Nevertheless She Persisted: Susan Burton, Margaret Dunkle & Geraldine Ferraro

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 the first 3 women, Susan Burton, Margaret Dunkle and Geraldine Ferraro here. 

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Susan Burton

Criminal Justice Reformer & Civil Rights Leader

After Susan Burton’s five-year old son was accidentally hit and killed by a car, she numbed her grief through alcohol and drugs. As a result, she became trapped in the criminal justice system for nearly two decades before finding freedom and sobriety in 1997. Just one year later, Burton founded a nonprofit, dedicating her life to helping others break the cycle of incarceration.

Susan Burton founded A New Way of Life Re-Entry Project (ANWOL) in 1998; starting with just one house in Los Angles, she initially found participants at the bus stop where former prisoners were released. ANWOL now operates five residential homes and provides resources such as case management, employment and pro bono legal services. ANWOL has provided direct services to over 1,000 women, over 75% of whom stay drug free and out of prison. ANWOL empowers participants through advocacy, leadership and community organizing.

Burton is co-founder of All of Us or None (AOUON) and the Formerly Incarcerated and Convicted People’s Movement (FICPM), both national grassroots civil rights movements comprised of formerly incarcerated individuals, their families, and community allies. In collaboration with UCLA’s Critical Race Studies Program, Burton launched the Employment Rights Re-Entry Legal Clinic which has grown to be the largest of its kind in Southern California.

Susan Burton has earned numerous awards and honors, and is widely recognized as a leader in the criminal justice reform movement. She is a past Soros Justice Fellow, Women’s Policy Institute Fellow and Community Fellow under the California Wellness Foundation’s Violence Prevention Initiative. Burton has served on the state’s Little Hoover Commission and the Gender Responsive Strategies Task Force. For her work, Burton was named a CNN Top Ten Hero in 2010 and received the prestigious Citizen Activist Award from the Harvard Kennedy School of Government. In 2015 Burton was named by the Los Angeles Times as one of eighteen New Civil Rights Leaders in the nation. Her memoir Becoming Ms. Burton: From Prison to Recovery to Leading the Fight for Incarcerated Women was released in 2017.

 

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Margaret Dunkle

Key Creator of Title IX, Champion for women & girls rights in education and health

Margaret Dunkle played a key role in implementing Title IX, the law that transformed education for women and girls, from athletic fields to graduate schools. Her groundbreaking 1974 report documenting discrimination against female athletes became the blueprint for the Title IX regulations on athletics.

Dunkle joined the Association of American College’s Project on the Status and Education of Women in 1972. Three years later, she became the first Chair of the National Coalition for Women and Girls in Education, which led the successful fight for strong Title IX rules.

In the 1980s, she documented widespread discrimination against pregnant and parenting students. As Director of the AAUW Educational Foundation, she commissioned the landmark 1992 study, How Schools Shortchange Girls. 
Dunkle conceived 1986 legislation that enabled low-income women to receive student aid without losing health insurance for their children. While President of
the Federation of Organizations for Professional Women, she worked with Senator Edward Kennedy on the 1980 Science and Technology Equal Opportunities Act.

Dunkle turned her focus to child development in the 2000s, when a family member was vaccine-injured, sustaining brain injury and developmental disabilities. She led successful 2007 efforts to require accurate developmental screening in Head Start programs and partnered with federal policymakers to ensure insurance reimbursement for such screenings. She recently retired after serving as Lead Research Scientist at George Washington University’s Department of Health Policy.

She spearheaded 2015 efforts to honor forgotten civil rights heroine Harriet Elizabeth Brown. In 1937, Brown, represented by 29-year-old NAACP attorney Thurgood Marshall, successfully fought for equal pay for African-American teachers in rural Maryland. Dunkle’s Task Force implemented three recommendations: naming a community center and stretch of state highway in Brown’s honor and commissioning a courthouse portrait.

Margaret Dunkle’s honors include induction into the Maryland Women’s Hall of Fame, and receiving the American Academy of Pediatrics’ Dale Richmond Award, Maryland’s William Donald Schaefer Helping People Award, First 5 Los Angeles’ Champion for Children Award, and Vice President Gore’s Hammer Award. Her papers are held at Harvard University’s Schlesinger Library.

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Geraldine Ferraro

First Female Vice-Presidential Candidate for a major party, Human Rights Ambassador & Activist (1935 - 2011)

Geraldine Ferraro was the first female vice-presidential candidate representing a major political party. Suffering multiple election defeats, she went on to serve as U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Commission on Human Rights.

Geraldine Ferraro first ran for public office in 1978 and was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives where she served three terms representing the 9th district of New York. Ferraro quickly rose in her party’s hierarchy where she was twice elected Secretary of the House Democratic Caucus. In Congress she focused much of her energy on gender equity in wages, pensions, and retirement benefits.

As the 1984 presidential primary season drew to a close, women’s organizations including the National Organization for Women (NOW) and the National Women’s Political Caucus, put pressure on the frontrunner to select a woman for vice president. In July 1984 Walter Mondale announced his selection of Geraldine Ferraro as his running mate. She was both the first woman and first Italian American to run on a major party national ticket and her candidacy was celebrated by feminists and immigrant communities alike. Ferraro faced sexism on the campaign trail, reporters regularly asking if she was tough enough to serve as commander-in-chief. On November 6, 1984 Mondale and Ferraro lost the election. Despite the loss, Ferraro was seen as having a bright political future; she ran for Senate in 1992 and 98 but failed to advance past the Democratic primaries.

In 1993 President Clinton appointed Ferraro U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations on Human Rights and in 95 appointed her Vice-Chair of the U.S. delegation to the Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing. In both roles she served as an effective voice for women’s human rights around the world.

Despite being diagnosed with multiple myeloma in 1998, Geraldine Ferraro remained politically active serving as a news commentator and working on the historic Hillary Clinton for president campaign in 2008.

Emily Davis