Women in history

Did you know that the month of March is not only the month that kick starts the mania of post-season college basketball, but also Women’s History Month?

A key part of the YWCA’s mission is dedicated to empowering women, and not only does our local YWCA work on advocacy efforts all year long, but we are recognized as one of the foremost fitness and community centers in the Gettysburg area. This seems like the perfect opportunity to blend our interests in basketball bracket and incredible women who have made strides to advance the interests of the gender equality in the United States. See below for our nominees for Women’s History Month champion and vote/donate either in the lobby of the Fairfield Road location or online!

Our “Strong Sixteen” contenders put up quite the fight! There were some surprising upsets and thrilling victories, and we are pleased to announce our “Empowering Eight”:

Tammy Duckworth vs. Joy Harjo
Elizabeth seton vs. Katherine Johnson
Ruth Bader Ginsburg vs. Misty Copeland
Ibtihaj Muhammad vs. Annie Leibovitz

Stop by the YWCA to donate and vote for your favorites, or donate online and write their last name so we know your top choice! Winners are tallied each week and updated on Mondays. Next week, we will have our “Feminist Four,” and by the end of the month, we will have a Women’s Month Champion! Who are you voting for?

Please making a donation to the YWCA at https://www.ywcagettysburg.org/donate-now/ .

Elizabeth Thorn
December 28, 1832 – October 17, 1907

Elizabeth Thorn and her husband Peter immigrated to Gettysburg, PA from Germany in 1855, six years prior to the start of the United States Civil War. Within several months of arrival, Peter was hired as the caretaker of the Evergreen Cemetery and the Thorns started their family. In 1861, the Civil War began, and by 1862 Peter felt called to join the Union Army, enlisting in the 138th Pennsylvania Infantry, leaving the home and caretaking duties of their three sons and the Evergreen Cemetery to Elizabeth. Elizabeth was six months pregnant at the time, and the cemetery was averaging about five burials per month.

When the Battle of Gettysburg began in July 1863, the Union Army sought Elizabeth’s assistance to familiarize them with Gettysburg. She accompanied the army’s men into the field, in addition to preparing dinner for Union Generals Howard, Sickles, and Slocum. During the battle, Elizabeth and her family took refuge in the cellar of their home. Upon the Union victory, Elizabeth emerged from her home to many townspeople beginning to deposit the dead who had been killed in the battle for burial in Evergreen Cemetery. Ultimately, Elizabeth buried 105 casualties of the Battle of Gettysburg in Evergreen Cemetery, ninety-one soldiers and fourteen civilians.

In 2002, the Civil War Women’s Memorial at the Evergreen Cemetery was dedicated. The statue, erected by the gatehouse of the Cemetery, was unveiled to depict Elizabeth tending to her burial duties. She is often referred to as the “Angel of Gettysburg” for her efforts during and after the battle.

Sonia Sotomayor

June 25, 1954 – present

Sonia Sotomayer was born in the Bronx in New York City. She was raised by Puerto Rican-born parents, and learned English when she was nine years old. After many struggles in college, from a lack of knowledge of “the classics” to being one of very few Latino students, Sotomayor graduated summa cum laude from Princeton University in 1976 and received her Juris Doctor from Yale Law School in 1979.

Sotomayor was hired out of law school as an assistant district attorney under the New York County District Attorney’s office. In 1984, she entered private practice, became partner of the firm where she worked in 1988, and stayed there until she became a judge in 1992. In addition to her work at this time, she also took on many public service roles, including a board appointment to low-income urban rebuilding efforts through the State of New York Mortgage Agency, founding the New York City Campaign Finance Board dealing with political fundraising, and serving on the boards of the Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund and the Maternity Center Association.

In 1991, Sotomayor was nominated by President George H. W. Bush to a seat on the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York. At this time, Sotomayor became the youngest judge in the Southern District, the first Hispanic federal judge in New York State, and the first Puerto Rican woman to serve as a judge in a U.S. federal court. In 1997, she was nominated by President Bill Clinton to a seat on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, and was confirmed for this seat in 1998. In 2009, President Barak Obama nominated her as an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court, where she still sits today. She is the first Hispanic woman to serve on the Supreme Court, one of four women to ever serve, and her appointment gave the Court a record six Roman Catholic justices serving at the same time. In addition to her Justiceship, she has still maintained a public presence, often giving speeches focusing on themes around ethnic identity and experience, the need for diversity, and America’s struggle with the implications of its diverse makeup.

Elizabeth Ann Seton

August 28, 1774 –  January 4, 1821

Elizabeth Ann Seton was born August 28, 1774. Leading a difficult life filled with many losses, Elizabeth lost her mother at an early age, was very distant from her father, and lost her husband to tuberculosis after nine years of marriage. Elizabeth was the mother of five children.

After her husband’s death, Elizabeth converted to Catholicism and moved to Emmitsburg, MD. There, she established a religious community dedicated to the care of children of the poor. This community is noted to be the first congregation of religious sisters to be founded in the United States, as well as the first free Catholic school in the country.

Elizabeth died on January 4, 1821, and her remains are entombed in the National Shrine of Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton in Emmitsburg, MD. On September 14, 1975, Pope Paul VI canonized Elizabeth as a saint in the Catholic Church. She is the first U.S. saint in the Roman Catholic Church. Her feast day is January 4, and she is the patron saint of seafarers and widows.

Reshma Saujani

November 18, 1975 – present

Reshma Saujani was raised in Chicago, Illinois by her two parents of Ugandan descent. She attended the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and studied political science and speech communication. After she graduated in 1997, she attended the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University, where she received a Master of Public Policy in 1999, and Yale Law School, where she received her Juris Doctor in 2002.

For a number of years, she worked in various law firms and investment firms. In 2010, Saujani challenged incumbent Democratic Representative Carolyn Maloney in the US House of Representative elections in New York’s 14th congressional district. She lost, only getting 19% of the total votes. She has spoken frequently about how this failure impacted her, leaving her feeling lost and aimless.

In 2012, she founded Girls Who Code, which is meant to inspire, educate, and equip young women with the computing skills to pursue 21st century opportunities. This stemmed from when she was visiting high schools during the election, and saw huge gender gaps in computing classes. Saujani has spoken extensively about how society pressures girls and women to be perfect, and how instead we should be teaching them to be brave. Coding provides young girls with an opportunity to practice trial and error, not perfection, and teaches them to learn from failure and gain experience in technology as well.

Saujni has given a TED Talk and written multiple books, and she currently hosts a podcast and sends weekly newsletters on the importance of bravery over perfection.

Eleanor Roosevelt

October 11, 1884 – November 7, 1962

Eleanor Roosevelt was born in New York, NY in 1884. She had a particularly tough childhood, losing both of her parents and a brother before the age of fifteen. She married Franklin Delano Roosevelt in 1905. She encouraged her husband to continue to pursue a career in politics, even when he was disabled by a case of polio in 1921. He was elected as the Governor of the state of New York in 1928 and later to the office of President of the United States in 1933.

She served as the First Lady of the United States from March 4, 1933 to April 12, 1945, during her husband President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s four terms in office, making her the longest-serving First Lady of the United States. Eleanor served as United States Delegate to the United Nations General Assembly from 1945 to 1952. President Harry Truman later called her the “First Lady of the World” in tribute to her human rights achievements.

Though widely respected in her later years, Roosevelt was a controversial First Lady at the time for her outspokenness, particularly on civil rights for African Americans. She was the first presidential spouse to hold regular press conferences, write a daily newspaper column, write a monthly magazine column, host a weekly radio show, and speak at a national party convention. On a few occasions, she even publicly disagreed with her husband’s policies, further establishing her independence and autonomy as a political figure.

Eleanor was diagnosed with aplastic anemia in 1962 and medically declined until her death in November 1962 at the age of seventy-eight. Upon her death, President John F. Kennedy ordered all United States flags lowered to half-staff throughout the world in a tribute to her.

Ibtihaj Muhammad

December 4, 1985 – present

Ibtihaj Muhammad was raised by her parents and four other siblings in Maplewood, New Jersey. When she was 13 years old, she began fencing, specifically using the sabre. Just before graduating high school, she joined the prestigious Peter Westbrook Foundation, a program which utilizes the sport of fencing as a vehicle to develop life skills in young people from underserved communities, and was invited to train under the Westbrook Foundation’s Elite Athlete Program in New York City.

Muhammad attended Duke University and completed a double major in International Relations and African American Studies. By the time she graduated in 2007, she was a 3-time All-American and the 2005 Junior Olympic Champion.

In 2010, Muhammad joined the US National Fencing Team. She is well known for being the first Muslim American woman to wear a hijab (headscarf) while competing for the United States in the Olympics. From a young age while she was pursing fencing, she felt that keeping her hijab would inspire women and young girls around the world to break boundaries and peruse your desires even while wearing the hijab.

In the 2016 Summer Olympics, she earned the bronze medal as part of Team USA in the Team Sabre event, becoming the first female Muslim-American athlete to earn a medal at the Olympics. As of 2017, Muhammad ranks No. 2 in the United States and No. 7 in the world. She is a 5-time Senior World medalist, including 2014 World Champion in the team event, and has also written two books.

Megan Rapinoe

July 5, 1985 – present

Megan Rapinoe grew up in California with her parents and six siblings (two half-siblings). She played sports throughout high school, including soccer, basketball, and track, and was also on the honor roll every semester of high school.

Her college career began at the University of Portland where she played with her fraternal twin sister for the Portland Pilots. During her first year, she helped the Pilots play an undefeated season, personally scoring 15 goals (seven game-winning goals) and adding 13 assists. As a sophomore, she suffered two ACL injuries that ended her season early so she could heal. She returned in 2008 and helped the team achieve a 20-2 record.

She entered the Women’s Professional Soccer Draft in 2009 and played for many different teams until 2013, when she joined Seattle Reign FC. For the National Team, Rapinoe won gold at the 2012 London Summer Olympics, 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup, and 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup and she played for the team at the 2011 FIFA Women’s World Cup where the U.S. finished in second place. Since 2018, she co-captains the National Team alongside two other players, and has won numerous honors and awards throughout her career. Additionally, she is the first player, male or female, to score a goal directly from a corner at the Olympic Games.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg

March 15, 1933 – present

Ruth Bader Ginsburg was born in Brooklyn, New York. She received her bachelor’s degree at Cornell University, got married and started a family, and then went to begin law school at Harvard. At Harvard, she was one of 9 women in a class of about 500 men. She transferred to Columbia Law School when her husband took a job in New York City, and graduated in 1959, tied first in her class.

After significant difficulty in finding a job due to her gender, she turned to academia, mainly focusing on civil legal procedure. In 1972, Ginsburg co-founded the Women’s Rights Project at the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). In two years, the ACLU participated in over 300 gender discrimination cases, and Ginsburg herself argued six of those cases at the Supreme Court –winning five. Legal scholars and advocates credit Ginsburg’s work with making significant legal advances for women under the Equal Protection Clause of the Constitution, and ending gender discrimination in many areas of the law.

In 1980, Ginsburg was nominated by President Jimmy Carter to a seat on the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. In 1993, she was appointed by President Bill Clinton as an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court, where she still sits today. At the time of her nomination, Ginsburg was viewed as a moderate. Clinton was reportedly looking to increase the court’s diversity, which Ginsburg did as the second Jewish justice, second female justice, and the first Jewish female justice. As of October 2019, Ginsburg is the fourth-oldest serving Supreme Court Justice ever, at age 86.

Condolezza Rice

November 14, 1954 – present

Condolezza Rice was born in Birmingham, Alabama at a time where the South was still racially segregated. In 1967, the family moved to Denver, Colorado, where Rice graduated high school at 16 years old. She attended the University of Denver and graduated cum laude with a degree in political science. She received her master’s degree in political science from the University of Notre Dame. In 1981, at age 26, she received her Ph.D. at the University of Denver.

She worked at Standford University for a number of years, first as an assistant professor of political science, then associate professor, then provost and full professor after tenure. Also during this time, she served in President George H. W. Bush’s administration as director, and then senior director of Soviet and East European Affairs in the National Security Council, and a Special Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs.

In 2000, Rice was named as National Security Advisor for President George W. Bush, and was the first woman to occupy this post. In Bush’s second term, she became Secretary of State. Rice played an important role in trying to stop nuclear threats from North Korea and Iran, and initiated many diplomatic efforts on behalf of the Bush administration. Afterwards, Rice returned to academia and joined the Council on Foreign Relations.

Rice has received a number of honors and recognitions for her work, including the 2003 U.S. Senator John Heinz Award for Greatest Public Service by an Elected or Appointed Official, the U.S. Air Force Academy’s 2009 Thomas D. White National Defense Award for contributions to the defense and security of the United States, and Time magazine’s list of the world’s 100 most influential people. In 2004 and 2005, she was ranked as the most powerful woman in the world by Forbes magazine.

Sylvia Ray Rivera

July 2, 1951 – February 19, 2002

Of Puerto Rican and Venezuelan descent, Sylvia Ray Rivera was born in New York, NY in 1951. She had a difficult childhood and was forced to live on the streets at the age of 11, until a local community of drag queens took her in, providing her with food, shelter, and security.

Sylvia was known as an activist for gay liberation and transgender rights in New York in the 1970’s. She identified as a drag queen herself and was an active participant in demonstrations and advocacy events around the city. She fought for rights of people of color and specifically for low-income LGBTQ+ persons. She used her voice for unity and to reach some of the most vulnerable members of the gay community: drag queens, homeless youth, gay inmates in prisons and jails, and transgender people.

Sylvia of liver cancer died in 2002. She is continued to be considered a key figure in the modern transgender movement and was inducted into the National LGBTQ Wall of Honor within the Stonewall National Monument in New York City. This monument is the first national monument to be dedicated to the rights and history of the LGBTQ+ community in the country.

Laverne Cox

May 29, 1972 – present

Laverne Cox was born on May 29, 1972 in Mobile, AL. Her single mother and grandmother raised her and her twin brother. Laverne has spoken about the bullying she experienced in school throughout her childhood.

Laverne graduated from the Alabama School of Fine Arts, where she studied creative writing and dancing, and continued to pursue an education in acting at Indiana University Bloomington and Marymount Manhattan College in New York City.

Laverne has appeared in multiple television shows and movies, including Law and Order: Special Victims Unit, Bored to Death, Doubt, and Musical Chairs. Her big break came in 2013 when she was cast in the recurring role of Sophia Burset, a trans woman sent to prison for credit card fraud, on the Netflix original series Orange is the New Black. She began to use her public platform to speak on the rights of trans people, becoming an instrumental advocate in the LBGTQ+ community. Her impact and prominence in the media has lead to a growing conversation on trans culture and the intersectionality of race and gender. In 2016, she was awarded an Honorary Doctorate degree of The New School in New York City for her work advocating for gender equality.

Laverne is the first openly transgender person to be nominated for a Primetime Emmy Award, win a Daytime Emmy, and have a wax work of her likeness in Madame Tussaud’s in New York City, as well as the first to be featured on the cover of Time Magazine.

Tammy Duckworth

March 12, 1968 – present

Tammy Duckworth’s family immigrated to the U.S. state of Hawaii from Thailand when she was sixteen years old. She completed high school in Hawaii, then going on to completed a bachelor’s degree in political science from the University of Hawaii and a master’s degree in international affairs from George Washington University. While pursuing her master’s degree, Tammy joined the Army Reserve Officers Training Corps in 1990. She became a commissioned officer in the United States Army Reserve in 1992 and chose to fly helicopters, as it was one of the few combat positions open to women. In 2004, Tammy was deployed to Iraq as part of the U.S.’s Iraq War efforts. Later that year, she was severely injured during combat, and her injuries made her the first U.S. female double amputee of the Iraq War. She was awarded a Purple Heart for her efforts and bravery and retired from the Army National Guard in 2014 as a lieutenant colonel.

In 2012, Tammy was elected to represent Illinois in the U.S. House of Representatives. She is considered the first woman with a disability to be elected to the chamber, as well as the first member of Congress born in Thailand. In 2016, she won a Senate seat representing Illinois, where she currently serves. The mother of two daughters, she became the first U.S. Senator to give birth while in office in 2018.

Joy Harjo

May 9, 1951 – present

Joy Harjo was born on May 9, 1951 in Tulsa, OK. She is the oldest of four children and a member of the Muscogee Creek Nation.

Joy is a poet, musician, and author. She studied at the Institute of American Indian Arts, completed her undergraduate degree at the University of New Mexico, and earned a master’s degree in fine arts in creative writing at the University of Iowa. She has written multiple books and publications and is an important figure n the second wave of the literary Native American Renaissance of the late twentieth century. Joy Harjo has taught at numerous U.S. universities, performed at poetry readings and music events, and released five albums of original music, playing primarily the alto saxophone.

Joy has collected many accolades over her career, including a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Native Writers’ Circle of the Americas. In 2017, she was awarded the Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize and in 2019, she was elected a Chancellor of the Academy of American Powers. Most notably, she was selected as the 2019 United States Poet Laureate, the first Native American woman to be so appointed. Today, Harjo is on the faculty of the American Indian Studies Program at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. She is the mother of two children.

Katherine Johnson

August 26, 1918 – February 24, 2020

Katherine Johnson was born in 1918 in White Sulphur Springs, WV.  She was the youngest of four children. She notably graduated from high school at the age of 14, showing skill for mathematics and science at an early age. She then enrolled in West Virginia State, a historically black college, and graduated with honors in 1937 at the age of 18.  She was the first African American woman to attend graduate school at West Virginia University and then subsequently began her career in math and science.

After completing her education, Katherine was one of the first African American women to work as a NASA scientist. She worked for NASA for thirty-five years, until her retirement in 1986, working on missions such as Freedom 7 and Apollo 11, and the first flight to the moon. She utilized her education to calculate orbital mechanics that made crewed space travel possible, pioneered the use of computers, and worked on plans for a mission to Mars. In 2015, President Obama awarded Katherine the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest honor that can be bestowed on a civilian in the United States. The 2016 film, Hidden Figures, portrayed the story of Katherine and her female NASA colleagues.

In addition to her career and accomplishments, Katherine was the matriarch of a family of three daughters, six grandchildren, and eleven great grandchildren. She spent her later years encouraging students to pursue education and careers in STEM: science, technology, engineering, and math. Katherine passed away at the age of 101 in February 2020.

Annie Leibovitz

October 2, 1949 – present

Annie Leibovitz was born in Connecticut, and raised by her two parents with five other siblings. Her family moved frequently, as her father was in the Air Force, and her interest in various art forms began when she was in high school in Silver Spring, Maryland.

Leibovitz attended the San Francisco Art Institute, where she studied painting with the intention of becoming an art teacher. At school, she had her first photography workshop and changed her major to photography. In 1970, after some international work, she started her career as staff photographer of Rolling Stone magazine. In 1973, Leibovitz became the chief photographer of Rolling Stone. Leibovitz worked in that role for 10 more years, and can be credited with defining the “look” of the magazine through her intimate photographs of celebrities.

She has continued her private work in photography as well as working for magazines and agencies, including Vanity Fair, The Walt Disney Company, American Express, and others. She has also done the official portrait of Queen Elizabeth II. In 2015, Leibovitz was the principal photographer for the 2016 Pirelli calendar, where she took a drastic shift from the calendar traditional style by focusing on admirable women as opposed to sexuality.

She has received numerous honors and awards for her work, including an Honorary Doctorate of Fine Arts, Rhode Island School of Design, the Paez Medal of Art from VAEA, and The Royal Photographic Society’s Centenary Medal and Honorary Fellowship (HonFRPS) in recognition of a sustained, significant contribution to the art of photography.

Misty Copeland

September 10, 1982 – present

Misty Copeland was born in Kansas City, Missouri, but raised in the San Pedro community of Los Angeles, California. She began officially learning ballet at the age of 13, and after only three months of study, she was en pointe.

Due to her family’s low socio-economic status, Copeland’s mother was unable to keep her in ballet without additional support. By being hosted and taught by a ballet teacher, Cynthia Bradley, Copeland was able to continue her study. By the age of fourteen, Copeland was the winner of a national ballet contest and won her first solo role. After only eight months of study, she drew 2,000 patrons per show in her performance as Clara in the Nutcracker.

In 2000, Copeland joined the American Ballet Theatre Studio Company. She received significant recognition for her roles in various ballets, and became one of the youngest ABT dancers to be promoted to soloist in 2007. During this period of her life, there were a handful of times when she became injured, or suffered stress fractures, and could not perform for a while in order to heal. However, upon returning to the stage, she continued to dance significant roles, and a “crowning achievement” during this time was her New York debut in the Odette/Odile double role from Swan Lake. On June 30, 2015, Copeland became the first African-American woman to be promoted to principal ballerina in ABT’s 75-year history.

In addition to her dance career, Copeland has become a public speaker, celebrity spokesperson and stage performer. She has written two autobiographical books and narrated a documentary about her career challenges. She has also written a children’s book, aimed at empowering young people of color.