In commemoration of the centennial anniversary of women’s suffrage movement in 1919, which ratified the 19th Amendment, the 27th annual induction of the National Women’s Hall of Fame converged to celebrate a century of women’s suffrage but also explore the future of women’s equality by honoring their extraordinary field of 11 exceptional women.
Among the eleven: a civil justice litigator, a former Black Panther Party activist, an Indigenous legal scholar and activist, a two-time Academy Award winning actress, a retired Air Force colonel, a critically-acclaimed cartoonist, a cornerstone congresswoman, an iconic fashion designer, a famed digital music composer, a world-renowned scientist and a sitting Supreme Court Justice round-out this year’s illustrious class of larger-than-life women.
More than 300 local students were able to attend and bear witness to this year’s induction ceremony with seats secured in the upper balcony, all thanks to generous donations from corporate sponsors.
Emcee Gretchen Carlson kicked-off the ceremony following brief remarks from National Women’s Hall of Fame President Kate Bennett.
Carlson, a former Fox News broadcaster opened-up about her connection to the #MeToo movement with her historic 2016 sexual harassment allegations about then chairman and CEO of Fox News and Fox Television Stations Roger Ailes.
At a young age, she was told to “be a gutsy girl” and believe in herself, no matter who or what she wanted to be one-day.
She explained that once her story went public, it empowered other women to come forward, claiming that “courage is contagious.”
But most of all for Carlson, she called for attracting young boys to become a part of fixing the current culture and collective cause of feminism.
“The burden should not be on the shoulders of men only,” she said.
“We need to get to our boys and that’s I what I intend to do,” Carlson added.
The first inductee, Gloria Allred, a founding partner at the Allred, Maroko & Goldberg law firm, accepted the highest number of women’s rights cases than another other private firm in the country, earning hundreds of millions for clients across her 42-year career.
She shared that men of quality should not be afraid of women’s equality, mentioning how she had to overcome intimidation in many forms to find success as a legal representative on behalf of disenfranchised women through the judicial system.
Allred added that the right to vote was never given but fought for by the suffragettes and she urges feminists, both men and women to finish the greater gender equality mission that was started more than 100-years ago.
DR. ANGELA DAVIS
Dr. Angela Davis, a political activist most notably involved with the Black Panther Party as well as an academic scholar and accomplished author was the second inductee.
Touted as an international icon and inspiration to marginalized groups globally, she is currently the Distinguished Professor Emerita of History of Consciousness and Feminist Studies at the University of California Santa Cruz.
For Davis, her entire lifetime was predicated on “encouraging the struggle” for equality among minority communities and from the stage, she inspires others to continue this tradition of advocating for civil and women’s rights as well as actively challenging the prison-industrial complex.
“I’ve always been one of many,” Davis stated.
Rather than relishing in her individual accolades, Davis argued that this distinct honor for her is “an acknowledgement of collective accomplishments.”
The third inductee, Sarah Deer is a citizen of the Muscogee Creek Nation of Oklahoma, professor at the University of Kansas and an activist for Indigenous women.
Trained as a lawyer but considered as a self-described activist, her scholarship explores the intersection of federal Indian law and the rights of victims through an Indigenous feminist framework. The American Bar Association and Department of Justice has accredited Deer for her research and contributions to end violence against Indigenous women, her lifelong mission.
In her acceptance speech, Deer noted that she was the tenth woman of Indian descent that was inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame and acknowledged each woman who preceded her by naming them with their Indigenous identity.
“We need more Native women in the Hall of Fame,” Deer said.
A lifetime advocate to end all forms of gender-based violence towards Indigenous women, Deer called upon those in attendance to contact their legislatures to show their support for the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2019, a bill introduced into the House of Representatives to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act of 1994.
Jane Fonda, a two-time Academy Award winning actress, activist, businesswoman, author, producer for film and television and philanthropist called upon the youth to save the Earth and strike from school this upcoming Friday, September 20.
She used her platform to promote climate change awareness and a new “Green Deal” before it becomes too late for the planet and its inhabitants.
Fonda further explained that a global strike among students will transpire this next Friday and urges all of the students in attendance to walk-out and protest on behalf of the planet.
“We are facing a climate change crisis, but also an empathy crisis,” Fonda said.
COL. NICOLE MALACHOWSKI
The fifth inductee, retired Colonel Nicole Malachowski served in the United States Air Force more than 21-years. Selected among an elite group of fighter pilots, she was part of the first group of women to fly modern fighters and also the first woman to fly with the fabled “Thunderbirds.” She also served as a White House Fellow and advisor to the First Lady Michelle Obama during her husband’s administration.
Malachowski learned how to balance “being a woman fighter pilot and being a fighter pilot,” especially when she was called “the first female Thunderbird pilot.”
However, she admitted to still struggling with being considered “the first” and what does that mean when “someone has to go first.”
Malachowski elaborated being first means that she sought to make flying more accessible for future female pilots to soar and reach the skies.
The retired colonel was crucial in crafting a letter that advocated for a squadron of the first-ever female pilots who served in World War II, known as the Women Airforce Service Pilots to be awarded the Congressional Gold Medal after history forgot about them, the lives and stories of 1,102 women pilots.
Malachowski shared that their files were classified, sealed-shut and the squadron was disbanded without bestowing veteran status, distinction or any honors to its members.
“We did it to correct the record,” Malachowski said.
With her career in the Air Force ending abruptly after suffering neurological damage from a tick-borne illness, she has become an advocate to address the stigmas surrounding tick-borne illnesses, carrying the “courage of conviction” to tackle this controversial issue.
Rose O’Neill, an artist, suffragist and businesswoman was the first woman cartoonist for many publications produced artwork for more than 50 magazine publishing companies, most notably known for her Kewpies comic strip.
O’Neill during the early 20th century illustrated short stories, poems, children’s books and novels.
She also marched in New York suffrage parades, donated her artwork to the National Woman Suffrage Associations and volunteered with the organization by producing suffrage posters and postcards.
Susan Scott, president of the Rose O’Neill Historical Society who accepted the award in her memory shared that O’Neill was told by her publishers to solely sign her last name on sketches instead of her first name because it may cause backlash and the cancelling of subscriptions.
Scott even noted that publishing houses back then did not have any women restrooms due to the gendered workplace environment.
However, Scott believed that O’Neill was a trailblazer for future female artists and cartoons.
Louise Slaughter, a former member of Congress for more than 30-years was one of the longest-serving in the House of Representatives.
Slaughter served as the first chairwoman of the House Rules Committee as well as the co-chair and founding member of the Congressional Pro-Choice Caucus.
She also established the Office of Research on Women’s Health and secured the first $500 million in federal funding for breast cancer research at the National Institute of Health and co-authored the landmark Violence Against Women Act.
Speaker of the House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi and Hall of Fame Class of 2015 sent a personal video message to reflect upon Rochester’s longstanding federal representative, congratulating the family for her well-deserved induction.
Her granddaughter, Lauren Secatore accepted the honor in her memory on behalf of the entire Slaughter family.
“This would’ve meant the world for her,” she said.
Secatore considered herself the “granddaughter of a great woman” and recalled watching a video archive of a 1991 House Rules Committee floor debate, where Slaughter was challenged by a male colleague about standing-up like a man for a bill he believes in.
In closing, Secatore called for everyone to, “Stand up like a woman and do your part.”
DIANE VON FURSTENBERG
Before catching a flight, the award ceremony went out of alphabetical order to accommodate Diane von Furstenberg, a world-renowned fashion designer, philanthropist and founder of her own fashion brand.
In 1974, she created the iconic wrap dress, which became a symbol of power and independence for women around the globe.
As an immigrant from Belgium, she reflected upon the memory of her mother who was subjugated into forced-labor at a concentration camp during World War II.
After being freed from the camp, doctors notified her mother that she would be unable to bear a healthy and normal child, but soon enough Furstenberg was born without any deficiencies or defects.
After receiving her medal, Furstenberg explained how she wanted to be in-charge and understand how someone becomes in-charge.
For her, becoming in-charge was all because of “a little dress” and does not mean being aggressive but rather owning yourself and identity, your flaws and mistakes.
“It is our duty, it is our privilege to use our voice,” Furstenberg said.
JUSTICE SONIA SOTOMAYOR
Sonia Sotomayor, an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court that was appointed by President Barack Obama in 2009 was the third sitting-woman on the bench and first Latina Justice in the 230-year history of the court.
A graduate of Princeton and Yale Law School, her Hispanic background led her to advocate for inclusion on campuses.
Preceding her speech, the entire Vine Theater rose to their feet for a standing ovation as she strutted across the stage.
Justice Sotomayor spoke about her life in poverty and how her mother and father’s grandmother provided opportunities for Sotomayor and the rest of the family, especially when it came to recognizing and seizing the “paramount value of education.”
While learning from these two influential women, Justice Sotomayor formed the “bedrock values” that she would use to uplift those around her for the rest of her life.
Growing up, she remembered every Saturday evening when her family would host a dinner and cook for more than just themselves, but the entire neighborhood.
Following this experience, Justice Sotomayor understood the “privacy of love of family and helping those in need.”
“I learned the importance of caring for others,” she said.
Preceding her, bold women in Susan Day O’Connor and Ruth Bader Ginsburg helped open the courtroom doors for Justice Sotomayor to eventually become the third woman selected to serve on the Supreme Court.
But most of all, Justice Sotomayor sought to acknowledge the legions of unsung heroines who may never receive any recognition and desired to empower other women towards achieving and materializing gender equality in the workplace and at home.
“The glass ceiling for women has millions of cracks in it, but we must continue to work to ensure that glass ceiling shatters completely,” Justice Sotomayor stated.
The tenth inductee, Laurie Spiegel, a composer whose work appears on NASA’s “Golden Record” that was shipped-out on the Voyager spacecraft is known worldwide for her pioneering work with early electronic and computer music systems.
When entering the male-dominant industries of technology and music composition, Spiegel characterized breaking into these competitive and gender-biased professions as a “liberating intersection,” opening new avenues of communication and expression for women just like her.
“Technology does not care or know what your gender, race or ethnicity are. It simply responds to how you use and what you use it for,” Spiegel said.
DR. FLOSSIE WONG-STAAL
The final inductee, Dr. Flossie Wong-Staal, a world-renowned virologist and molecular biologist was the first woman to molecularly clone HIV and understand its complex genome structure alongside her team at the U.S. National Cancer Institute, a major breakthrough in proving that HIV was the cause of AIDS.
Dr. Wong-Staal explained that her research took 10-years to isolate the genome during what she considered as an “intense but rewarding” portion of her career.
She expressed gratitude for all of the opportunities that she acquired thus far in her profession alongside supportive colleagues.
“I think we were able to alter the course of this horrible pandemic,” Dr. Wong-Staal said.
President Bennett closed the ceremony with a call to action for everyone in attendance for the future.
“Okay, now it’s your turn audience. You got to nominate, you got to participate and support telling their stories,” Bennett stated.
Throughout an afternoon filled with stirring words and inspiring moments, waves of standing ovations and cheering crowds, the National Women’s Hall of Fame Class of 2019 embodied a true celebration of diversity and difference, which encapsulated the centennial celebration of women’s suffrage.
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– Reporting & Photos by Gabriel Pietrorazio
An undergraduate student at Hobart and William Smith Colleges, Pietrorazio has written for the Town Times of Watertown, Connecticut and Finger Lakes Times in Geneva, New York. He’s currently a reporter for FL1 News, and can be reached at [email protected].