home what'snew resources ask amy news activism antiviolence events marketplace aboutus
Articles & Speeches
Feminist.com Bookstore
Find Services In Your Area
Inspiring Quotes
Links/ Best of the Feminist Web
Our Bodies, Ourselves Reading Room
Partners & On-Site Non-Profits
   
 


 
A R T I C L E S* &* S P E E C H E S

WOMEN PIONEERING THE FUTURE

Courtesy of the National Women's History Project

March was designated as National Women's History Month years ago by Presidential and Congressional Resolution and is celebrated in thousands of schools, communities and workplaces across the nation. This historic celebration reminds us of the importance of continuing to fill in the pages of our history that remained absent until the national effort to retell the stories of all women's lives.

This year's theme, "Women Pioneering the Future", celebrates pioneering women from U.S. history, who led and won campaigns for equality and civil rights; who created and advanced educational and professional opportunities; and who made great contributions to the arts, sciences, and humanistic causes. The 2003 theme also recognizes the pioneers of today ---innovative women who are helping pioneer new possibilities for generations to come.
The work of the women honored this year represents a wide-range of occupations and accomplishments -- women from different regional, educational, cultural, religious, and economic backgrounds. The composite of their lives represents the mosaic of American history and the diversity of American culture.

The stories of these women's lives inspire us with the knowledge that adversity can be overcome and a purposeful life can be the outcome. Their stories are filled with pain and with joy, with challenges and with opportunities. They are stories of great tenacity, courage and ongoing hope. Knowing these stories expands our own sense of self and our knowledge of each other. The women honored have demonstrated bold leadership. By their actions, these role models honor all women. Their singular and combined work challenges social assumptions and stereotypes about who women are and what women can accomplish.

The stories of their lives are filled with the power of words like, "I can" and 'I will". For our actions are created by our words and by the confidence behind our words. Women's History is a call to action --a call that recognizes and celebrates the possibility of individuals to do remarkable work.
The eleven honorees for National Women's History Month have received the highest accolades from every venue of American society. Collectively they have received hundreds of government, academic, religious, artistic, musical, literary, and organizational awards.

Four of the honorees have already been inducted in the National Women's Hall of Fame.

Yet, how many of us know their names or their accomplishments? Do we have any idea how their work might have affected our own lives or how it might affect the lives of our children? National Women's History Month gives us the opportunity to recognize and celebrate the extraordinary stories of these women's lives. There is a magic in telling each of their stories. A magic that is created by celebrating their vigor, purpose, commitment, intelligence, and talent.

In 1963, when Senator Margaret Chase Smith declared her candidacy for the Republican nomination for President of the United States, she was continuing her role as political pioneer. She was the first woman to be elected to both the House of Representatives and the US Senate and the first Senator to criticize and challenge the tactics of Senator Joseph McCarthy.

On June 1, 1950, as the only woman in the United States Senate, she delivered her famous "Declaration of Conscience" speech. In face of great ridicule and criticism, Margaret Chase Smith rose on the floor of the United States Senate to defend all that she treasured about America. She denounced the smear and bullying tactics of Senator McCarthy's anti-Communist campaign. Most of her colleagues in the Senate walked out as she was speaking. It would take 3 1/2 more years before McCarthy would finally be censored, and for the words and actions of Senator Smith to be validated.

Altogether she served for 33 years in the United States Congress.
In 1964, after 16 years of distinguished service in the US Senate, Margaret Chase Smith ran for President, seeking the Republican Party nomination. She received 27 nominating votes at the Republican Convention and became the first woman to seek the Presidential nomination of a major political party.
She fearlessly and tirelessly pioneered a political career independent of corporate or party control.

In a different political area, that of grassroots politics and community organizing, Yuri Kochiyama has challenged long-held assumptions about race. She defies all stereotypes. Her political activism is a surprising outcome from a girl raised in a traditional middle class home.

The bombing of Pearl Harbor changed the life of every American, but for Yuri Kochiyama, her family, and those of Japanese ancestry, the American dream was shattered. Anti-Japanese feelings surged during World War II, and Yuri Kochiyama and her family and 120,000 others of Japanese ancestry -- 70 percent of whom were American born citizens, the other 30 percent Japanese immigrants who had been denied the possibility of citizenship -- were forcibly removed from their homes and imprisoned in internment camps. As a result of the hysteria and racism, her father was picked up shortly after the bombing of Pearl Harbor and imprisoned at a federal penitentiary. Sadly, he died six weeks after his release.

Yuri Kochiyama's family was relocated to an interment camp in Arkansas.
During this time, she recognized the parallel between the way African Americans were treated in the segregated South and the way Japanese Americans had been interned. She realized that the senseless degradation and brutality that she and others experienced was the result of fear and ignorance caused by racism. Her commitment to eliminate racist assumptions and ideas became the focus of her life.

After over forty years of working to build alliances between diverse culture groups, her advice is
"Don't become too narrow.
Live fully.
Meet all kinds of people.
Follow what you feel in your heart.
You'll learn something from everyone."

Learning not only from people, but also from the world around us is one of the shared experiences of the renowned nature author and marine biologist Rachel Carson and chemist, medical doctor, and astronaut Dr. Mae Jemison.
Born almost 50 years apart, their work as scientists explored the small as well as the infinite spheres of the universe. Both were blessed with an incredible sense of wonder. Both encouraged individuals to take responsibility for the world in which we live.

Rachel Carson's enthusiasm for nature was matched only by her love of writing and poetry. In 1962 her pioneering and meticulously researched expose, Silent Spring, identified the devastating and irrevocable hazards of DDT, one of the most powerful pesticides the world had known.
Silent Spring, which she wrote as she was battling breast cancer, described how DDT entered the food chain and accumulated in the fatty tissues of animals, including human beings, and caused cancer and genetic damage. The book alarmed readers across America and, not surprisingly, brought a howl of indignation from the chemical industry.

Anticipating this reaction, Ms. Carson included 55 pages of notes and a list of eminent scientists who had read and approved the manuscript. President John F. Kennedy's Science Advisory Committee thoroughly vindicated both Silent Spring and its author. DDT came under much closer government supervision and was eventually banned. Rachel Carson demonstrated how all life was connected. Her pioneering work helped set the stage for the environmental movement of the late 20th century.

Dr. Mae C. Jemison blasted into orbit aboard the space shuttle Endeavour, September 12, 1992, the first woman of color to go into space. Now, founder and president of two technology companies, the space flight was just one of a series of accomplishments for this pioneering woman.

From early childhood she loved learning and entered Stanford University on a scholarship at age 16. After graduating with a Bachelor of Science degree in Chemical Engineering and fulfilling requirements for an A.B. in African and Afro-American studies, she earned her doctorate in medicine at Cornell University Medical College.

In 1994, Dr. Jemison founded and chairs The Earth We Share (TEWS), an annual international science camp where students, ages 12 to 16, work together to solve current global dilemmas. Her first book, Find Where the Wind Goes: Moments From My Life includes autobiographical anecdotes and was written for teenagers, but is equally engaging for adults.
As a woman pioneering the future, Dr. Jemison speaks nationally and internationally on vital 21st Century issues including the importance of investing in the present to secure the future.

The critical importance of the need to invest in people and their possibilities has been the driving force of Linda Chavez-Thompson and Rebecca Adamson's work. Each knows the importance of having the opportunity to achieve economic security whether for an individual or for a group.
As the first woman elected Executive Vice President of the AFL-CIO, Linda Chavez-Thompson is pioneering new opportunities for women, for people of color, and for rank and file union members.

Ms. Chavez-Thompson, a second generation Mexican American, was born in Lubbock, Texas. As one of eight children whose parents were cotton sharecroppers, she began working in the west Texas cotton fields in the summer when she was only ten. The entire family worked longs days in the hot Texas sun with adults earning fifty cents an hour and Linda Chavez-Thompson earning thirty cents an hour. Her backbreaking labor in the scorching cotton fields of west Texas planted the seed of her future career.
Her election in 1995 as the Executive Vice-President of the AFL-CIO represented a new focus and commitment for the labor movement. Ms. Chavez-Thompson brings to the labor movement the perspective of a woman who has worked low -paying, low status, back-breaking jobs. Her election and work is a constant reminder that indeed women are wives, mothers, grandmothers, and sisters, and they are also leaders. Ms. Chavez-Thompson feels it is her responsibility to bring more women into leadership positions, to expand the dialogue, the points of view, and the resulting decisions. Her pioneering work brings together groups previously overlooked in the labor movement and helps create better future opportunities for all.

Understanding the importance of self-sufficiency and human dignity, Rebecca Adamson's constant goal has been to secure funding to allow people to invest in their own communities.

Convinced of the importance of her mission, in 1980 Rebecca Adamson cashed her unemployment check and went to New York City to get funding for her vision. A vision she transformed into a not-for-profit organization, the First Nations Financial Project. Renamed First Nations Development Institute in 1990 this organization now has an annual operating budget of nearly $3 million. Its goal is to help Native Americans develop culturally appropriate, values-driven development.

Her vision created the first reservation-based micro-enterprise loan fund in the United States. This first tribal investment became a national model for reservation land reform.

Her continuing work has expanded the possibility of self-sufficiency for indigeous people tremendously. She has helped create the first financial instrument whereby mutual fund shareholders and other individual investors can invest in community development loan funds that today generates $25 million in loan investments.

Both Linda Chavez-Thompson and Rebecca Adamson serve as models of determination and vision.

Other visionary women representing very different fields and talents are Tania Leon, Harilyn Rousso, and Robin Roberts. The talent of each is unique and each serves as a role model for young women who want to pioneer their own future.

Tania Leon's success as a composer and conductor disproved the long-held assumption that women, and especially women of color, had no place in the world of serious music. As one of the most vital personalities in today's music scene, her pioneering work has added a new dimension that has changed the future of music.

Born in Havana, Cuba to parents of mixed Asian, African, and European backgrounds, she emigrated to the United States in 1967, and soon became the first music director for the famous Dance Theatre of Harlem. Her music reflects a variety of influences including gospel, jazz, Latin, and African elements. As testimony to her enormous talent, in 1985 she was given residency at the Lincoln Center in New York and won the Dean Dixon Conducting Award and then became a full professor at the Brooklyn College Conservatory. In 1998 she was awarded the New York Governor's Lifetime Achievement Award.

Assuming the role of educator and advisor, Tania Leon has worked to expose a young audience to orchestra music and to encourage their interest in music. A multi-faceted musician, Tania Leon is a warm, lively woman who has accepted no limits on her own achievement.

Harilyn Rousso, is a pioneering disability rights activist whose informed work and extraordinary talent has empowered countless women and girls with disabilities.

Born in 1946, Harilyn Rousso was anxious to embrace the world and its challenges. As she described it "I was in a hurry to be born." Her birth was delayed by nurses who were forbidden to let her mother deliver without the doctor present, and the doctor had not yet arrived. As a result of this delay, Harilyn Rousso was born with cerebral palsy.

Her strong, supportive mother could not protect her from the misconceptions and stereotypes of others, but family support and her strong sense of self and possibility helped her achieve despite societal barriers. In 1968, after graduating Magna Cum Laude as a Phi Beta Kappa from Brandies University, Harilyn Rousso then earned masters degrees from Boston University and New York University. Her disability rights activism began when she was dropped from a psychotherapy training institute solely because of her disability.

Understanding from her own experience the critical need and life-changing importance of role models for girls with disabilities, Harilyn Rousso founded the Networking Project for Disabled Women and Girls sponsored by the YWCA of the City of New York in 1984.

Her pioneering work and her writings and, most recently her artwork, present a powerful message and demonstrate that women and men with disabilities can and should lead the lives they choose. It is a message of hope and possibility.

Continuing to expand the possibilities for women is Robin Roberts who has proven that in the world of sports broadcasting, knowledge, experience, and talent are no longer male domains. Now, as the news anchor on ABC's Good Morning America, Ms. Roberts continues to demonstrate the same grace and ease she used giving a play-by-play commentary or interviewing the President of the United States. Her intelligence and manner engage the viewer's attention and involvement.

Attending Southeastern Louisiana University on a basketball scholarship, she graduated cum laude. Ms. Roberts credits the scholarship opportunities created by Title IX of the 1972 Education Amendments for her college education. She joined ESPN in February of 1990. As an anchor of ESPN's Sports Center and as host of ABC Sports, she became recognized as one of the finest broadcasters in the profession. A three-time Emmy Award Winner, her broadcasting has garnered dozens of other awards for both distinguished achievement as a broadcaster and her pioneering role in expanding options for women in broadcast journalism. Her pioneering work sets a bold example for women everywhere.

To ensure that the bold and courageous examples of women's lives would be honored, Wilma L. Vaught, Brigadier General, USAF (Retired) worked to establish the Women in Military Service for America Memorial. General Vaught is one of the most highly decorated military women in United States history. She has pioneered new opportunities for the women who followed her and helped ensure that their courage and bravery would not be forgotten.

In 1967, when President Lyndon Johnson signed into law a measure finally permitting women to be promoted to the level of generals and admirals, an important door opened for Vaught and other women in the military. That law lifted the quotas that had been placed on women in achieving other ranks and allowed for new career opportunities.

The many "firsts" Brigadier General Vaught achieved helped pave the way for thousands of other military women to be judged based on their abilities -- not their gender. However, General Vaught's most lasting contribution will be her successful efforts to establish the Women in Military Service for America Memorial. As president of the Women's Memorial Foundation board of directors, Vaught spearheaded the campaign that raised over $20 million for the memorial.

Dedicated on October 16, 1997,The Women's Memorial stands as a tribute to the courage and bravery of tens of thousands of American women who, like Wilma L. Vaught, have pioneered the future

The hope of the future is enhanced by a new generation of women working to expand possibilities. Rebecca Walker speaks for a generation that has a different vantage point on the world than their parents -- a generation whose lives will span much of the 21st century, a generation who will face 21st century problems and will need to create 21st century solutions.

Named by Time magazine as one of the fifty future leaders of America, Rebecca Walker is an important younger voice calling for social change and personal transformation. An author and activist, Ms. Walker publishes widely and is the co-founder of the Third Wave Foundation, the only national, activist, philanthropic organization for young women aged 15-30.

Born in 1969 in Jackson, Mississippi to parents deeply committed to the Civil Rights Movement, she has continued their work. Her mother, Alice Walker, is a Pulitzer Price winning writer, and her father, Mel Leventhal, continues his work as a Civil Rights lawyer seeking equal protection for all people. In her most recent book, Black White and Jewish: Autobiography of a Shifting Self, Rebecca Walker writes poignantly about the challenges and blessings of growing up biracial.

She attended Yale University and graduated Cum Laude in May 1992. After college, she founded Third Wave Direct Action Corporation, a national non-profit organization devoted to cultivating young women's leadership and activism. In their first summer, Third Wave initiated an historic emergency youth drive that registered over 20,000 new voters in inner cities across the United States. In 1998, this organization became the Third Wave Foundation.

Her message of positive activism is delivered through her speaking, organizing, and writing. Her work is a declaration of the power of young women to create their own lives and shape their own vision for the future.

In celebrating women pioneering the future, let us also recognize the countless women who everyday encourage a sense of possibility by their generous acts of kindness. Let us honor the women who help make the world better on a daily basis. Let us remember the teachers in our schools, the volunteers in our communities, the women in our families.

Who are the women who have encouraged your own sense of possibility and encouraged you to be a pioneer in your own future? Let's take a few seconds and remember their words and their actions.

Remember that encouraging a sense of possibility and purpose is in many ways encouraging pioneers for the future. As we celebrate Women Pioneering the Future, let us not just remember their work in March, but let us remember and celebrate their lives throughout the year.

Thank you.

 

Written by: Molly Murphy MacGregor, President and Cofounder, National Women's History Project

Related NWHP articles:

The National Women’s History Project (NWHP) is a non–profit organization dedicated to recognizing and celebrating the diverse and historic accomplishments of women by providing information and educational material and programs. For more about NWHP, as well as to find out about National Women's History Month events in your area, please see their website at www.nwhp.org.

 

home | what's new | resources | ask amy | news | activism | anti-violence
events | marketplace | about us | e-mail us | join our mailing list

©1995-2002 Feminist.com All rights reserved.