Tag Archives: National Women’s History Project

Minnesotan named among women leaders in public service and government

Some months ago I noted in passing that the theme for Women’s History Month, March 2016, is “Working to Form a More Perfect Union: Honoring Women in Public Service and Government.”   Immediately I thought of the scores of Minnesota women in public service who deserve heaps of praise and thanks, not just during Women’s History Month but every day in every way. I mentally checked off elected officials, office workers, fire fighters, academics, health care professionals, teachers, clerks, judges, librarians, police officers and countless other women who work with honor and energy to serve the public good. These women form a huge percentage of government workers who wage Minnesota’s never-ending struggle to “form a more perfect union.”

With fondness, my thoughts traveled back to an earlier time when Governor Rudy Perpich intentionally and strategically led a relentless effort to put the “action” in affirmative action.

In this reflective – and appreciative — mood I perused the list of this year’s Women’s History Month honorees, an august selection of exceptional women from throughout the country. In 2016 the honor, conferred by the National Women’s History Project, celebrates women who have devoted their lives to public service and government.

First on that list (which admittedly was alphabetical) is Sister Mary Madonna Ashton, CSJ of St. Paul, Minnesota. In 1983 Governor Perpich – and Sister Mary Madonna – made headlines when the Governor appointed her as the first woman and first non-physician to serve as Commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Health.

As was his practice, Governor Perpich placed his confidence in a strong and proven candidate. Sister Mary Madonna had served as President and CEO of St. Mary’s Hospital in Minneapolis for twenty years (1962 to 1982.)  Her tenure as Commissioner of Health extended from 1983 to 1991, by which time she had established a solid record. Her gender and MSW (as opposed to MD) degrees were no longer the high points of the laudatory remarks by which she was introduced to health care administrators and young people entering the fields of health care and public service.

Sponsors of the national honoree designation underscore just a sampling of the challenges Sister Mary Madonna encountered in her role as Commissioner of Health. She is praised for “successfully addressing smoking cessation and AIDS prevention.” Underscoring her efforts to stop widespread smoking and ready access to tobacco, the selectors write: “Sister Ashton helped pass landmark legislation outlawing smoking in public places and on public property. Testifying for days against the tobacco industry, her success on behalf of the state of Minnesota started a nationwide movement.” (Remember that this was “back in the 80’s”)

Sister Mary Madonna Ashton joins a company of remarkable women who have committed their work lives to public service and government. These women, some living, others deceased, are being honored in 2016 for their unstinting efforts “to form a more perfect union.” The 2016 honorees are these:

Nadine Smith, (1965–present) LGBT civil rights activist and Executive Director of Equality Florida.

Dorothy C. Stratton (1899-2006) WWII Director of the SPARS (Coast Guard women’s reserve) and Executive Director of the Girl Scouts of America.

Bernice Sandler (1928-present) Women’s rights activist, known as the “Godmother of Title IX”

Karen Narasaki (1958-present) Civil and human rights leader, Commissioner of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights.

Nancy Grace Roman (1925-present) Created a space astronomy program at NASA, known as the “Mother of Hubble”

Judy Hart (1941-present) National Park Founding Superintendent of Rosie the Riveter World War II Home Front National Historical Park and Women’s Rights National Historical Park.

Isabel Gonzalez (1882-1971) Champion of Puerto Ricans securing American citizenship.

Sonia Pressman Fuentes (1928-present) National Organization for Women co-founder and first woman attorney at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission General Council’s Office.

Oveta Culp Hobby (1905-1995) WWII Director of the Women’s Army Corps and first Secretary of the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare.

Barbara Mikulski (1937-present) Senator from Maryland and longest serving woman in the U.S. Congress.

Betty Mae Tiger Jumper (1923-2001). First woman Chief of the Seminole Tribe and presidential advisor.

Inez Milholland Boissevain (1886-1916) Women’s Suffrage leader and martyr.

Daisy Lee Gatson Bates (1914-1999) Civil Rights organizer and leader of the Little Rock school integration.

Ella Tambussi Grasso (1919-1981) Governor of Connecticut, first woman U.S. governor elected in her own right.

Suzan Shown Harjo (1945-present) Native American public policy advocate and journalist.

More information about Womens History Month  at http://nwhp.org/womens-history-month-2016




Women’s History Month 2013 – Lots to Learn, Leaders to Honor

The roots of today’s Women’s History Month run deep, the ideas and energy nurtured by the same energy that burst forth over a century ago with the first International Women’s Day, celebrated in 1911.  Imagination, commitment and collaboration have created what is now a national traditional in this and other nations, observance of March as Women’s History Month.

In the late-20th Century, as the women’s movement advanced and women’s studies gained recognition, schools, academic institutions, women’s organizations and states created local Women’s Week initiatives to promote further study and awareness of women’s contributions.  In 1981 Senator Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) and Representative Barbara Mikulski (D-Maryland) co-sponsored the first Joint Congressional Resolution establishing Women’s History Week.  By 1989 the observance expanded to a month.  And, as happens with Congressional resolutions, the wheels of the bureaucracies began to turn; stories emerged as researchers dipped into the archives, libraries strengthened their collections, educators produced curriculum and support materials, events and activities engaged students, and whole communities in learning the stories of women’s contributions.  In 2011 the Obama Administration released a report on fifty years of progress in honoring Women’s History.

Today, responsibility at the federal level rests with a number of agencies to continue the work of exploration and celebration.   A host of federal agencies play a role: The Library of Congress, National Archives and Records Administration, National Endowment for the Humanities, National Gallery of Art,  National Park Service, Smithsonian Institution and United States Holocaust Memorial Museum and numerous other agencies, including the Department of Defense, have a contributing role in providing resources and sponsoring programs that focus on the contributions of women.  Resources abound – and just reading about the resources is great fun.

A key player at the federal level is the National Women’s History Project highlighted here.  A priority of he NWHP is to select a theme for the year – not to exclude but to highlight outstanding accomplishments within specific fields.  Recent themes have been “Writing Women Back into History” (2010), “Our History Is Our Strength” (2011) and “Women’s Education-Women’s Empowerment” (2012).  Based on the annual theme, states and local groups are encouraged to develop their own unique programming and approaches.

The 2013 theme for national Women’s History Month is “Women Inspiring Innovations through Imagination:  Celebrating Women in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics.” (STEM).  In preparation for Women’s History Month 2013 the NWHP identified an astounding list of women nominated for special commendation. From the nominees the selectors named a cohort of eighteen women chosen as “extraordinary visionaries and role models” in the STEM fields where, the selectors note, women are still noticeably underrepresented.”  The list of eighteen women covers decades, geography, fields of interest and affiliation.  Reading the accomplishments listed for each honoree expands one’s very comprehension of the depth and breadth of the paths they have chosen – and in which they have succeeded.  Very briefly, the list of honorees includes:

  • Hattie Elizabeth Alexander, 1901-1968 – Pediatrician and Microbiologist
  • Marilyn Barrett, 1954-                    K-12 STEM Educator
  • Patricia Era Bath, 1942 –                    Ophthalmologist and Inventor
  • Elizabeth Blackwell, 1821-1910, Physician
  • Katharine Buss Blodgett, 1898-1979, Physicist and Inventor
  • Edith Clarke, 1883-1959, Electrical Engineer
  • Rita R. Colwell, 1934-      Molecular Microbial Ecologist and Scientific Administrator
  • Diane Fossey, 1932-1985, Primatologist and Naturalist
  • Susan A. Gerbi, 1944-    Molelcular Cell Biologist
  • Helen Greiner, 1957- Mechanical Engineer and Robotocist
  • Grace Murray Hopper, 1906-1992, Computer Scientist
  • Olga Frances Linares, 1936-    Anthropologist and Archaeologist
  • Julia Morgan, 1872-1957, Architect
  • Louise Pearce, 1895-1959, Physician and Pathologist
  • Jill Pipher, 1955-      Mathematician
  • Mary G. Ross, 1908-2008, Mechanical Engineer
  • Susan Solomon, 1956-      Atmospheric Chemist
  • Flossie Wong Staal, 1946-     Virologist and Molecular Biologist

The list of names and professions inspires the uninitiated to learn more. Brief bios of each of the honorees are published here.

The NWHP planners went on to identify the names, dates and affiliations of all of the 115 nominees.  There are teachers and writers, a couple of astronauts, physicians, inventors, and women who were at the pinnacle of fields I could neither pronounced now explain.  That full list is also included here.

Without a chart or a footnote we know that most of these women inherited a vision of the possibilities by learning from and working with their forbearers.  We know, too, that younger women and girls have some mighty – if dainty – footsteps in which to follow.  The list itself suffices to start even this unreconstructed liberal arts major to further explore, possibly understand, the nature and impact of their contributions.

More to follow on the contributions of one pioneer Minnesota woman who cut a wide swath in the pre-STEM world of engineering and architecture.  More, too, on some of the ways in which Minnesotans are carrying on the tradition of Women’s History Month.