The National Women’s Hall of Fame hosted their induction ceremony in historical Seneca Falls, New York September 14, 2019. On the centennial anniversary of the ratification of the 19th Amendment granting women the right to vote, eleven women were inducted to the existing 265 inductees since the Hall of Fame was established in 1969. These women were selected based on their contributions of national or global importance and of enduring value. Among this year’s honorees were several brilliant legal minds, a molecular biologist, a composer, and a fighter pilot.
Hosted in neighboring Waterloo, New York at the Del Lago Resort and Casino, this year’s induction ceremony was different from years before. According to long time financial supporters of the National Women’s Hall of Fame, Jan and John Schultz of Warrington, Pennsylvania, security at this year’s ceremony was considerably tighter than in years past. Bag checks and camera prohibitions were solely attributable to the presence of inductee and sitting United States Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor.
The security presence was palpable for a miles-wide perimeter. Assisted by local Seneca County sheriff deputies monitoring the grounds and freeway exits were countless Secret Service members and less-than-secret plainclothes agents flanking the Justice. Sotomayor was by far the most decorated inductee of the 2019 cohort and is the third woman to sit on the Supreme Court. She told stories of her Hispanic heritage and the importance of family, reading, and education.
Present with her meaningful arrest record was inductee and one-time FBI Ten Most Wanted woman Angela Davis. Her presenter had a difficult time placing the medal on her neck due to Davis’ trademark Afro hairstyle. Davis, who told stories of having been brought up by her mother “in the movement,” was honored this night for her lifelong commitment to social justice. She never knew a life that did not involve research and rallies and being a voice for those who had none.
Also inducted this year was the crimson counselor herself, Gloria Allred. Appearing in her signature scarlet pantsuit, Allred was introduced by none other than Lilly Ledbetter. Ledbetter was responsible for the passage of the 2009 Fair Pay Act which created federal remedies for unequal pay. Allred met every expectation with her message of fighting back and winning by resisting, insisting and persisting.
Amanda Mena, recipient of Mel B’s Golden Buzzer on America’s Got Talent, provided soulful musical entertainment in the form of Aretha Franklin songs. Lesser known but no less important members of the 2019 cohort include molecular biologist Flossie Wong-Staal, who decoded the genetic structure of the HIV virus which led to pioneering treatments; Nichole Malachowski, the first female fighter pilot to fly with the United States Air Force’s aerial artists, the Thunderbirds; and Laurie Spiegel who composes electronic music and is featured on NASA’s golden album that is presently in space aboard the Voyager spacecraft as well as in The Hunger Games soundtrack.
Like moths to a flame the Vietnam veterans came out in force to protest the induction of Jane Fonda. Rumors have flown for years that Fonda was indicted for treason in and benefited from a presidential pardon shortly after a sizable monetary donation from her silver screen star father, Henry Fonda. None of this is historically accurate however. Her arrest record boasts but one entry for drug trafficking and these charges were quickly dropped when the pills were determined to be nothing more than vitamin tablets. Fonda, who has been a polarizing figure for many years, has turned her efforts toward environmental justice and preservation of our natural resources.
A sense of humility pervaded the event. Despite their outstanding individual achievements the inductees collectively expressed surprise at being nominated and more than one admitted sheepishly to deleting her initial email notification of the award. Generational differences were evident as well – the younger inductees took the opportunity to thank the elder nominees for paving their path. The women of now have rightfully come to expect things that women who came before had to request from men. For example, 2019 inductee Rose O’Neill was a political cartoonist who worked during a time when there was no women’s restroom at the office and her paycheck had to be made payable to her husband because he was head of her household. O’Neill was prohibited from signing her first name on her cartoons because the newspapers were afraid to lose subscribers when the readers discovered that a woman was drawing the cartoons. Audience members heard advice to take what’s been earned and keep pressing further for equality because until all are equal none are equal. The age of empowerment is now and conversations among women are no longer enough to keep pressing forward. Conversations with boys when they are young and modeling equality for those boys is the way to ensure the future of the movement according to the panel.
Situated along the Finger Lakes viticultural area, Seneca Falls is the birthplace of the women’s rights movement. It was in Seneca Falls that Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Lucretia Mott, and 300 others gathered for the first women’s rights convention in 1848 where the group established their first priority as women’s right to vote. In 1923 activist Alice Paul championed the passage of the Equal Rights Amendment in Seneca Falls. The museum has outgrown its present location and looks forward to moving in to a considerably larger facility in the near future. President Kate Bennett welcomes the changes and looks forward to more changes including extending a welcome to the nomination of transgender women for induction. The historical Seneca Knitting Mill facility was unveiled to the inductees at this year’s luncheon and will provide space for lectures and events as well as increased exhibit space.
Plan your visit: https://www.womenofthehall.org/
Article & Photographs by: Sara Culver Provencio