One hurdle cleared with Clinton's nomination, more work to do

If Alice Paul, the New Jersey suffragist who led the fight to get women the vote, had witnessed Hillary Clinton's becoming the first female presidential candidate of a major party, she likely would have celebrated briefly and then gone back to work.

That's according to the women who have studied Paul and run the Alice Paul Institute in Mount Laurel.

"She would say, 'Now we need to keep working,' " Terri O'Connell, a spokeswoman for the organization, said Friday, a day after watching history being made with fellow feminists and activists in Center City. "We have to be inspired by that."

O'Connell was one of a few dozen guests who attended a viewing party Thursday evening at the New Century Trust house at 13th and Locust Streets. The party was jointly hosted by the trust, which works toward the education and empowerment of girls and women, and the Alice Paul Institute, a nonprofit dedicated to educating the public about Paul's fight to pass the Equal Rights Amendment and get women the right to vote.

Women and girls at the gathering spoke of the special moment in history but also of the work that remains to be done.

"We're here because it's history. It's 'herstory,' " Kassia Bukosky, 46, of Trenton, said with cheerful emphasis on the her.

Bukosky showed up to the viewing party Thursday night in a little black dress and a purple, white, and gold sash that read "Votes for Women." Her mother, two daughters, and three friends had similar sashes.

The colors represented the suffrage movement, as advertised in the invitation. Many of the guests wore purple.

"We still have a way to go, baby," Bukosky said of the significance of Clinton's nomination. Still, she soaked up the moment, smiling as Clinton spoke and cheering along with the crowd.

Barbara Irvine of Cinnaminson fought back tears at times Thursday.

"It's a relief that we may finally be getting a level of recognition" with her possibly being in the White House as president and not just first lady, she said. "When we think of the predominance of white males in the presidency and Congress . . . our laws have been made by these people."

Irvine, who retired in 2007 as the executive director of the New Jersey Historic Trust, is a proponent of ratifying the Equal Rights Amendment to solidify a ban on sex discrimination. She and several of the women at the party wore "ERA yes" pins.

The group of a few dozen clapped, cried, and laughed throughout Clinton's speech, all while sipping wine and snacking at the long table of cheeses, sandwiches, and chocolate-covered strawberries.

Cara Petonic, a board member of New Century Trust, stood in the back, looking intently at the large screen showing Clinton's speech.

When Petonic, 31, was asked during her fifth-grade career day what she wanted to be when she grew up, she had a different answer from those of her future doctor and firefighter classmates.

"I got up and said, 'I want to be the first female president,' " she recalled.

Her teacher and other adults in her small town, Scottdale, southeast of Pittsburgh, said: "Well, that's different."

Petonic later went on Bryn Mawr College, where her feminist roots blossomed, she said. She has since worked with groups advocating for women's rights.

A Comcast businesswoman, Petonic said she couldn't be happier to see Clinton clinch the nomination.

"If anyone is going to take 'first female president' away from me, I'll let it be Hillary," she said, flashing a wide smile.

But running for office is still on her bucket list.

cvargas@phillynews.com

215-854-5520 @InqCVargas