LAW DAY: Schools Receive Donations in Smith Camp's Honor

By 
David Golbitz
The Daily Record

Omaha area fifth graders will be getting a crash course on the 19th Amendment as the Omaha Bar Association fulfills one of the initiatives begun by Judge Laurie Smith Camp during her all too brief tenure as OBA president.

Before her unexpected death last September, Smith Camp wanted to use the 100th anniversary of the passage of the 19th Amendment to educate school children about the suffragist movement and the women who organized, fought for, and ultimately won the right to vote.

Fifth grade classrooms in the Omaha Public Schools, Millard Public Schools and area parochial schools were given 270 copies of “Bold & Brave: Ten Heroes Who Won Women the Right to Vote,” a picture book that tells the stories of 10 women who were instrumental in the passage of the 19th amendment. The book, written by New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand and illustrated by noted artist Maira Kalman, will introduce the fifth graders to suffragette icons such as Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Ida B. Wells and Susan B. Anthony.

Smith Camp was so excited about getting the books into local schools that she even offered to cover the expenses.

“I will pay for this. I believe in this project so much, I will pay for it,” Smith Camp told retired Daily Record Publisher Lynda Henningsen, who was one of the book donation project’s organizers.

After Smith Camp’s death, however, the OBA was unsure where the funds were going to come from. It was decided that the OBA would ask the Omaha legal community for donations to help cover the cost of the books, and the response from area attorneys and law firms was overwhelming.

With the cost of the books taken care of, the OBA set about creating a curriculum to go along with the book to further the educational experience. The curriculum includes a video made by the OBA and hosted by area attorneys.

One of the attorneys who pitched in is Mallory Hughes, a criminal defense attorney with Dornan Law Team. Hughes narrates a portion of the video that discusses the history of the 19th Amendment and women’s impact on American law.

“I think that women’s suffrage is a really important movement that sometimes gets overlooked,” Hughes said.

While the subject is taught in school, students might not realize how impressive the actions taken by the suffragists were and the way they affected history.

“I don’t think that people actually recognize how brave those women were, because nobody was listening to them,” Hughes said. “It was a country run by men, predominantly white men, so the fact that not only women, but African American women, who were simultaneously working to end slavery, to be able to sit in the front of the bus, to be able to have integrated classrooms — I think it’s important to see how brave those people were and how hard they worked for us to have what we have today.”

The video also features an “Ask a Lawyer” segment by Jill and Sean Conway  as well as a message from Gillibrand herself, who says in part: “Women like Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony, Sojourner Truth and Inez Milholland marched and organized and protested for decades for women’s suffrage. They never gave up because they knew that in the democracy your vote is your voice. That meant our country could never have a true democracy until everyone’s voice was heard.”

With the help of retired OPS principal Linda Placzek, the OBA secured meetings with the various school boards, who were all very receptive to the idea of making this part of their fifth grade curriculum.

Each copy of “Bold & Brave” includes a bookplate in honor of Smith Camp. The inscription reads: “This book is dedicated to the memory of Judge Laurie Smith Camp, the first woman to serve as a federal judge in Nebraska. She was a pioneer and advocate for women’s rights who left a profound legacy in the state’s legal community.”

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