A Wrap Up of Women’s History Month
During the month of March, there have been many tributes to women, in professional positions of power, and those that keep things running behind the scenes. For Women Owned Business Enterprises, spotlighting the women who came before us who allowed us to be entrepreneurs and successful, powerful and influential women ourselves, is particularly important.
It wasn’t long ago that women did not have the right to vote in this country, that women in the workforce were not permitted to work or get their own credit cards. In 2022, women still earn 82 cents for every dollar paid to men. The gap is even lower for women and men of color. The pandemic has caused an even wider gap as women stayed home or worked remote to care for children learning at home.
This month marked Equal Pay Day, recognizing that this remains an issue, even today. With that, our first inspirational and influential women is Lilly Ledbetter.
For ten years, Lilly Ledbetter fought to close the gap between women’s and men’s wages, sparring with the Supreme Court, lobbying Capital Hill and bringing a historic pay discrimination case against Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company. Although Ledbetter won a jury verdict of more than $3,000,000, the U.S. Supreme Court later overturned the lower court’s ruling. Ledbetter continued fighting that decision.
On January 29, 2099 President Obama signed into law the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act. The Act, named for Ledbetter, requires employers to redouble their efforts to ensure that their pay practices are non discriminatory and to make certain they keep records to prove the fairness of pay decisions.
Sarah Weddington died in December, 2021, leaving behind her a legacy of impressive legal credential and decisions. She was an attorney, law professor, advocate for women’s rights and a member of the Texas House of Representatives. As was typical for women in 1967, when Weddington graduated from Law School, after being told by a college professor that
“no woman (from this college) has ever gone to law school. It would be too tough.”
She has trouble finding a job and joined a group of graduate students who were researching ways to challenge various statutes that affected women’s reproductive rights. In March, 1970, at just 26 years old, having never tried a case, Weddington, with her co-counsel, filed suit against Henry Wade, the Dallas District Attorney, responsible for enforcing similar statutes to those she had been researching. That case became famously known as Roe v. Wade.
Weddington, through her lifetime, was portrayed in films and her story has been memorialized in books, including a number of her own.
Before her death, Weddington was granted honorary doctorates from five universities,was a lecturer at the Texas Women’s University and the founder of the Weddington Center, a foundation for leadership.
In 1849, Elizabeth Blackwell became the first woman in the United States to be granted an MD degree. Faced with similar difficulties as other pioneering women at this time, she had been denied admission from all of the medical schools where she applied, except for Geneva College, where, despite her admission, she faced discrimination from faculty and students alike.
On graduation, she faced challenges finding employment and ultimately studied and treated typhoid which was the subject of her doctoral thesis. In 1949, Dr. Blackwell began studying at the Parisian maternity hospital, La Maternite, and was acclaimed as a superb obstetrician.
In 1853, she returned to New York and established a dispensary for the poor near Tompkins Square Park in Manhattan. The dispensary was expanded and became the New York Infirmary for Women and Children. Blackwell became a renowned professor of genecology and established a medical school for women, the London School of Medicine for Women.
Vice President of the United States, Kamala Harris, has “glass at her feet” said one article describing the first United States Vice President and the first Black and South Asian to hold high office in the United States.
Her election to the office comes after a lifetime of public service, as the District Attorney of San Francisco, California Attorney General and a United States Senator. Her career has been filled with representing the rights of immigrants and refugees to protecting children at risk of abuse, acting as chief of the Division on Children and Families for the San Francisco City Attorney’s Office. Renowned for instituting several first-of-their-kind reforms ensuring greater transparency and accountability in the criminal justice system, Harris has said:
“AT EVERY STEP OF THE WAY, I’VE BEEN GUIDED BY THE WORDS I SPOKE FROM THE FIRST TIME I STOOD IN A COURTROOM: KAMALA HARRIS, FOR THE PEOPLE.” KAMALA HARRIS, AUGUST 19, 2020
As Vice President, Harris has championed legislation to reform cash bail, combat hunger, provide rent relieve, improve maternal health care and address the climate crisis.
“My mother would look at me and she’d say, ‘Kamala, you may be the first to do many things, but make sure you are not the last.’”
KAMALA HARRIS, JANUARY 28, 2019
We thank these famously pioneering women but recognize that all women are pioneering, inspirational and influential in their worlds and in ours.