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