A Legacy of Breaking Glass Ceilings

6 mins read

It’s hard to imagine the name-dropping at the recent National Women’s Political Caucus meeting could exceed the already impressive list of founders of this dynamic women’s political organization. Listening as an invited guest through the cracked Zoom door was a real revelation.  

Some of the original 1973 founders of NWPC National include Gloria Steinem, Congresswoman Shirley Chisolm, Congresswoman Bella Abzug,  and the President of the National Council of Negro Women, Dorothy Height. Steadying the helm of the Pasadena Chapter for the 2023-2025 term is Charlotte Bland, serving as president. The organization helps recruit, elect and appoint pro-choice women at all levels of government in five local cities.

“Nothing is impossible to a determined woman” is a quote frequently cited by Bland. She thanked all the mothers, teachers, leaders and inspirational women who paved the way for the ongoing fight for gender equality.

“I was a co-plaintiff in a class action lawsuit suing Henry Kissinger.”

Marguerite Cooper

Featured testimonials for the Women’s History Month celebration included Marguerite Cooper, who was in the U.S. Foreign Service fighting against gender discrimination. A member of NWPC since 1988, she is proud of the many women candidates she helped run for elections and appointments and of the lawsuit “Marguerite Cooper v. James Baker, Secretary of State” naming Henry Kissinger with discrimination.

“When I joined the State Department in 1956, female Foreign Service Officers had to resign their positions upon marriage and were restricted in their assignments and promotions. As President of the Women’s Action Organization, I was a co-plaintiff in a class action lawsuit suing Henry Kissinger for such discrimination and won. It made a world of difference for individual women diplomats and the strength of the U.S. abroad.”

Kimberley Leong‘s involvement in the women’s movement began in 1977.

“As a 19-year-old college student at Occidental College, I attended the 1977 National Women’s Year Conference in Houston, where I was inspired by the eloquence of Gloria Steinem, congressional trailblazer Bella Abzug, Congresswoman Barbara Jordan and many others. Often, there were challenges to what was considered acceptable feminist credentials. There were heated discussions about whether the concerns of women of color and others were being adequately represented by several prominent feminist organizations. I studied in Washington, DC and volunteered for the Women’s Campaign Fund, an organization much like WPC, where I met Congresswoman Geraldine Ferraro and Olympia Snowe, who were among the leading women in politics at that time. It was 1978 when women were seeking an extension of the Equal Rights Amendment. I became involved with the feminist organization they founded, the NWPC Greater Pasadena Chapter. I participated in many demonstrations, several of which were about reproductive rights for women like Take Back the Night, the oldest worldwide movement to stand against sexual violence in all forms. I organized a demonstration protesting anti-feminist Phyllis Schlafly’s appearance at Occidental College. I chose to attend law school and become an advocate of change within the system as a career prosecutor with the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office, a position I held for over 30 years.” 

“Girls had games like ‘volley tennis.’ It was played with a volleyball on a tennis court.”

Tammy Silver

Recently re-elected Pasadena City College Board of Trustees Member Tammy Silver spoke about listening to a female D.J. on the radio for the first time and overcoming the challenges of Title IX during high school.

I remember listening to the radio and hearing a woman disc jockey for the first time. Women’s voices weren’t heard on the radio—it’s hard for younger people even to imagine that. And women’s voices weren’t heard, especially when it came to sports. I attended high school before the passage of Title IX. We were passed over.

While the boys had competitive sports, playing against various high schools, being cheered to victory by spectators and cheerleaders and wearing letterman jackets, girls had games like “volley tennis.” It was played with a volleyball on a tennis court. I don’t think we even had archery. So, competition for girls in sports was extremely minimized.

One year, Covina didn’t have money in the budget for buses. So, I started riding my bike to school that year, and that’s when I started bicycling. But it wasn’t until I had children that I started riding my bike for long distances, and I worked up the courage to ride in a Century, a 100-mile bike ride and completed it. It changed my mind-set about what I could do, what I was capable of, and what my strengths were. I was with a group of moms from our school, and we dreamed of going to base camp at Mount Everest. We hiked all the mountains in Southern California, including Mount San Jacinto and the 12,500 ft. summit of Mount Whitney. It was grueling and long but beautiful and magical. We came back with strength and power and the drive to encourage our daughters, nieces, and the young women we know to attempt hard physical things and test your strength.”

Judith Harris joined the United Nations Association 23 years ago. Last year, she was awarded The Arnold Goodman Award, presented by the UNA-USA National Council to recognize and encourage outstanding longtime volunteer leadership among the chapters and divisions of UNA-USA.   

“I never dreamed I would be sitting in a delegate seat in the United Nations General Assembly.”

Judith Harris

“I thought that any connection to the United Nations was for diplomats, professors, politicians, and ambassadors. I had no idea that each person could make a difference and participate in the work via the U.N. Associations all over the globe. I never dreamed I would be sitting in a delegate seat in the United Nations General Assembly, listening to the Secretary-General. It’s just been a life-altering experience for me. I was a single mom working at a nonprofit. I raised two boys by myself, but I made time for UNA because I wanted to make a difference. Every person can make a difference from right where you are, wherever you are. I never dreamed I’d get an award.”

Judy Matthews recounted her family’s association with The United Brothers of Friendship, originally a benevolent order established in 1861 in Louisville, KY, which had both freemen and slave members. The organization later became a secret society with more than 60,000 members in various U.S. states, Liberia, Canada, and the West Indies. This membership included females referred to as the Sisters of the Mysterious Ten, organized as an auxiliary.

“My grandmother was part of the history of the United Brothers of Friendship and Sisters of the Mysterious Ten, a negro order organized in August 1861 in the city of Louisville, Kentucky. These women were like caregivers, midwives and similar to the underground railroad. They cared for women, men and children throughout the South. It’s a story that’s important to my family and me.”

Bonnie Armstrong: I happened to be in Florida, and the Democratic Convention was going to be held there in 1972. I had the opportunity to work with Shirley Chisolm’s campaign. It was very inspiring and exciting. That convention really spurred me to stay involved both in politics and in social justice movements. I ended up in Tallahassee and went to work for the state. Through a series of serendipities, I ended up working for Governor Reubin Askew, who was the first Florida governor to really bring the state into the modern era.

In 1975, he appointed me to an assistant’s position that no woman had ever had before. It was met with a lot of excitement by the women I knew; several of the men wanted to know who I was sleeping with. By the time he left office in 79, he asked me to help open the Washington office for the state of Florida, which I did. In Washington, there were lots of women in important places because people like Marguerite Cooper were doing the work. It was an interesting moment to break a glass ceiling in a governor’s office like that and then to go on and work for probably one of the best public servants I’ve ever known for six years.

Yvette Chapell-Ingram has worked with the African-American Board Leadership Institute to strengthen nonprofit, public and private organizations by recruiting and preparing African American professionals for a broad range of governing boards.

“I am the former president of the California Legislative Black Caucus Foundation. I worked with many politicians in Sacramento. Some days it was a blessing, and some days it was a curse. I am also the founder and president of the African American Board Leadership Institute. It was an organization born at a restaurant on the back of a napkin. Governor Jerry Brown was adamant about having African-American representation on commissions. Our work is still ongoing, and I’m still helping individuals get on various commissions and boards of directors. We don’t stop. We don’t stop at all.”

The youngest contributor to the Zoom discussion was Jasiri Jenkins-Glenn, Director of Community Engagement for Pasadena Community Access Corporation (Pasadena Media). The newly established position tasks Jenkins-Glenn with “broadening and enriching the organization’s community outreach by identifying, engaging, and amplifying voices that have yet to be discovered.” She is just beginning her glass-ceiling education with the group.

“I appreciate the full history here. Right now, I am supremely inspired by my Mom, my 13-year-old daughter, my mentor Paula Brandt Ellis, and lastly, Charlotte Brand. I got to see her in action at the NWPC’s 50th anniversary celebration. I’m a new director. I’ve never been a director before. I’m also young. It’s so inspiring to see women of all ethnicities, authentic women, just doing your thing.”

Further information about NWPC and the candidates they endorse can be found on their Web site.

The short URL of this article is: https://localnewspasadena.com/emua

Sheryl Turner

Sheryl is Local News Pasadena's Publisher and Pasadena Media Foundation's Founder. When not saving local news, she devotes her spare time to finding the best meatloaf in town.
Email: [email protected]

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