Virginia Nordby – Rotarian, Attorney

Screen Shot 2014-10-13 at 9.44.08 AMWhile studying for my Ph.D. in higher education management at the University of Michigan I took a law course taught by Virginia Nordby. The first day I walked into her class, I thought she was another student. She sat at the round table in the classroom quietly smiling and looking like someone’s grandmother. She was a charming, graceful woman whose passions slipped through the cracks of her teaching but rarely distorted her presentations.

We studied legal cases in a style similar to, although gentler than, most law schools. After a couple of classes, when Professor Nordby asked a question everyone would freeze, because we knew that it wouldn’t really matter what answer we gave; she would take the opposite viewpoint, and persuasively so, whatever we said.

We learned how the case was made for segregation through a carefully constructed series of court cases. We dissected opinions that affected education and then, when we had exhausted the topic, our professor would tell us the how the personal lives of the judges had affected their decisions. Without ever raising her voice, she enlightened us about injustices in the system, but applauded its logic. She showed us how universities really ran, and how they were molded by the law. In my future career as dean and Vice Chancellor, it was the most useful class from my doctoral studies.

In a classroom, it is not unusual to learn about the life of a professor, but Virginia Nordby did not reveal much. We knew she was in the same law school at Stanford as Sandra Day O’Connor and that women were not called on in class. Little else was revealed. We gleaned her passions from the cases she presented to us and our knowledge about her work for affirmative action at the University of Michigan but, unlike other professors, she volunteered little else

I was delighted—and not at all surprised—to find, while working on this First Woman To. . .Project that Virginia Nordby was a first woman. I learned that she was the first woman delegate to Rotary International’s Council on Legislation. The Council met in New Delhi, India that year, fitting since India was the first country to petition the Council to admit women to Rotary. In July of 1995 she was one of the first eight women to become district governors of Rotary in the United States.

As I continued my research, I learned that she was the principal drafter of the Michigan Criminal Sexual Conduct Act, labeling rape as a violent crime and protecting the victim. The language she crafted became a standard, used for countless other bills. She also served on the Women’s Commission, which analyzed Michigan laws to study how they differed in application and language between men and women.

It is fitting that she received the Susan B. Anthony Award from the University of Michigan and was inducted into the Michigan Women’s Hall of Fame. She is a model for all those women who quietly worked, and continue to work, for women’s rights. She is probably not atypical of women who do excellent work without bragging about their accomplishments.


Annika Sorenstam – Professional Golfer

Screen Shot 2014-10-09 at 8.33.01 AMI am struck by two things about Annika Sorenstam’s career as a golfer: her persistent rise from one first for women to another; and the fact that, even as late as 2003, she experienced discrimination because of her gender.

Annika was born in Sweden where she excelled in sports: she skied so well the coach of the national ski team invited her to train in northern Sweden; she played tennis so well she was a nationally ranked junior player; and, for fun, she also played soccer. She was only twelve when she started playing golf and, before long, golf was her consuming passion. She won tournaments in high school and was the first foreign-born freshman to win the NCAA Championship in the U.S. when she played for the University of Arizona.

Annika’s string of firsts in golf came through her performance and her earnings. A few highlights:

–first woman to record a score of 59 in one round and the first to end a season with a scoring average just below 70

–first woman to win the same major event in three consecutive years

–first woman to earn over $2 million in one year

–first woman to earn over $9 million in her career, then first to earn over $10 million, and so one until she became the first to earn over $20 million

–first woman to be the top earner in the European and LPGA tours in one year

And the list goes on.

She was also the first woman, since Babe Didrikson Zaharias in 1945, to be invited to compete in a PGA tournament. Even after all her achievements and, even though this invitation was extended in the modern era of 2003, some of the men of the PGA reacted negatively. Nick Price, the defending champion called Sorenstam’s presence a “publicity stunt.” Vijay Singh withdrew from the tournament saying Annika had “no business” competing with men, a statement for which he later apologized. Although she missed qualifying for the tournament, the press was filled with news of her graciousness.

In her second career Annika manages a golf course design company, a clothing design company, a company that provides personal services for athletes, a vineyard, and a foundation. She also runs a “boutique” golf academy where her sister, who also played on the LPGA Tour, is one of the coaches. Her persistence and achievements continue.

Diane Humeweta – U.S. Attorney, U.S. District Court Judge

Diane Humeweta is touted as an example of bipartisanship, having been nominated by a Republican and a Democratic President to serve as the First Native American Woman in legal positions. However, the facts (see below) show that politics rules

DIANE HUMETEWADiane Humeweta received her law degree from the school named for the First Woman To. . .become a Justice of the Supreme Court: the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law at the University of Arizona. A member of the Hopi Tribe, she served as Tribal Liaison and Senior Litigation Counsel in the U.S. Attorney’s office.

Later she headed that office when she became The First Native American Woman To. . .become a U.S. Attorney. She served in the District of Arizona from 2007 to 2009. Once again crossing paths with the Supreme Court Justice, her investiture was in the Sandra Day O’Connor Courthouse in Phoenix.

Support from Senator John McCain did not prove beneficial as she was removed from her position after Barack Obama defeated McCain for president. Earlier this year, however, President Obama named her The First Native American Woman To. . .be a United States District Judge. The vote to approve her in the U.S. Senate was 96-0 (a rare moment of unanimity in the governing body).

The twenty-one tribal reservations in Arizona are pleased to have a judge in the federal court who is a reflection of themselves. The workload is heavy as all felonies committed on reservations go to federal court. A national expert on Native American legal issues, Humetewa has instructed prosecutors and other law enforcement officials on the intricacies of this portion of the law.

It is interesting to note that, although Diane Humetewa is the first Native American in this position, she did succeed another woman, Mary Marguia. Marguia had been elevated to the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.


Arlene Violet – State Attorney General

ARLENE VIOLETArlene Violet was always a fighter so it was probably not surprising when she became The First Woman To. . .be elected Attorney General of Rhode Island. In fact, she was The First Woman To. . .be Attorney General in any of the United States. During her time in office she was honored by the U.S. Justice Department as the Law Enforcement Professional of the Year. Every Rhode Island police officer received a copy of a manual she wrote that then became a model for other states’ attorneys general.

Arlene Violet’s detractors called her “Attila the Nun” because of her earlier membership in a religious order. Even while a nun she protested the Vietnam War and led grape and lettuce boycotts, the hot issues of the day. For her work she was soundly criticized, much as the nuns of today in the United States who are being investigated by the Catholic Church for caring for homosexuals and pregnant women without forcing church doctrine on them. (See Time magazine for an editorial on this current event.)

When she was president of a daycare center, the local Catholic bishop locked the organization out of their building. Committed to the poor and oppressed, she risked excommunication to sue the bishop. After 23 years as a nun, she decided she could do more benefit to society as a lawyer. She practiced consumer, environmental, and developmental disability law.

Her legal endeavors earned her a place, along with Hilary Clinton, Sandra Day O’Connor and Ruth Bader Ginsberg, in the book The 50 Most Influential Women in American Law. She has written her own books: Convictions: My Journey and The Mob and Me with John Partington.

A true Renaissance woman, she had a talk radio show that placed her in the top 100 talk show hosts, wrote a musical, appeared on national television (including Sixty Minutes, Larry King Live, and Crossfire), and has a newspaper column that routinely points out the misdeeds of those in office. She teaches environmental law at Brown University and the Rhode Island School of Design. She has judged the Miss American Pageant and, coming full circle, appeared in the off-Broadway musical Nunsense.

Judith Rodin – Ivy League President

JUDITH RODINJudith Rodin was on the forefront of making education accessible to women. When she was a student at the University of Pennsylvania’s College for Women in the 1960’s, she was president of Penn’s Women’s Student Government. She led the movement to merge with the Men’s Student Government. From this merger a Student Committee on Undergraduate Education was formed in preparation for co-education at the College of Arts and Sciences. By the time Judith Rodin became President of the University of Pennsylvania in 1994, The First Woman To. . .be president of an ivy league university, there was no longer a College for Women at Penn.

After her graduation Rodin taught at New York University and then became a professor at Yale University. She served as head of the psychology department, then as Dean of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences and finally as Provost. As president of Penn, she focused on developing the community as well as the university, and formed alliances between the schools and businesses. During her tenure both the endowment and fundraising tripled and research funds doubled. Expansion of buildings and programs marked her era.

She has been on Forbes Magazine’s 100 Most Powerful Women list as well as the National Association of Corporate Directors’ 100. She is committed to high standards of governance by boards and believes that investing should not be confined to the wealthy.

She also believes that investing should contribute to the welfare of the world. In her book The Power of Impact Investing she promotes considering the impact of investments as well as their financial returns.

Living her values, she participants in global forums and efforts. After Superstorm Sandy in 2012, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo asked her to co-chair a commission on long-term resilience.

Not content with one first, Judith Rodin was also The First Woman To. . .become president of the Rockefeller Foundation. Her influence extends throughout the world in education, science and development.