Nevertheless She Persisted: Loretta J. Ross, Angelica Salas & Linda Spoonster Schwartz

March is Women's History Month and each year, the National Women's History Project chooses a theme and honors women that embody that theme. This year's theme is Nevertheless She Persisted: Honoring Women Who Fight All Forms of Discrimination Against Women. 

This theme presents the opportunity to honor women who have shaped America’s history and its future through their tireless commitment to ending discrimination against women and girls. The theme embodies women working together with strength, tenacity and courage to overcome obstacles and achieve joyful accomplishments. The NWHP has chosen 15 outstanding women for their unrelenting and inspirational persistence, and for understanding that, by fighting all forms of discrimination against women and girls, they have shaped America’s history and our future. 

Their lives demonstrate the power of voice, of persistent action, and of believing that meaningful and lasting change is possible in our democratic society. Through this theme, we celebrate women fighting not only against sexism, but also against the many intersecting forms of discrimination faced by American women including discrimination based on race and ethnicity, class, disability, sexual orientation, veteran status, and many other categories. From spearheading legislation against segregation to leading the reproductive justice movement, our 2018 honorees are dismantling the structural, cultural, and legal forms of discrimination that for too long have plagued American women. 

This month, we will be spotlighting all 15 honorees in a series. Meet 3 women trailblazers, honorees Loretta J. Ross, Angelica Salas & Linda Spoonster Schwartz here. 

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Loretta J. Ross

Dedicated career to feminist issues with a focus on women of color. Creator of the theory of Reproductive Justice, adding a human rights framework to include everyone in reproductive rights issues. Rape survivor and survivor of sterilization abuse.

Loretta Ross has dedicated her career to feminist issues with a focus on women of color. She helped create the theory of Reproductive Justice, adding a human rights framework to include everyone in reproductive rights issues. Ross is a rape survivor and survivor of sterilization abuse.

Loretta J. Ross launched her feminist career in the 1970s as director of the D.C. Rape Crisis Center, one of the first centers primarily run by and for women of color. She launched the Women of Color Program for the National Organization for Women (NOW) in the 1980s, and was national program director of the National Black Women’s Health Project. She was the Program Research Director at the Center for Democratic Renewal/National Anti-Klan Network where she led projects researching hate groups, and working against all forms of bigotry. She founded and led the National Center for Human Rights Education (NCHRE) from 1996-2004.

In 1994 Ross co-created the theory of Reproductive Justice. She was National Co-Director of the April 25, 2004 March for Women’s Lives in Washington D.C., the largest protest march in U.S. history at that time with 1.15 million participants. Rosswas the National Coordinator of the SisterSong Women of Color Reproductive Justice Collective from 2005-2012 where she combined a self-help approach to internalized oppression with a human rights approach to structural inequity.

Ms. Ross has appeared on numerous media outlets including CNN, BET, the New York Times, Time MagazineThe Los Angeles Times, and the Washington Post, among others. She co-authored Undivided Rights: Women of Color Organize for Reproductive Justice in 2004. She released two books in 2017, Radical Reproductive Justice and Reproductive Justice: An Introduction, co-written with Rickie Solinger. Her next book, Calling In the Calling Out Culture, is scheduled for publication in 2018.

She is a Visiting Professor teaching courses on white supremacy, reproductive justice, and calling in practices at Hampshire College for the 2017-2018 academic year. Loretta Ross holds a B.A. from Agnes Scott College in Women’s Studies.

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Angelica Salas

Angelia Salas is a key strategist and leader in the national movement for immigrant rights and policy reform.

Angelia Salas is a key strategist and leader in the national movement for immigrant rights and policy reform. She works at the local, state, and national level to build coalitions among unions, faith groups, and students and seeks to give voice to the lives and experiences of individual immigrants. Salas is also working to recruit and train the next generation of activists.

Since becoming Executive Director of the Center for Humane Immigrant Rights (CHIRLA) in 1999, Angelica Salas has spearheaded several ambitious campaigns locally, state-wide, and nationally. She helped California become a pro-immigrant state by winning in-state tuition and financial aid for undocumented immigrant students and established day laborer job centers that have served as a model for the rest of the nation. She led efforts to allow all California drivers to obtain a driver license and is a leading spokesperson on federal immigration policy as an active member of FIRM (Fair Immigrant Rights Movement) and RIFA (Reform Immigration FOR America).

Under Salas’s leadership, CHIRLA and its partners across the country have built the foundation for the upsurge in immigrant rights activism. As part of FIRM, Salas helped convene a coalition of organizations in California and across the country which have successfully mobilized millions of immigrants to demand comprehensive immigration reform including legalization with a path to citizenship, family reunification, and the protection of civil and labor rights.

One of Salas’s greatest accomplishments at CHIRLA has been the transformation of a coalition of social service providers into an organization that empowers immigrants to engage in advocacy on their own behalf. In this respect, she has blazed a pioneering trail among immigrant coalitions around the country and has propelled other immigrant rights groups to follow her lead.

She comes by her understanding of the immigrant experience firsthand. As a five-year-old, Angelica Salas came to the U.S. from Mexico to rejoin her parents who had come to the U.S. to find work and better provide for their family.

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Linda Spoonster Schwartz

One of the nation’s leading veterans’ advocates, focusing especially on the unmet needs of women veterans. The Honorable Linda Spoonster Schwartz has served our country, since 1967, as an Air Force Nurse, veteran advocate and public servant.

Linda Spoonster Schwartz overcame a military injury to become one of the nation’s leading veterans’ advocates, focusing especially on the unmet needs of women veterans. The Honorable Linda Spoonster Schwartz has served our country, since 1967, as an Air Force Nurse, veteran advocate and public servant. After 16 years of Military Service, she was medically retired after sustaining injuries in a 1983 aircraft accident, while serving as a USAF Flight Nurse. She looked to the Veterans Administration (VA) for help but found a pervasive attitude of neglect toward women veterans (inadequate facilities, lack of privacy, and physicals that didn’t include breast or gynecological exams). Inspired to make a difference and impervious to her injuries, she earned a Master’s from Yale School of Nursing and Doctorate in Public Health from Yale School of Medicine.

Schwartz has testified over 24 times on women veteran issues before both Houses of Congress. She spearheaded legislative efforts to authorize VA’s “Center for Women Veterans”.  As Chair of VA’s Advisory Committee on Women Veterans, she emerged as a credible leader-champion for equal benefits, care, and services for women veterans.

Schwartz served as Connecticut Commissioner/Commandant of Veterans Affairs (2003-2014) focusing on improving programs for women veterans, homeless veterans, and mental health services. In 2013, President Obama nominated her to be Assistant Secretary of Veteran Affairs for Policy and Planning where she continued to fight for issues such as veteran suicide prevention, and survivors of military sexual trauma.

She has served on the National Boards of the American Nurses Association, Vietnam Veterans of America, and the Vietnam Women’s Memorial. She is the first and only woman elected President of the National Association of State Directors of Veteran Affairs. Among her many honors are being inducted into the American Academy of Nursing, National Commendation Medal of Vietnam Veterans of America for “Justice, Integrity, and Meaningful Achievement” and both the Ohio and Connecticut Veterans Hall of Fame. After leaving Federal Service, Dr. Schwartz returned to Connecticut where she has resumed many of her veteran advocacy activities.

Emily Davis