Fall 2013’s First Women To. . .

THE MUSESI received the lovely grace of being able to spend the fall in Southern Europe. I enjoyed the quality of life and the freedom from the usual daily responsibilities, but I missed out on being in touch with the news from the United States. When I returned to a pile of magazines and newspapers that I had not read, I began to plow through them and discovered that there had been several firsts for women of which I had been unaware:

**In September, Nancy Gibbs, a best-selling author and essayist who comments on politics and values in the United States, became the first woman to hold the position of Managing Editor at Time magazine.

** Mylène Paquette of Montreal was the first women to row a one-person boat across the North Atlantic. Literally, this one doesn’t fit my listing of first women from the United States, but Time magazine said she was the “first North American woman to” and that certainly makes her American:

**Janet Napolitano has already appeared in the daily Women of Note twice: on November 6th, as the first woman governor to succeed another woman governor and on November 29th, her birthday, as the first Secretary of Homeland Security. Now she has another distinction: the first woman to head the University of California’s 10-campus system.

**Susan Westerberg Prager is the first dean and chief executive of Southwestern Law School in Los Angeles. Earlier in her career she was the first woman to hold the position of dean of the University of California at Los Angeles School of Law.

**Three women share the “First Woman To. . .” honors for being the first to pass the Marine Corps’ combat training course: Pfcs Julia Carroll, Christina Fuentes Montenegro and Katie Gorz.

***And now, Mary Barra has been named the first female CEO of General Motors. She is the first CEO of any major auto company and General Motors is now the biggest company in America headed by a woman.

***Janet Yellen still waits in the wings for Senate confirmation of her appointment to chief of the Federal Reserve. The word is her appointment will be approved before the end of the year. At that time she joins Christine Lagarde, managing director of the International Monetary Fund, as one of the two most powerful economic leaders in the free world.

If you know of any more firsts from the fall of 2013, please add them here, by clicking on the comments section.


Abigail Adams, First Woman to Live in the White House

This blog is dedicated to American women who achieved a first. Although my women of note come from every American era, my blog posts have all been about modern women. As Thanksgiving approaches, however, my thoughts go back to our country’s origins, so I decided to publish my first blog on a woman who is not from modern times. Abigail Adams’ achievement, first woman to live in the White House, may not seem significant. It was, on the surface, a result of her husband’s achievement and not hers. However, her partnership with her husband gives us an example of how the founding spirit of our country was able to produce so many “first women to. . .”

ABIGAIL ADAMSJohn and Abigail Adams were partners. They both worked; they both were engaged in politics; they both supported the revolution. John often wrote to Abigail seeking advice and Abigail freely offered her opinions.

Abigail Adams had been educated at home. She learned to read and write in the libraries of her father and maternal grandfather and exhibited interest in the classics and ancient history, philosophy and theology, government and law, and Shakespeare. When she married John at 19, she was already capable of managing finances and the overseeing the farm while John practiced law in Boston.

While the First Continental Congress met, John and Abigail corresponded about politics. John posed questions to her, and she reported on the news of the revolution. Even the Massachusetts Colony General Court solicited advice from Abigail. She was appointed, along with the governor’s wife, to question Massachusetts women about their loyalty to the British crown and to help determine who was working against the movement for independence. “You are now a politician,” her husband wrote to her.

This skill might have served her well as First Lady, but she found it difficult “to look at every word before I utter it, and to impose a silence upon myself, when I long to talk.” Newspapers recognized her influence with the President. Some lambasted the president for giving her too much influence; others lamented, when some foreign appointees did not suit them, that Mrs. Adams must not have been available for consultation. (Mrs. Adams’ absence from Washington occurred regularly as she still managed the family’s farm and business interests.)

John and Abigail Adams’ correspondence was contained in more than 1,100 letters. Abigail believed it was private correspondence but one of her grandsons published the letters in a book. When the letters were published in 1848, Abigail Adams achieved another first, the first presidential wife in a published book.

One of Abigail’s most frequently quoted letters to John is worth remembering today, “Remember the Ladies, and be more generous and favourable to them than your ancestors. Do not put such unlimited power into the hands of the Husbands. Remember all Men would be tyrants if they could. If particular care and attention is not paid to the Ladies we are determined to foment a Rebellion, and will not hold ourselves bound by any Laws in which we have no voice, or Representation.”


Bio on National First Ladies’ Library website:


Read the Adams correspondence: http://www.masshist.org/digitaladams/aea/letter/index.html

Watch the video biography at: http://www.biography.com/people/abigail-adams-9175670?page=3


Abigail Adams’ prediction about women fomenting rebellion came to fruition when women sought the right to vote in the late 1880’s  and again in the 1970’s when women demanded equality. Do you think another rebellion might be necessary? If so, why?


Madeleine May Kunin – Governor of Vermont

     As I study first women, I am beginning to see many shared characteristics: They often have more than one first to their credit; many come from families of strong women; they often help other women to be first; they speak out about issues of concern to women; and, they use their life experiences to form their successes. Madeleine May Kunin is an archetype for these women.

 MADELEINE MAY KUNIN     The threat of the Holocaust brought Madeleine May Kunin’s family to the United States from Zurich, Switzerland. When she was later appointed U.S. Ambassador to Switzerland, she confronted the Swiss about Nazi-looted Jewish assets, while maintaining the friendship between the two countries.

Before she sought public office, she was a journalist, World’s Fair tour guide and part-time college professor. Community activities, in particular those concerning women and children, were her passion. She served in the state legislature, was lieutenant governor of the state and later was elected governor. As governor she increased funding for education, worked to protect the environment, and created affordable housing. She also initiated a program to provide health insurance for Vermont children, called Dr. Dynasaur. She created the family court system and appointed the first woman to the State Supreme Court.

She served in the Clinton administration as a U.S. deputy secretary of education and took on the overwhelming task of serving on the president’s management council to reinvent government. She streamlined the management of student loans, began an office of education technology, and worked on the Educate America Act and the Safe and Drug-Free Schools Act. She also worked on environmental issues before being appointed as Ambassador to Switzerland.

Kunin has an impressive list of firsts: the first woman to serve as chair of the Appropriations Committee in the Vermont legislature; the first (and only) woman to be elected governor of the state of Vermont; the first Jewish woman to be elected governor of any state in this country; and the first woman to serve three terms as governor of any state.

Madeleine May Kunin has served as fellow at a number of prestigious institutions. Currently she lectures on women, politics, and leadership in the history and women’s studies departments at the University of Vermont in Burlington where she is the Marsh Scholar Professor-at-Large. She also serves as President of the board of the Institute for Sustainable Communities, a non-governmental organization she founded in 1991.

When she was inaugurated as governor, Kunin said she “felt a powerful link with the women in my family who had been strong in their time and place and would have achieved what I had achieved if the same doors had been open to them.”


Read a Bio: http://www.madeleinekunin.org/Biography.html

Visit her Website: http://www.madeleinekunin.org

Her Books: The New Feminist Agenda: Defining the Next Revolution for Women, Work and Family; Pearls, Politics, and Power: How women can Win and Lead; Living a Political Life, and The big green book: A four-season guide to Vermont.


Madeleine May Kunin described her inauguration: “As I walked into the crowded House Chamber. . .A group of women. . .were cheering from the balcony. The sound of applause—not just for me but for women rising to a position of power—reverberated through the hall, like the sound of an orchestra.” Have you ever experienced that feeling of connection to other women?


Dee Dee Myers – Press Secretary for the President of the United States

          I remember seeing Dee Dee Myers in a documentary-style episode of West Wing, and so I was not surprised to learn that she has said, “Never take it personally—and never lose your sense of humor.”

Screen Shot 2013-08-24 at 7.32.46 AM          Dee Dee Myers’ career has melded communications skills with politics. After graduating from Santa Clara University, she jumped into the political fray and worked on Walter Mondale’s presidential campaign in 1984. She became a field representative for California state senator Art Torres and an assistant press secretary to Tom Bradley, mayor of Los Angeles. In 1986 she worked on Bradley’s campaign for governor. When Michael Dukakis ran for president, she was his spokesperson. After he lost, she was spokesperson for Dianne Feinstein’s 1990 attempt to become governor of California. Then she was campaign manager for Frank Jordan, when he ran for mayor of San Francisco.

Her extensive experience with campaigns led to her position as national press secretary for Bill Clinton’s campaign for president, even though she was only thirty years old. This time the presidential candidate she supported won! When Clinton entered the presidency she was named White House Press Secretary, the first woman and second youngest person to ever hold the job.

After leaving her position, she became a political analyst and commentator. She co-hosted “Equal Time,” serving as counterpoint to conservative Mary Matalin, and  she served as a consultant to the seven-season drama The West Wing.  She writes for The New York Times, Time, O, Oprah Magazine, The Washington Post, Politico, and the Los Angeles Times and is also a contributing editor about political issues to Vanity Fair. Myers lectures on politics, the media and women’s issues, and is a managing director of The Glover Park Group, an independent communications company. In her spare time she wrote a best-seller, Why Women Should Rule the World.

And she does rule. In 1997 she was on Celebrity Jeopardy! with Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. and Jesse Jackson, Jr. And She Won!


Read an Interview with Dee Dee Myers: http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/americanexperience/features/interview/clinton-myers/

Find more information about her book at: http://www.deedeemyers.org

Check her out on Twitter: @deemyers


Dee Dee Myers argues that it is in our self-interest to include women in corporations and politics because, not only is it fair, but the world will be more profitable. Do you share this view?

Eleanor Holmes Norton – Congresswoman, First Chair of Equal Employment Opportunity Commission

          This week we commemorate the March on Washington and the Martin Luther King “I Have a Dream” speech that enthralled a nation. Eleanor Holmes Norton, Congresswoman from Washington, D.C. helped to organize that march.

ELEANOR HOLMES NORTON          Every day Eleanor Holmes Norton serves in Congress she fights a battle to represent her constituents. Although she represents more than 600,000 people in Congress, she does not have a vote because her constituents reside in Washington, D.C. She can vote on the committees where she sits, but that agreement, a hard-fought concession, relies on congressional rules that do not have the force of law and can be re-written at any time.

Congresswoman Norton was born in Washington, D.C. and raised by her father, who was a civil servant, and her schoolteacher mother. After earning her undergraduate degree from Antioch College and a master’s in American studies from Yale, she went to Mississippi. In the summer of 1963, she worked with the Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party. It was in August of that year that she helped organize the March on Washington.

She completed her law degree at Yale and the following year worked as a law clerk for a Federal District Court judge. She then worked as an assistant legal director for the ACLU in New York. In 1968 she was admitted to the bar of the U.S. Supreme Court.

She served as Mayor John Lindsay’s executive assistant and as chairwoman for the New York City Commission on Human Rights. She left New York when President Jimmy Carter appointed her to chair the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Selected by Jesse Jackson, she helped shape the platform at the Democratic National Convention in 1988, and Ebony magazine called her a “national Democratic Party power broker.”

Eleanor Holmes Norton is in her twelfth term as Congresswoman for Washington, D.C. and serves as the ranking member of the House Subcommittee on Economic Development. Since 1982 she has been a tenured professor of law at Georgetown University and she serves on a number of public service boards, including boards of civil rights organizations, the Rockefeller Foundation, and the Board of Governors of the D.C. Bar Association.

Her voice is strong, as it must be, for her constituents, although they pay taxes, have no vote in Congress. Even decisions of their local government can be overturned by Congress. Eleanor Holmes Norton is their only voice.


READ HER AUTHORIZED BIOGRAPHY: Fire in My Soul by Joan Steinau Lester, Coretta Scott King and Eleanor Holmes Norton

SEE ELEANOR HOLMES NORTON on “Colbert Nation:” http://www.colbertnation.com/the-colbert-report-videos/218575/february-11-2009/dc-voting-rights-act—eleanor-holmes-norton

FOR MORE on “District of Columbia Voting Rights:” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/District_of_Columbia_voting_rights


Has your voice ever been raised for others?