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United Way Blog

Reflections on Women in History

Women's History Month in March is a time set aside to appreciate the contributions women have made to the human journey through time and across the world. Women have touchpoints in world history that changed the course of civilizations. Women have taken an ounce of courage and reflected compassion, intelligence, curiosity, and determination to whatever cause they are championing. 

So many women through time have looked at their position in their homes, communities, and the world and decided to change the rules of engagement. Every day, I wake to take on the role and responsibilities of a Chief Executive Officer at a century’s old organization started by a woman yet historically run by men. Frances Wisebart Jacobs sought to help a neighbor in dire straits 137 years ago. This act of kindness became the foundation for United Way Worldwide. As a woman, I feel especially tasked with building on the culture and service of her legacy.

If I were to make a list of the people who have shaped my life, it would be an even split of men and women. So many of the experiences that shaped my life have a root in service – and many of these service opportunities were defined by women leaders. I benefited from women in my community who volunteered to be Sunday School teachers, Scout leaders, and program leaders for social clubs like Junior Achievement. I saw how the world took shape around the leadership of women. I never felt women were in competition with men. I have always seen women as equal when set to a task. The civil and women’s rights author Sojourner Truth said, “I have as much muscle as a man and can do as much as any man.” Since the time of my youth, I have seen women take on every task required of men successfully. Successful societies have successful women.

Women’s History Month brings so many trailblazers to mind. Women who built lasting legacies. Amelia Earhart was an aviation pioneer. She made no excuses and brokered no argument about her right to conquer the skies. She knew what she wanted and once summed it up simply – “courage is the price that life exacts for granting peace.” Think on that for a moment – why did women throughout time describe the need for courage? As women, do we face uniquely dangerous headwinds when we seek opportunity? In some cases and places, yes. Women have died seeking access to their dreams, desires, and dignity. Never forget that. 

Many women walked a lonely road while others benefited from collaboration with other women. The late author and poet Maya Angelou spoke to being part of an unnamed sisterhood when she said, “each time a woman stands up for herself without knowing it possibly, without claiming it, she stands up for all women.”  As an undergraduate, I came to recognize and appreciate the collective work of sisterhoods like sororities and social clubs. These collaborative women take on an array of challenges facing their communities. It’s amazing that some of today’s sororities are more than a century old and still operating impactfully today.

At the end of the day, in order for women to lead others in any environment – board room or elected office – we must acknowledge that the ones who came before weakened the structures that once blocked our access. Learn their names and their stories – not just during the month of March but continually. As I’ve taken time to expand my understanding of these brave women, I will look to my own legacy as a leader, and seek ways to challenge the unnecessary barriers we still face. I will honor the words of the late Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg – “Women belong in all the places where decisions are being made. It shouldn’t be that women are the exception.” 

Again, I encourage you to discover the women from our past and present day who are using their voices and talents, and most importantly, their courage to shape the future for all women.   

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