March is Women’s History Month and this year has kicked off with the historic moment of Vice President Kamala Harris being sworn in as our country’s first woman to hold the position. In her post-election victory speech she proclaimed, “I may be the first, but I won’t be the last.” As we reflect on women such as Shirley Chisholm and her place in history as the first African-American candidate for a major party’s nomination for President of the United States, there is no doubt Vice President Harris’ words will be realized in the coming years.
The roads leading to this moment have been full of heartache, frustration and disappointment, yet women prevailed. Through grit, determination and a collective effort of all those seeking equality, we can proudly say, “we’ve come a long way baby.” The NAACP founding membership had three distinguished women among its courageous pioneers:
Ida B. Wells was born in 1862 in Holly Springs, Miss., and held prominent roles as an African-American journalist, newspaper editor, suffragist, sociologist, and an early leader in the Civil Rights Movement. One of her most formative experiences in racial injustice happened while she was riding the railroad. Wells confronted the train conductor after he ordered her to sit in the black section under the racist Jim Crow laws.
Lillian Wald was an American nurse, humanitarian and author. She was known for contributions to human rights and was the founder of American community nursing. She briefly attended medical school and began to teach community health classes. After founding the Henry Street Settlement, she became an activist for the rights of women and minorities. She campaigned for suffrage and was a supporter of racial integration.
Mary White Ovington was born in Brooklyn on 11 April 1865. Members of the Unitarian Church, her parents were supporters of women’s rights and had been involved in the anti-slavery movement. She became involved in the campaign for civil rights in 1890 after hearing Frederick Douglas speak in a Brooklyn church. She later wrote: "I had never seen Frederick Douglass before and I was never to see him again, but that night was to me a great event. I had come face to face with one of my heroes. He was one of the great group of men and women who had risked all for freedom.”
As we celebrate these phenomenal women of our history and glean joy from history in the making, we must remember that we still have many miles to go on this journey. For example, did you know that on average women earn .82 cents for every dollar that men earn in America? By race Latina women earn .55, Native American women earn .60, African American women earn .63, and Asian American women earn .85. So yes, there are ceilings left to shatter and we don’t mind cleaning up the glass along the way.
Please visit https://womenshistorymonth.gov/ for information on how you may participate in virtual events highlighting the accomplishments of women all month long.
by Danielle Ellis