Women honored for courage, commitment

March 14

Flip open any history book and look at the names. What do you see? That’s right — most of them are men. Oh, a few women pop up here and there. But mostly it has been a man’s world.

March, though, is a time to focus on the other half of the world’s population. It’s Women’s History Month. As President Obama noted, it’s the month when we “recognize the victories, struggles and stories of the women who have made our country what it is.”

The stories of four such women are told on the next page. They are among 12 women being honored in Washington next week by the National Women’s History Project. This year’s theme is “Celebrating Women of Character, Courage and Commitment.”

Anna Julia Cooper

“School was my world. . . . Its nurture [gave] shelter and protection.”

Growing up black and female in the South during the Civil War, Anna Julia Cooper felt prejudice for two reasons. Education would free her, but she had to struggle for it. Back then, young women — if they went to school at all — had to take easier “ladies” courses. Cooper fought to take the same classes as the young men.

She began tutoring others at age 11, when she was a student at St. Augustine’s Normal School in North Carolina. Cooper earned two degrees at Oberlin College in Ohio, the first U.S. college to accept women and men, both black and white. Then she moved to Washington to teach in the nation’s first high school for black students. She later became its principal. When it changed its name to Dunbar High, she wrote the words to the school song.

Cooper thought that successful black women had a duty to help others, which would benefit everyone. She spoke and wrote about this all her life. But, not everyone was a fan. Her push to prepare black teens for college upset people who thought her students should stick with jobs that required no higher education.

Cooper never stopped learning. At 65, she became the fourth black woman in U.S. history to earn an advanced degree called a doctorate. She kept teaching, too, right into her 90s. After her death in 1964 at age 105, a traffic circle in Northwest Washington was named for her. In 2009 the U.S. Postal Service issued a stamp in her honor.

Agatha Tiegel Hanson

“Woman should be free as the air to learn what she will and to devote her life to whatever vocation seems good to her.”

When Agatha Tiegel Hanson was 7, she got very sick. She lost her hearing and the sight in one eye.

From then on, she had private tutors and special schools. In 1893, after moving to Washington, she became the second woman to graduate from what is now Gallaudet University.

Gallaudet was the first school to offer an advanced education to deaf students. Many people — including the school’s president — did not think women belonged there. When they were finally let in, they had special rules: They could not leave campus alone, and they needed a male escort to attend school events.

Hanson responded by starting a women’s club and Gallaudet’s first women’s basketball team.

As the top student in her class, she gave a special speech at graduation. In it, she took aim at those who said women could not succeed. This launched her career speaking out for the rights of women and deaf people. She taught deaf children in Minnesota and later was editor of the Seattle Observer, a newspaper for the deaf.

Hanson Plaza, a meeting place on Gallaudet’s campus, is named for her.

Carmen Delgado Votaw

“I was not born a feminist. . . . It came through exposure to injustice and contact with outstanding women.”

Carmen Delgado Votaw has traveled the world in support of women’s rights. People who believe that women should have the same rights and opportunities as men are called feminists.

Votaw’s journey started in a small town in Puerto Rico, where she was born. There, she developed leadership skills as a Girl Scout and learned the importance of community action.

Votaw has helped women in Latin America get better jobs. She has helped increase the number of women in political office in several countries.

She was the first Hispanic female chief of staff to a member of Congress. She spent many years working with Girl Scouts, including leading a worldwide scouting conference in Kenya. And she has served on more women’s rights and human rights groups than you can count on your fingers and toes combined. She also has written a book about notable Puerto Rican women.

Votaw, a mother and grandmother who lives in Bethesda, is a member of the Maryland Women’s Hall of Fame.

Tammy Duckworth

“Protecting women’s rights is essential for all Americans to achieve their own American Dream.”

Tammy Duckworth’s family has served in uniform since the Revolutionary War. So it seemed natural when she joined the Army Reserve. She chose to fly helicopters because that was one of the few combat jobs open to women.

On a mission over Iraq in 2004, her helicopter was hit by enemy fire. Duckworth was badly wounded. She lost both legs and the full use of her right arm. A long, painful recovery followed.

When Duckworth realized how close to death she had come, she knew she “just had to do more with my life.”

She ran for Congress in 2006 and narrowly lost. She then became head of the Illinois agency that helps military veterans get jobs, housing and other services.

Duckworth moved to Washington a few years later, taking a top post in the Department of Veterans Affairs. One focus she had was the special challenges that female veterans face. (Women make up 8 percent of U.S. veterans.)

In 2012, she ran for Congress again. This time she won. She is the first disabled woman elected to the U.S. House of Representatives.

Duckworth gets around on “bionic” legs. Not only can she walk; she also surfs and sky-dives, and she has completed several marathons.

Words of Wisdom

KidsPost asked two of the women being honored by the National Women’s History Project what advice they have for girls today. Much of what they said applies to boys, too.

Tammy Duckworth: “Young girls need to know that they can be successful and that when things get tough, you shouldn’t give up. By working hard and always being determined, you can make real and long-lasting change in the world.”

Carmen Delgado Votaw: “Develop your curiosity. Allow yourselves to be exposed to the challenges women have faced and the contributions they have made. It is important also that you look at career choices . . . in the science, technology, engineering and math fields. Do not be intimidated by the fact there may not be many women in those [jobs]. Go for it.”

U.S. women by the numbers

There are 161 million women and girls in the country (51 percent of the population).
Women also make up:

75.9% of public school teachers
56.8% of college students
31.3% of doctors
18.5% of members of Congress
14.6% of the military
Women working full time earn:
77 cents for every dollar that men earn

●Sources: U.S. Census Bureau, National Center for Education Statistics, Center for American Women and Politics, American Medical Association.

— Marylou Tousignant

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