Nevertheless She Persisted: Arlene B. Mayerson, Pauli Murray & Elizabeth Peratrovich

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 Arlene B. Mayerson, Pauli Murray & Elizabeth Peratrovich here. 


Arlene B. Mayerson

Leading attorney in disability rights law, Key role negotiating the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)

For over 35 years Arlene Mayerson has been a leading attorney in disability rights law, including playing a key role in drafting and negotiating the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and amendments to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), litigating precedent-setting disability rights cases and teaching disability rights law.

Arlene B. Mayerson has been Directing Attorney of the Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund since 1981. In addition to her behind the scenes role developing language for the provisions of the ADA and its legislative history, Mayerson provided expert testimony before several Congressional committees with jurisdiction over the ADA and filed comments on the Department of Justice ADA regulations for over 500 disability rights organizations. Mayerson has also litigated historic disability rights cases, including precedent for the inclusion of public school children with disabilities in general education classrooms, and the landmark Netflix decision that internet-only businesses are covered by the ADA. She has also provided representation, consultation to counsel, and coordination of amicus briefs on key disability rights cases before the U.S. Supreme Court.

Mayerson was appointed by the Secretary of the U.S. Department of Education to the Civil Rights Reviewing Authority, responsible for reviewing the civil rights decisions of the department. She is a John and Elizabeth Boalt lecturer in disability law at the University of California, Berkeley (Boalt Hall), and serves on the Advisory Committee of The Impact Fund. Her several awards and honors include the Spirit of Independence Leading Advocate Award from the Center for Independent Living (1993), the American Diabetes Association Public Policy Award (1997), the John and Elizabeth Boalt Lecturer Award (2013), the Henry Viscardi Achievement Award (2015), the Starkloff Disability Institute’s Open Door Award (2015), and the ABA Paul G. Hearne Award for Disability Rights (2016).

She has published many articles on disability rights and is the author of a comprehensive three-volume treatise on the ADA: Americans with Disabilities Act Annotated-Legislative History, Regulations & Commentary (Clark Boardman Callaghan, 1994). Arlene Mayerson received her LL.M. from Georgetown University, J.D. from Boalt Hall, and B.S. from Boston University.


Pauli Murray

(1910-1985)  Civil rights and women’s rights activist, accomplished attorney, author, activist, academic, and spiritual leader.

Pauli Murray was a civil rights and women’s rights activist decades ahead of her time. Facing lifelong discrimination based on her race and sex, she persisted and became an accomplished attorney, author, activist, academic, and spiritual leader.

Pauli Murray was extremely bright as a child, she finished first in her class at Howard Law School where she was the only female student. Despite her academic prowess, she was denied admission to UNC graduate school in 1938 due to her race and denied a fellowship to Harvard Law in 1944 due to her sex. She went on to be the first African-American awarded a law doctorate from Yale (1965) and later became the first African-American woman to be ordained an Episcopal priest (1977).

Murray was a critical figure in both the civil rights and women’s rights movements. In 1940, fifteen years before Rosa Parks, Murray was arrested for sitting in the whites only section of a Virginia bus. She coined the term “Jane Crow” referring to the intersecting discrimination faced by African American women and was highly critical of sexism within the civil rights movement. JFK appointed her to the Presidential Commission on the Status of Women (1961) and she was a co-founder of the National Organization for Women (NOW) in 1966. Many of Murray’s legal theories were decades ahead of their time and she is considered a pioneer of women’s employment rights. Her papers while a Howard law student arguing against segregation were used over a decade later in the landmark Brown v. Board of Education case (1955). Similarly, in the early 60s she argued that the 14th amendment forbade sex discrimination, a full ten years before the U.S. Supreme Court came to the same finding in Reed v. Reed (1971).

Pauli Murray died in 1985. The Episcopal Church honored her as one of its Holy Women in 2012. In 2016 Yale University announced it would name a residential college after Murray, and that same year her family home in Durham, NC was designated a National Historic Landmark by the National Park Service.


Elizabeth Peratrovich

(Kaaxal.gat)(1911-1958) Alaska Native of the Tlingit nation, Civil rights leader ahead of her time. Her activism led to passage of the Alaska Territory’s first anti-discrimination act (1945).

An Alaska Native of the Tlingit nation, Elizabeth Peratrovich was a civil rights leader ahead of her time. Her activism led to passage of the Alaska Territory’s first anti-discrimination act (1945).

Elizabeth Peratrovich grew up in a small Alaska village and was orphaned at a young age. She and her husband Roy, also of the Tlingit nation, had three children and moved to Juneau seeking more opportunities.

During the 1940s Juneau was segregated; the Peratroviches, previously having lived in small mostly native towns, were shocked at the levels of discrimination. Signs in shops and public facilities reading “No dogs or natives allowed” were all too common. Neighborhoods and schools were segregated and it was difficult for Alaska Natives to secure good jobs. As a leader of the Alaska Native Sisterhood she refused to tolerate the second-class treatment and petitioned the territorial governor to end segregation. An Anti-Discrimination Act failed to pass the Territorial Legislature in 1943. Peratrovich continued to lobby for civil rights and in 1945 the law again came for a vote. Peratrovich was the last to testify saying in part “I would not have expected that I, who am barely out of savagery, would have to remind gentlemen with five thousand years of recorded civilization behind them, of our Bill of Rights.” She eloquently spoke of the personal hardships experienced by her children and her community as a result of segregation. Her impassioned testimony and tireless lobbying efforts are credited with securing the legislation’s passage. On February 16, 1945 the Alaska Territory passed an anti-discrimination act to protect the civil rights of Alaska Natives. The law was the first of its kind nationwide and passed a full 19 years before the US Congress passed the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Elizabeth Peratrovich died of cancer in 1958. She has received numerous posthumous honors; In 1988 the Alaska Legislature declared February 16 as Elizabeth Peratrovich day, the Alaska Native Sisterhood established an award in her name, and in 1992 a gallery of the Alaska State Capitol was named in her honor.


Emily Davis