed to ratify the amendment.

The League of Women Voters was formed soon after so that women could research proposed laws and candidates independently. Wednesday's event honored that spirit of intellectual and political empowerment.

"It hasn't been that long since women have felt they can do anything," said Kate Mathews, vice president of the Corvallis league. "(Women today) shouldn't take it for granted."

The league - and others who took part in the celebration - took their message to the street, leading the parade from Ross' house on Jefferson Avenue down Fourth Street to the south lawn of the Benton County Courthouse.

Greeted by the Corvallis Community Band, participants sang "My Country, 'Tis of Thee."

"We have a lot of strong women here today," Marge Easley, president of the league's Oregon board of directors, told the crowd, "and we also have a lot of strong men who put up with the strong women here today."

One of the men taking part in the celebration was Corvallis Mayor Charles Tomlinson, who also spoke to the crowd at the courthouse and declared Aug. 18, 2010, "Women's Equality Day" in Corvallis.

Tomlinson took the opportunity to honor Helen Berg, Corvallis' first woman mayor, who died Friday at the age of 78.

"She would have been so enthusiastic about celebrating this day in Corvallis," Tomlinson told the crowd.

Amanda Littke, who recently graduated from Oregon State University with a master's degree in English and women studies, said she was happy to celebrate the ratification.

"It's amazing to be a small part of this piece of history," Littke said.

Paula Krane, the director of governance for the league's Corvallis chapter, also paid homage to the women who made Wednesday's anniversary observance possible.

"Where we are today is because of the suffragettes."

Contact reporter Gail Cole at 541-758-9518 or at gail.cole@lee.net.

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