Women’s History Month, celebrated each March, is a time to remember the women who helped shape our nation’s history and to shine a spotlight on those women who continue that progress today. In the best of all possible worlds, women’s history would be so much a part of our mainstream that a special month would not be needed.
But until then, celebrating in March allows us to reflect on the pioneering role our great state has played in women’s history — from Seneca Falls to the U.S. Supreme Court — and to celebrate some of the extraordinary women who have themselves been pioneers.
One of my own personal heroes is Eleanor Roosevelt, former First Lady of the United States, as well as New York State. Born in New York City, she was a passionate advocate for progressive causes and a devoted public servant known across the world as the face of human rights. She redefined the role of American First Lady and inspired people around the globe, but she was always happy to come home to Val-Kill, her beloved Hudson Valley home, the only national historic site dedicated to a First Lady.
Today, New York women continue to play pioneering roles. Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who lives in the lower Hudson Valley, is one of the most respected and accomplished women of our time. When she retired from her post earlier this year she had become the most-traveled Secretary of State ever. A former First Lady and the junior U.S. Senator from New York from 2001 to 2009, Clinton ran for president in 2008. A relentless advocate for women’s rights around the world, she inspires women everywhere as she defies assumptions and forges her own path.
When Sonia Sotomayor, the daughter of Puerto Rican immigrants, recently became the first U.S. Supreme Court Justice of Hispanic descent and the third woman on the court, she joined two other distinguished New York women, Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Elena Kagan.
These women know they stand on the shoulders of bold trailblazers who came before. Elizabeth Cady Stanton, another native New Yorker, organized the first Women’s Rights Convention in Seneca Falls, N.Y. in July 1848. Her Declaration of Sentiments, demanding equal rights for women in voting, the law, education and employment began the process that led to women finally securing the right to vote with the ratification of the 19th Amendment in 1920.
We have seen great progress in gender equity since then, but women today still earn less than men and hold fewer leadership roles in business. There are only five women governors in the country today. Women make up less than 18 percent of Congress and less than 25 percent of State Legislatures. In the New York State Assembly today, I am one of only 36 women of 150 members.
Our work continues: Governor Andrew Cuomo has announced plans for the Women’s Equality Act designed to end gender discrimination, ensure equal pay for equal work, stop sexual harassment in the workplace, protect victims of sexual violence and assure safe reproductive healthcare. Its passage would be a milestone for New York State.
Having spent my life advocating for women and girls, Women’s History Month holds particular meaning for me. Empowering, educating and encouraging girls and young women is essential to building a successful and prosperous society and it is critical that girls grow up seeing role models that look like them in every aspect of our community. This is why I spearheaded the creation of the Dutchess Girls Collaborative, served as founding chair of Girls Inc. of NYC and worked with such advocacy groups as the New York Women’s Foundation, Planned Parenthood, Women’s Campaign Forum and NARAL Pro-Choice New York as a former board member.
This March, I encourage you to take the time to learn something new about the role of women in shaping our state’s and nation’s rich history. To receive a women’s history brochure contact my office at 518-455-5177 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.