Nevertheless She Persisted: Saru Jayaraman, Marty Langelan & Pat Maginnis

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 Saru Jayaraman, Marty Langelan & Pat Maginnis here. 


Saru Jayaraman

National labor leader and researcher, advocate for restaurant workers, fair wages and working conditions

Attorney Saru Jayaraman responded to the 9/11 tragedy by organizing displaced World Trade Center workers and co-founding ROC United. A national labor leader and researcher, she helps restaurant workers mobilize with employers and consumers for better wages and working conditions through policy change, workplace justice campaigns, cooperatively-owned restaurants, and more.

Saru Jayaraman is the Co-Founder and President of the Restaurant Opportunities Centers United (ROC United) and Director of the Food Labor Research Center at University of California, Berkeley (the first food and labor academic research center nationwide). After 9/11, together with displaced World Trade Center workers, she co-founded ROC, which now has more than 25,000 worker members, 300 employer partners, and several thousand consumer members in a dozen states nationwide. The story of Jayaraman and her co-founders’ work founding ROC has been chronicled in the book The Accidental American.

ROC United is a leader in the ONE FAIR WAGE Campaign to end the two-tiered minimum wage system. The federal minimum wage for tipped workers remains only $2.13 per hour. Seven states, including California, have one minimum wage; ROC has demonstrated that these seven states are faring better than the 43 with lower wages for tipped workers. After moving about 200 high-profile restaurant companies to eliminate the lower wage for tipped workers in their restaurants, ROC is now advancing policy in other states to replicate the success of the original seven. ROC United is also a leader in conducting research on the restaurant industry; their findings detail pervasive wage theft, racial segregation and discrimination, and gender inequity.

Jayaraman has authored two books; national bestseller Behind the Kitchen Door (Cornell University Press, 2013) and Forked: A New Standard for American Dining (Oxford University Press, 2016).

Saru Jayaraman is a graduate of Yale Law School and the Harvard Kennedy School of Government. She has received numerous awards and recognitions including being listed in CNN’s “Top10 Visionary Women” (2014), recognized as a Champion of Change by the White House (2014), and she received a James Beard Foundation Leadership Award (2015).

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Marty Langelan

A leader in the global effort to end harassment and gender-based violence, “the godmother of direct intervention

A leader in the global effort to end harassment and gender-based violence, Marty Langelan is called “the godmother of direct intervention.” She’s an economist, martial artist, past president of the DC Rape Crisis Center, and the author of Back Off: How to Confront and Stop Sexual Harassment. She’s been derailing harassers for decades.

Langelan pioneered feminist self-defense training and bystander tactics, organized the first major city-wide anti-harassment campaign (1985-87), and conducted the first feminist survey on harassment. She recently designed the first effective harassment-prevention strategy for public bus/subway systems, training thousands of transit workers. Her self-defense and anti-harassment programs are used worldwide.

She’s taught hundreds of thousands of people how to interrupt sexist/racist behavior, reclaim jobs and neighborhoods from harassers, and shut down sexual predators. Langelan developed the Direct-Action Toolkit–more than 100 practical, principled ways to stop harassers in their tracks. Unlike legal/administrative remedies, direct-action works fast. These intervention tools are an efficient form of nonviolent civil disobedience, designed to disrupt the aggressor’s agenda. The direct-action techniques can even turn harassers into allies. 

Langelan provides violence-intervention skills for international human-rights organizations, anti-rape activists, environmentalists, and many others. She teaches kids how to stop bullies, and communities how to intervene to stop white-supremacist bigots.

In 1971, she filed and won one of the earliest federal sex-discrimination actions, tackling the sexist disparity in graduate student funding. As a young government economist, she founded one of the first Federal Women’s Committees, making the Civil Aeronautics Board reallocate its training funds and open upward-mobility jobs. She handled discrimination cases for federal employees (and won the DOT Silver Medal for creating the national system to rate airlines’ on-time performance).

As president of the National Woman’s Party (1999-2005), Langelan launched and led the massive preservation project to save Alice Paul’s headquarters in Washington, DC. She rescued the historic building, suffrage banners, and archives.

A lifelong activist, Langelan committed her first act of feminist civil disobedience 60 years ago, when she catapulted 30 second-grade classmates into action to stop a teacher from brutally humiliating a child. Even seven-year-olds can do fast intervention.


Pat Maginnis

First abortion activist in U.S. history

 Pat Maginnis was the first abortion activist in U.S. history. From distributing leaflets on a street corner to an illegal underground railroad of abortion services, she is an unsung hero in the fight for reproductive justice.

Born in 1928, Pat Maginnis was inspired to fight for reproductive freedom while serving in an Army hospital in Panama where she witnessed horrible treatment of pregnant women. Upon returning stateside in 1959, she immediately went to work for abortion rights. Her first efforts were distributing mimeographed leaflets on street corners in the Bay Area, but she quickly took a more organized approach.

In 1962 Maginnis founded the Society for Humane Abortion (SHA) where she advocated for “elective abortion” and argued that all women had the right to safe and legal abortion. The organization sponsored symposia for medical and legal professionals, provided literature to libraries, family planning centers, and individuals, published a quarterly newsletter, and operated a free post-abortion clinic.

In addition to her work with SHA, in 1966 Maginnis founded the Association to Repeal Abortion Laws (ARAL) to conduct unlawful underground activism. Known as the Army of Three, Maginnis and her colleagues Rowena Gurner and Lana Phelan conducted a systematic civil disobedience campaign at a time when even mailing literature about birth control was illegal. Through ARAL the Army of Three conducted self-abortion and contraception classes throughout the country. They coordinated an “underground railroad” linking over 12,000 American women with abortion clinics in Mexico. ARAL is considered a predecessor to NARAL Pro Choice America.

The Army of Three and SHA disbanded in 1973 following Roe v. Wade, the U.S. Supreme Court Case legalizing abortion. Rowena Gurner and Lana Phelan have passed on, but at 89, Pat Maginnis remains active in her work for women’s reproductive rights as well as animal welfare. An avid political cartoonist for more than half a century, in 2015 she was honored by Northstate Women’s Health Network in conjunction with Women’s Health Specialists Feminist Health Centers with a solo retrospective exhibition of her selected works.

Emily Davis