During my early career, I kept my eyes, ears and heart attuned and ready, waiting for a woman mentor who could guide me as I moved upward in higher education administration. When I became Director of Planning and was the first woman to sit in the President’s Cabinet at the college where I worked, I turned a deaf ear to the suggestion that “Someone should take minutes.” I smugly ignored the misogynistic insinuation, but secretly wished I had another woman to advise me about my behavior.
A few years later I became the first woman at my college to serve as Executive Vice President and CFO. It was only a few days after my appointment that I stood in my male-leathered office, dwarfed by the massive desk in one corner, and uttered something I hadn’t even realized I was thinking. “Shit!” I blurted out loud to the empty room, “I’m it!”
I created my own model for what a woman mentor should be and mentored as many women as possible—and even a few willing men. I earned my Ph.D. at the University of Michigan and became Vice Chancellor at Antioch University. At this point in my career, I no longer had much time to teach and rarely performed as an actor or musician, as I had in my earlier years.
Frustrated, I decided to convert my mentoring of women on a personal basis to mentoring by writing about women. One of my stories was a Finalist in the Pacific Northwest Writers Association’s Literary Contest, so I persevered. My spark of interest in First Women grew into a passion for their stories. I now write fulltime (with a little side trip last year when I volunteered as CEO of the Northwest Institute of Literary Arts). I collect First Women like a fan collects baseball cards. My mission is threefold:
–to celebrate First Women so they are not lost to history,
–to share First Women’s stories so they might inspire others, and
–to remind women of the work that still needs to be accomplished.
I have been fortunate to live throughout the United States. Raised in the South, ripened into adulthood by California sun, and honed as a professional in the Northeast and Midwest, I now make my home in Seattle. I have also traveled to several continents, visiting first and third world countries, and everywhere I go I meet fierce women who defy expectations. I salute those women and look forward to writing about more of them.
Nice to meet you today at the AWP Blogging session. “The First Woman To…” is superb. Thanks for doing this. Catherine
As a Docent at the Flying Heritage Collection I appreciated your comments on your visit to the FHC. As a father of two incredible daughters I make it a point to stress the women’s roll that is represented in the FHC’s collection. I am hoping it was also pointed out to you that a woman was a test pilot for the Messerschmitt 163 Komet and the Fieseler 156 Reichenberg. Her name was Hanna Reitsch, She was the first woman to test fly a Helicopter and she flew a Storch into Berlin under Russian gun fire to try and rescue Hitler. After the war she went on to a flying career with many awards and honors.
As for the Russian T34/85 tank there were women tank crews and tank aces. Two of the most famous was Aleksandra Samusenko and Mariya Oktyabrskaya. Mariya bought her one tank so the army would let her fight so she could avenge her husband’s death.
Thank you for adding all the extra details. We have this idea that women didn’t do anything before the Women’s Liberation Movement. I think this is largely due to the fact that so many of women’s stories were buried. During the world wars, women were responsible for some remarkable achievements as well as many smaller contributions. Thank you for your docent work at this special exhibit and blessings to your daughters. They are fortunate to have a father who encourages them.