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Woman to tell about Nebraskan who played key role in Women's Suffrage

Sally Bisson-Best graduated from law school in 1981.

And she has women like Doris Stevens to thank for it.

Originally from Omaha, Stevens was part of the Women’s Suffrage Movement.

Stevens picketed the White House when Woodrow Wilson was president and she was thrown in jail. Stevens later wrote a book, telling how other incarcerated women were beaten and brutally force-fed.

History had all but forgotten Stevens who was part of a movement that spurred passage of the 19th Amendment to the Constitution in 1919.

That amendment gave women the right to vote.

Centuries later, Bisson-Best became a lawyer and associate professor, who was doing research when she learned about Stevens — and began sharing her story.

On March 5, Bisson-Best will talk about Stevens and the Women’s Suffrage Movement. The public is invited to the free event, which starts at 7 p.m. in the Midland University dining hall, East Ninth and Pebble streets.

This year marks the 100th anniversary of the passage of the 19th amendment in June 1919. The amendment was ratified in August 1920.

To celebrate, the Lewis-Clark Chapter, Daughters of the American Revolution, together with the Dodge County Historical Society invited Bisson-Best to speak.

Bisson-Best is an associate professor and director of the American Bar Association-approved Legal Studies Program at the College of Saint Mary in Omaha.

At the college, Bisson-Best teaches a freshmen seminar class about women and their legal rights. She focuses on women’s suffrage and prepares her own materials for the course.

In her research, Bisson-Best found that Stevens was one of the most prominent leaders at the national level in getting women the right to vote.

She also learned that in the 1920s Stevens published a book called, “Jailed for Freedom.”

The book tells about women who picketed the White House to gain voting rights and were put in jail. In the back of the book, Stevens listed names and hometowns of all the women who were arrested.

That’s how Bisson-Best learned Stevens was from Omaha.

Stevens was born on Oct. 26, 1888 in Omaha, where she grew up and graduated from Central High School in the Class of 1905. She’d become involved in the suffrage fight while a student at Oberlin College in Ohio. She spent much of her life in New York, but returned frequently to Omaha to visit her family.

Bisson-Best would learn much about Stevens.

“She was very prominent,” Bisson-Best said. “She worked nationally and internationally for women’s rights. She was featured regularly in the Omaha World-Herald and the New York Times and very well known, but she really had kind of been forgotten in Omaha.”

That surprised Bisson-Best.

“If you’re from Nebraska, we tend to keep track of you and we’re proud of you and celebrate you,” she said.

To conduct her research, Bisson-Best was given a sabbatical from the college for a semester in 2014. She went to Washington, D.C. At home, she through newspaper archives.

The Nebraska State Historical Society gave her a grant. She used some of their materials and wrote an article for Nebraska History magazine set to come out in the fall of 2019.

Through her research, Bisson-Best learned that Stevens was in marches and traveled to various cities to campaign.

History would record that Stevens participated in the Silent Sentinels vigil at the White House under Woodrow Wilson’s administration. The women protesters gained that nickname because they stood silently with signs.

Stevens would be arrested and jailed between 1917 and 1918. Women who were jailed had been charged with obstructing traffic.

“And they weren’t obstructing anything so the charges were really rather flimsy, Bisson-Best said.

What’s more, they had a First Amendment right (freedom of speech and peaceable assembly) to be there.

While Stevens was jailed only shortly, other women were jailed for quite a while.

Some women were beaten and not allowed to see their attorneys.

“The essence of it was Woodrow Wilson was president and he did not want them picketing the White House, because he thought it made him look bad in the press. So he thought when he arrested the women, they would stop doing it — and they never did,” she said.

When the women were mistreated, they went on a hunger strike.

More than once, these women were force-fed raw eggs with tubes down their throats.

In her book, Stevens recorded this in a chapter called, “Night of Terror.”

“I thought I knew some history, but this was news to me,” Bisson-Best said. “Most people don’t learn this in their history courses, so this is a big piece of missing history as well.”

But Stevens provided details of what occurred.

“She really has the eye-witness account of the last year or so of the Women’s Suffrage Movement and when they were jailed, because that really was a turning point in getting Congress to pass the amendment — and to get Woodrow Wilson to stop opposing them,” Bisson-Best said.

Why would a president oppose the women?

That would take more research, but Bisson-Best takes into account this period of time.

“The country had gotten involved in World War I and I don’t know if his attention was turned more in that direction,” she said, adding, “It was very controversial for them to picket a war-time president, but they were willing to do it because they felt they’d lost ground during the Civil War trying to get women the right to vote on a national level.”

Stevens was not beaten nor in jail as long as some of the other women. She had an attorney friend, who became her first husband. He helped get some of the women released.

Bisson-Best said Stevens would work internationally in the United Kingdom and France for women’s equality.

After she retired from public life, Stevens wrote about her Nebraska childhood. She also wrote some songs about her childhood that were performed on the radio in New York.

Stevens’ first marriage wasn’t happy, but she was happily married to her second husband, Jonathon Mitchell from New York.

She died on March 22, 1963 in New York. She was 74 years old.

After she died, Mitchell made a $1 million gift to Princeton University and established one of the first endowed professorships in women’s studies.

It’s called the Doris Stevens Professorship.

Bisson-Best expresses admiration for Stevens.

“She was very ahead of her time,” Bisson-Best said. “She thought women should keep their maiden names. She always kept her maiden name when she married. She believed women should receive equal pay for equal work and she also thought women should be paid for doing housework.”

Those who attend Bisson-Best’s talk can learn more about Stevens.

“I hope they get to know a prominent Nebraskan native and my goal in researching her and speaking about her is — in a way — bringing her back to life so everyone in Nebraska gets to know this woman,” she said.

Bisson-Best also notes how Stevens’ work benefits women today.

“We all have benefited from the work of people like Doris Stevens, long before us,” she said. “I wouldn’t have gone to law school unless someone had fought for women’s equality, because they were routinely denied admission to law school. I graduated from law school in 1981 and I was only one of, I think, 30 women in a class of 140.

“I’m a direct beneficiary of the work of Doris Stevens.”


Govt-and-politics
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County Board
Dodge County Board approves chicken barns

The Dodge County Board of Supervisors on Wednesday approved a conditional use permit for an eight-barn poultry operation near Nickerson that will produce chicken for Lincoln Premium Poultry and the Costco chicken plant being built here in Fremont.

The vote was unanimous, with one member — Dan Weddle — absent on Wednesday.

The property owners, Lee and Pamela Camenzind, brought forward the application on behalf of their son Case Camenzind and his wife Joscelyn, who will operate the barns. The site will sit on a 15-acre parcel of land just west of Nickerson, boxed off by County Road O and U.S. Highway 77.

The facility is expected to accommodate 380,000 chickens.

The approval comes after the board voted down the Camenzinds’ first proposal for a larger 10-barn, 475,000-chicken operation at the same site back in January. Board members at the time called for a reduced barn count and cited resident concerns about how trucks coming and going from the facility could affect traffic safety in the area.

The project has attracted considerable attention from both opponents and proponents — in Dodge County and beyond. Residents concerned about the project have attended public hearings by the dozen to testify, citing concerns about air and water quality, odor and traffic safety. Proponents, meanwhile, have pointed to the potential economic impact of the Costco project and argued that Costco and Lincoln Premium Poultry have gone above and beyond the requirements for the operation.

January’s vote also caught the attention of Gov. Pete Ricketts, who voiced support for the project during a visit to Fremont last month. He noted that Dodge County “has to live up to” its designation as a “livestock friendly county.”

Ricketts’ input appeared to weigh heavily during Wednesday’s meeting, with some opponents crying foul over the governor’s commentary. Some expressed concern that it could pave the way for more state oversight in decisions on livestock operation siting.

“With all due respect to the governor, he doesn’t live in Dodge County, and he didn’t elect you,” North Bend resident Andrew Tonnies told the board on Wednesday. “We live here, and we elected you and we appreciate your discretion.”

Like the last board meeting and the two prior County Planning Commission meetings regarding the project, Wednesday’s board meeting saw hours of public testimony from both sides of the issue.

But while the prior meetings appeared to feature more testimony against the proposal, supporters of the project appeared to outnumber opponents at Wednesday’s meeting — at least by the time public testimony concluded, when Case Camenzind asked all of his supporters in the packed meeting room to stand.

Fremont area leaders came out to support the project, including Tara Lea of the Fremont Area Chamber of Commerce, Garry Clark of the Greater Fremont Development Council and Chair of the Dodge County Planning Commission Marlon Brabec.

They were joined by other producers — including another Costco grower from Washington County — as well as former state Senator David Schnoor and ag industry promoters like Steve Martin of the Alliance for the Future of Agriculture in Nebraska.

Those opposed to the project included Nickerson resident Randy Ruppert, whose group Nebraska Communities United has long opposed the Costco project. He argued that Lincoln Premium Poultry could be doing more to ensure that waste from its growers’ barns doesn’t end up in area waterways — like planting cover crops or putting buffer strips around waterways.

Others pointed to states like Iowa or North Carolina, which reports say have environmental issues related to concentrated animal feeding operations. Fremont resident Evelyn McKnight expressed concern that the project could yield increased ammonia emissions, which could be harmful to air quality in the area and to members of her family who have respiratory issues.

“Ammonia has a foul acrid smell that will permeate our air for miles,” McKnight argued. “My concerns about air quality center around the consequences for the health and wellbeing of the people of Dodge County.”

Jessica Kolterman of Lincoln Premium Poultry argued that all of Lincoln Premium Poultry’s barns feature “Poultry Litter Treatment,” an additive that aims to control ammonia output.

Case and Joscelyn Camenzind, meanwhile, introduced themselves as fifth-generation farmers who saw the project as a way to get back into agriculture full-time and give their kids an opportunity to stay back on the farm.

Case argued that the manure produced at the site would be used to cultivate his land and that appropriately applied chicken litter can play a pivotal role in “creating more productive soils.” Joscelyn noted that the family would be living within 1,800 feet of the barns.

“We would not be subjecting our children or ourselves or the community to living conditions that spread disease or pose a general health hazard,” she said. “We want to live here, too.”

Lincoln Premium Poultry also requires all of its growers to follow a nutrient management plan, which is enforced by the Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality, despite the fact they are not required to, officials said. Opponents have questioned if those regulations would be adequate.

Overall, supporters argued that the Camenzinds proposal met all of the regulations put forth by Dodge County — it met all setback requirements and scored a 114 on the Livestock Siting Assessment Matrix, which the county uses to evaluate livestock operation proposals. The passing score is 75.

When the Dodge County Planning Commission approved the original 10-barn proposal, they included a condition that the Camenzinds move the driveway into the facility from County Road O to the east or south side, in order to address resident concerns about traffic safety along that stretch of road and area highways.

But on Wednesday Dodge County Highway Superintendent Scott Huppert presented the results of a study looking at traffic patterns in the area. Those results measured more trucks on county road P to the south than on county road O during a 76-hour period, and Joscelyn Camenzind noted that the board agreed County Road O would be a better option for the driveway.

“We’ve gone out of our way to do that, and we’ve shown it very clear the position and location of this in regards to roads will definitely work,” said Supervisor Lon Strand, who supported the first version of the project and who requested that Huppert perform the traffic study. “We’ve had a lot of livestock operations all over Dodge County, we’ve dealt with that over the years and never had another problem.”

Before making a motion for approval, Strand argued that the Camenzinds’ proposal fit into Dodge County’s focus on promoting agriculture.

“I don’t care if it’s hogs, cattle, chicken, turkey, corn, soybean,” he said. “This is not a chicken thing. This is an ag thing in Dodge County. It happens to be a chicken thing this time. We’ve had beef operations come before us, we’ve never had this pushback on this. This is not about chickens. This is about agriculture, and Dodge County is about agriculture.”

Strand also noted that the project, which amounts to a $4 million investment, adds a considerable amount to the county’s tax revenue — “You cannot pull this out of the equation when you make a decision,” he said.


Courtesy Hugh Talman 

The Emancipation Proclamation Inkstand from the “American Democracy: A Great Leap of Faith," a traveling exhibition from the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service, which will premiere Saturday at The Durham.


Govt-and-politics
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Planned $16M RTG headquarters project receives $700K in economic development funds

The Fremont City Council approved a total of $700,000 worth of forgivable economic development loans to WLG Fremont for the construction of RTG Medical’s planned $16M headquarters within the Gallery 23 East development on Tuesday.

The council unanimously approved a $600,000 LB840 forgivable loan and a $100,000 Economic Enhancement forgivable loan to WLG Fremont—which is a partnership between DANA Partnership, LLP and RTG Medical. Both resolutions were passed by 7-0 votes as Councilmember Mark Legband had to leave the meeting early due to an illness.

The loans are tied to a proposal by WLG Fremont to construct a 54,000 square foot building at Gallery 23 East—just east the U.S. Highway 30 and U.S. Highway 275 interchange—which would be the local medical staffing company’s new headquarters.

“They (RTG) have approximately 80 employees and are currently unable to expand their workforce in their 12,000 square foot location,” City Grant Coordinator Lottie Mitchell said at the meeting. “This will give RTG plenty of room to expand their workforce.”

Both loans are forgivable over a 60-month period, contingent upon RTG Medical creating 50 jobs, maintaining a lease at the facility, and ownership interest in WLG Fremont over that time period.

Mitchell stressed that LB840 and Economic Enhancement loans for the purpose of economic development, expanding the labor market, creating economic diversification, retaining existing jobs, and creating new jobs in the community.

“We have heard citizens of Fremont say that we want office jobs—we want jobs that are not manual labor—we want jobs that are not ag-based,” she said. “We want office type jobs that are well salaried and well benefitted and before us we have at least 50 more of those jobs for our community.”

Along with receiving unanimous approval from the council, the LB840 loan was recommended by the Local Option Review Team and Citizen Advisory Review Committee and the Economic Enhancement loan was recommended by the Utilities and Infrastructure Board.

The loan applications also received support from the Nebraska Department of Economic Development by way of a letter from Director Dave Rippe as well as vocal support from the directors of the Greater Fremont Development Council and Fremont Area Chamber of Commerce.

During the meeting, Jay Kline of WLG Fremont spoke about RTG Medical’s need to expand its workforce to continue its growth within the medical staffing industry—and what the new RTG facility could mean for future investment in Fremont.

“The medical staffing industry is extremely competitive and the attraction and retention of human capital is critical to their current and future success,” he said. “This new facility will be a significant catalyst to attract and retain the very best, which will, in turn, be a significant economic boost to the city of Fremont and will attract similar types of investments in the future.”

According to Mitchell, RTG Medical’s employees receive an average annual salary of more than $85,000 per year plus benefits which plays into the reasoning behind making the loan forgivable if all the job creation contingencies are met.

“We look at the number of jobs, salaries, benefits, economic impact and whether or not the project will continue on if it’s repayable or if it’s forgivable,” she said. “In this case, it needs to be forgivable and we support it because the salaries are $85,000 plus and well benefited and this is a huge economic boost for our community.”

Several council members also cited the salary level and quality of jobs offered by RTG Medical in their support of the loan applications.

“I know people who work at RTG and it blows my mind how well they are treated, there are a lot of great benefits and they really go above and beyond,” Councilmember Matt Bechtel said. “Some of the things they do for their employees you don’t even hear about in places like Silicon Valley—let alone Fremont.”

Councilmember Mark Jensen also provided vocal support for the loans and RTG facility project.

“It’s important to me that we look at LB840 and other tax money and scrutinize it carefully and make sure the expenditures are truly in the best interest of our community—I feel this project meets and exceeds those criteria,” he said. “RTG has been an established business and employer here in our community and their investment in this project is going to be very substantial.”