March is Women’s History Month – Let’s Appreciate New York’s Inspiring Historical Women

February 28, 2012
New York State recognizes Women’s History Month. In the month of March, the contributions of women around the world, both past and present, who have influenced culture, government, education, medicine, the arts, sciences and more are recognized. Many of the women and events that have shaped women’s history come from, or occurred in, New York State.

In July 1848, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, a native New Yorker, organized and executed the first Women’s Rights Convention in Seneca Falls, NY. During the conference, Stanton drafted the Declaration of Sentiments, shaping women’s rights for future generations. The declaration demanded equal rights for men and women in regards to the right to vote, the law, education and employment. Her efforts helped grant women the right to vote with the ratification of the 19th Amendment in 1920.

First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, born in New York City, was known as an international spokeswoman for women’s rights. She started her career in New York State when she advocated for women’s rights and causes. As First Lady, she recreated the image of the office, and during her time in that role, pursued her own political agenda in ways no other First Lady had done before.

Evelyn Cunningham, a notable African-American woman, started working for The Pittsburgh Courier in its Harlem office in New York City in 1940. At the time, it was the most widely distributed African-American newspaper, and Cunningham was one of the few women involved in covering the early civil rights movement. She later served as an aide to Gov. Nelson Rockefeller in the 1960s; she was appointed director of the Women’s Unit, Office of the Governor. She also worked for Rockefeller when he served as vice president of the United States from 1975 to 1976.

Sonia Manzano, a native New Yorker, is the widely recognizable face of the children’s television series, Sesame Street. Since joining the cast in 1974, she has played the roll of Maria, a Hispanic shopkeeper. Manzano has won 15 Emmy Awards for her performances on the show and has been a tireless advocate for children and literacy. She has received numerous awards from many organizations, including the Association of Hispanic Arts, the Congressional Hispanic Caucus and the National Association of Latina Leaders.

Maya Lin, a Chinese-American architect who lives in both New York and Colorado, is known for designing the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C. In 1981, Lin entered and won a national design competition for the memorial while studying for an M.A. degree in Architecture at Yale University. More recently, Lin designed the Museum of Chinese in America, located in New York City’s Chinatown.

We also remember Geraldine Ferraro, who passed away in March of last year. Born in Newburgh, NY, Ferraro was the first female vice-presidential candidate in 1984. She was also a public school teacher, attorney and a member of the U.S. House of Representatives. While in Congress, she fought tirelessly for women’s and human rights. Her contributions to history will long be remembered.

Despite the progress on women’s issues that has been made in New York State, we still have our work cut out for us. A 2008 survey revealed that women earn 77 cents to every dollar a man earns. The numbers are even worse for minority women. Pay equity is clearly still an issue, but we are making strides to close the gap. Last year, the Assembly passed a series of bills to ensure that both genders are paid equally for work that is of the same worth (A.3690; A.6130; A.6448; and A.1780).

During Women’s History Month each March, we remember and honor the women of the past and present who have made real and lasting impacts in every facet of our society and who created a more equal ground for women to continue making their own great marks. I remain committed to honoring their hard work and further closing the gender-inequity gap.