Recent news has brought to our attention women who are continuing to be first in their field of interest. They continue to make “Her Story.” Other women’s achievements continue to accumulate. We are calling these women—pioneers; we want to profile them in this month’s article.
Zora Neale Hurston has been newly re-discovered. She was born in Alabama and grew up in Eatonville, Florida, the nation’s first incorporated black township. Her somewhat idyllic childhood ended abruptly with her mother’s death when Hurston was 13. She needed to help support her family, so a series of odd jobs followed. She then re-entered high school at 26 years old (posing as 16 years of age, in order to graduate). Involved in the Harlem Renaissance movement of the 1920s, Hurston graduated from Barnard College in 1928. By 1935 she had published short stories, a novel, articles, and a collection of southern folklore. Hurston’s masterpiece, Their Eyes Were Watching God, was published in 1937. Her autobiography, Dust Tracks on a Road, was published in 1942 to great acclaim. Hurston died in 1960 and was buried in an unmarked grave. In 1973, writer Alice Walker, whose own work had been significantly influenced by Hurston, found the grave and commemorated it. After that, Walker was determined to help others to rediscover Hurston’s writing. As a result, we are now aware of Hurston’s anthropological research and resulting publications that provide insight into the oral cultures of African Americans. Her most recent book (published posthumously) was published in January 2020. It is titled Hitting a Straight Lick with a Crooked Stick and is an anthology of short stories. Some of the stories have been published before in other collections and other writing is new. Hurston is profiled in our book Her Story: A Timeline of the Women Who Changed America. She has been inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame.
Now let us introduce you to a woman of many firsts: National Basketball Association analyst Doris Burke has been called the “Lebron James of Sportscasters.” She was television’s first full-time female NBA analyst and her career now spans three decades. Burke played college basketball at Providence College, after being recruited out of high school. She was the leader in assists during her college days. Burke began her broadcasting career in 1990 as an analyst for her alma mater on the radio. By 1991, she was working for ESPN, covering the Women’s National Basketball Association games. She was the first female commentator for the New York Knicks and the first woman to be a commentator for a Big East men’s game. In 2017, she became a regular NBA commentator for ESPN, the first woman to be assigned a full-season role. Burke has been inducted into the Providence College Hall of Fame (the fifth woman so honored) and in 2018 she was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame and received the Curt Gowdy Media Award.
If Burke’s firsts didn’t WOW you, let’s share info about another talented woman. The triple threat: the first female tenured mathematics professor at Princeton, the first woman to receive the National Academy of Sciences Award in Mathematics and the first woman elected president of the International Mathematics Union, Ingrid Daubechies says Princeton should be ashamed that they didn’t have a tenured woman on their mathematics faculty until 1994. Her work on mathematical structures called wavelets is so important that the Daubechies wavelets are named for her. These mathematical building blocks are fundamental to the technology used to shrink digital images, movies and sound sequences. They are also used to reconstruct images – like those from the Hubble Telescope. Because she attended an all-girls school in her native Belgium, Dr. Daubechies never heard that women might be less suited to mathematics then men. The recipient of the 2019 UNESCO Women in Science Award, she now helps universities promote female mathematicians.
The second woman to hold the title of master cheesemaker, Pam Hodgson grew up on a dairy farm in Wisconsin. She didn’t intend to go into the cheese business but did major in dairy science at the University of Wisconsin. Then Hodgson did on-farm sales before taking a job at a cheese plant to help provide for her family. She received her cheesemaker’s license in 1996 and became a master cheesemaker in 2013. Her two master certifications are in fontina and Open Class Hard Cheese. Wisconsin has more than 1,000 licensed cheesemakers but only about 60 master cheesemakers. Hodgson says “I loved how cheese-making engages all of your intellect, and your body, too. It can be quite physical work at times.” She also actively mentors other women and encourages women to go into the cheesemaking business; her daughter is now a licensed cheesemaker!
In 2016, Carla Hayden became the first female and the first African American to be named the Librarian of Congress. The 14th person to be so honored, she follows individuals appointed as far back as 1802, two years after the library was established. Hayden began her library career in 1973 with the Chicago Public Library. Her undergraduate degree is from Roosevelt University and her graduate degrees – M.A. and Ph.D. – are from the Graduate Library School at the University of Chicago. Hayden served as president of the American Library Association in 2003-2004 and was the first African American to receive the Library Journal’s Librarian of the Year award. Appointed by President Obama as Librarian of Congress, she had previously served on the National Museum and Library Services Board (a position that requires Presidential nomination and Senate confirmation). Her many awards include multiple honorary doctorates.
Women participate and contribute to every area of our lives. These women pioneers, as well as many others, almost all of whom we have not heard about nor learned about in school, are profiled in our book, Her Story: A Timeline of the Women Who Changed America. Help us by continuing to tell women’s stories. Write women back into history!
Jill S. Tietjen, PE, is an author, national speaker, and an electrical engineer. After 40 years in the electric utility industry, her professional focus is now on women’s advocacy, worldwide. She blogs for The Huffington Post, speaks nationally on the accomplishments of women, nominates women for awards, and continues to write books (8 published to date), following in the footsteps of her bestselling and award-winning book, Her Story: A Timeline of the Women Who Changed America (written with Charlotte Waisman). She is a frequent keynote speaker as her positive energy and her ability to relate to the audience result in inspired and energized listeners. The recipient of many awards, her induction into the Colorado Women’s Hall of Fame in 2010 remains one of her most treasured.
Charlotte S. Waisman, Ph.D. is a national champion and advocate for women as a professor and keynote speaker. A corporate leader, executive coach, and facilitator, she conducts leadership workshops nationally.