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Honoring and Remembering the Sheroes Among Us
by Jill S. Tietjen, P.E. and Charlotte S. Waisman,

Many women throughout U.S. history changed the culture and the economy of our country through their courageous actions. Do we know the amazing women on whose shoulders we stand? Do we tell our children about their achievements or are we so caught up in today’s media sound bites that the names of Bernard Madoff and Rod Blagojevich are more on our minds than the names of Admiral Grace Murray Hopper and Drew Gilpin Faust? There are powerful reasons for acknowledging the women who came before us: validation, discovering women like me, not being so alone in one’s chosen career, and hope for girls and women in the future come immediately to mind.

What type of sheroes do we need today? Sheroes who demonstrate that every career is a possibility and that hard work and personal responsibility are the way forward. Women who would certainly fit into the “shero” category include Susan B. Anthony, Harriet Tubman, Madeleine Albright, Emma Willard, Maria Mitchell, Helen Keller, Madam C. J. Walker, FrancesWisebart Jacobs, Annie Dodge Wauneka, Sojourner Truth, Wilma Mankiller, Flossie Wong-Staal, Oprah Winfrey, and Hillary Clinton. Some of these names are well known to you; others have simply become invisible.

Our knowledge and recognition of the accomplishments of women in this country throughout our history are incredibly limited; this was one of the reasons for the establishment of National Women’s History Month celebrated every March. Very few members of the public know that women invented, founded or championed: the computer compiler, the paper bags at the grocery store, the cultivation of indigo plants, the Underground Railroad, the Christian Science Movement, the first successful childhood leukemia drug, and the American Red Cross, for example. With these acknowledgements and the pride that comes with recognizing these accomplishments, we will start developing more and more sheroes for the young women of today.

Our young women do need to know these facts. They need to know that “women like me” have attained significant accomplishments throughout U.S. history often in spite of, not because of, the people around them. These “women like me” are positive female role models and they abound in our country’s history as well. Women led the fight to win suffrage for women. Women were leaders in the labor movement. Women strove to provide treatment for those with mental health afflictions. Women took the lead in environmental movements, including the effort to ban DDT and the effort to save the Everglades. The list is almost endless.

There are many ways to view and honor these incredible women. Let’s for example review women who’ve made significant strides in the fight against breast cancer. First Lady Betty Ford spoke publicly about her mastectomy and urged women to get checkups for breast cancer in 1974. Nancy Brinker founded the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation whose signature funding strategy is the Race for the Cure. Breast cancer surgeon Susan Love, M.D., wrote the standard reference text in the field and established her own Research Foundation. Avon CEO Andrea Jung advocated for a breast cancer cure through the Avon Foundation. While breast cancer is almost always identified with women, it certainly should not be categorized as a “woman’s issue.”

Today’s young women will be added to the significant list of sheroes as they will fight for healthier body images, better mental health, and positive portrayals of women in the media. They will become firefighters, astronauts, and win the Indianapolis 500. They will be in every career so that it is not necessary to introduce someone as the “only” or the “first” woman in the field.

We have written many women back into “Her Story” through our book and provided 866 role models across all fields of endeavor and ethnicities; we encourage women everywhere across the country, to write themselves and their families into their personal family history. Acknowledge your family’s sheros: the first woman in your family to finish high school, the single mother who sent all of her children to college, the grandmothers and great-grandmothers who toiled side-by-side with their husbands in settling this great country of ours and moving westward to reach the Pacific Coast.

As former Congresswoman Patricia Schroeder has written “Too many Americans think men fought their way to this country on dangerous sailing ships while women arrived on cruise ships. . . Men and women came on the same ships and shoulder to shoulder, built this great country together. . .We have had 400 years of sexagrated history – it’s time for the holistic view.”

About the author:

Charlotte S. Waisman and Jill S. Tietjen are the authors of Her Story: A Timeline of the Women Who Changed America, HarperCollins, 2008.