On Women’s Equality Day, We Celebrate Those Who Lead

By Rita Henley Jensen, editor in chief, Women’s eNews

We’re putting on our walking shoes and filling our water bottles.

On Women’s Equality Day (it’s Wednesday, August 26) Gloria Feldt, co-founder and president of Take the Lead and I, founder and editor in chief of Women’s eNews, will lead a very special women’s history walking tour in downtown Manhattan.

We have invited guests from both organizations and many have accepted for this first of a kind meet-up.

Together, we will celebrate the women who took the lead as far back as the 1800s and agitate for completion of their agendas.

Gloria Feldt and I came of age in the late 50s and early 1960s in places as different as they could be: she in Tempe, Texas, and me in Columbus, Ohio.

Yet, Gloria and I have much in common, including a passion for women to take their rightful place in the halls of power. We both married young, as was expected, and became mothers while still in our teens. Then the 1970s happened to both of us.

In a very much unexpected reach forward, she enrolled in University of Texas of the Permian Basin; I enrolled in Ohio State University in Columbus.

Then the women’s movement happened. To both of us. And it changed our lives forever and led us both to opportunities for leadership.

After graduation, Gloria joined Planned Parenthood in West Texas and quickly rose to management, becoming in the 1990s CEO and president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, and became America’s top advocate for women’s reproductive rights as well as head of the nation’s largest provider of health care to women. She retired, wrote a book on leadership and founded a new organization to fill a need as important as reproductive health care: Take The Lead. Through Take The Lead Gloria encourages women to strive for parity and reduce the gender imbalance in leadership positions by the firm deadline of 2025.

I ended up with a degree from Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism and a member of the first class that was 50 percent female. (Now, it’s closer to 70 percent female.) I pursued a newspaper journalism career, but always with the profound understanding of women’s issues and public policy. In 1990s, I realized in a way I hadn’t before that the practice of most news media was to treat women’s issues with disrespect and to the point of being harmful to women and girls. I decided I needed to change that. My vehicle became launching and leading Women’s eNews in 2000 a daily nonprofit news organization that has changed the nation’s media landscape.

Both of us, through our experiences, are acutely aware of the common definition of power, one that Gloria wishes to flip on its head and I wish to catch and carry forward.

“The archetype of power,” Gloria says, “is male and outdated. It was defined as ‘power over.’” That is a turn-off for women, she says, and women are attracted by the “power to.” The difference for example, would be a corporate executive who has the power over who receives a bonus and commands deference and one who ensures the team is paid fairly and commands respect.

On the walking tour, we will make stops recalling women who used their “power to” improve the lives of women and girls and be reminded that each of us has the “power to” make change for women and girls.

If you can, please join us and hear about what these incredible women did with their “power to.”

The first stop, fittingly enough, will be the site where the founder of Planned Parenthood Margaret Sanger was indicted for sending a newsletter through the U.S. mail that promised to deliver information about birth control. In 1921, Sanger founded the American Birth Control League (later renamed Planned Parenthood), and two years later opened a legal doctor-run clinic for women in Manhattan.

Next: A half a block from where Sanger was indicted, we will pause at the Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony corner. These long-time partners in the suffrage movement were the writers and publishers of a weekly newspaper, The Revolution (1868-1870). Stanton is also author of “Declaration of Sentiments and Resolutions” (1848). Anthony was arrested in 1872 for voting in the Presidential election.

Crossing Park Row, we will stop by Elizabeth Jennings corner. In 1854, she created the template challenging segregation of public transportation. She refused to leave a “whites-only” New York City trolley and successfully sued for damages.

We will next stand where Joseph Pulitzer made history with such journalists as Emma Bugbee a feminist who covered women’s issues and in 1912 marched with the suffragists from New York City to Albany insisting on their right to vote.

Down historic Nassau Street, Victoria Claflin Woodhull published a weekly newspaper and launched her 1872 presidential campaign. Unfortunately, she was in jail at the time for publishing the details of prominent minister Henry Ward Beecher’s affair with a married member of his congregation.

The next stop is often a favorite of Girl Scouts. Augusta Lewis, in 1868, organized a labor union for female typesetters to protect women hired and fired as union-busters. She wrote a letter to the national union asking for admission for her all-women local, arguing that women and men should earn the same pay for the same work.

A few blocks south on Cedar Street, we recall the journalistic powerhouse that was Ida B. Wells. Born into slavery, Wells rose to national prominence as the journalist who brought to national attention the all-to-common practice of the lynching of black women and men. Women’s eNews honors a journalist each year with the Ida B. Wells Award for Bravery in Journalism.

After we pass the site where Occupy Wall Street camped, we stop where Frances Perkins held hearings into the causes of the 1911 Triangle Shirtwaist Fire. She was the first woman to be appointed to a presidential cabinet position. As Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s Secretary of Labor, she is now known as a major architect of the New Deal.

At St. Paul’s Chapel, we stop to remember the female first responders who died on September 11, and to honor Captain Brenda Berkman, a first responder on September 11 and a member of the first class of New York City firefighters to include women, the result of her complaint against the department for gender bias. She won by demonstrating that the required qualifying exam was almost impossible for women to pass.

Gloria and I are thrilled that we have this opportunity to join forces and introduce so many to these women who opened the way and led by example.

Also published on: http://www.blogher.com/women-s-equality-day-we-celebrate-those-who-lead

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