Thiele: Celebrating Women’s History Month During a Historic Time for Women

March is Women’s History Month, a time when the contributions of women around the world, both past and present, are recognized. Many of the women and events that have shaped women’s history came from, or occurred in, New York State.

In July 1848, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, a native New Yorker, organized the first Women’s Rights Convention in Seneca Falls, N.Y. During the conference, Stanton drafted the Declaration of Sentiments which demanded equal rights for women in voting, the law, education and employment. Stanton’s efforts helped women secure 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 as an advocate for women’s rights and causes. As first lady, she shaped the image of the office, pursuing her own political agenda in ways no other first lady had done before.

Evelyn Cunningham, an 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 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, especially in New York City. 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.

Nationally, women broke down barriers and set record numbers across the nation in the 2012 elections. A record 20 women will represent their states in the U.S. Senate this year. Among them are the first openly gay United States senator, Tammy Baldwin, and the first Asian-American female senator, Mazie Hirono. In addition, former State Assemblywoman Grace Meng became the first Asian-American woman to serve in the United States House, and one of a record 78 female Congressional Representatives.

Born and raised in the Bronx, Sonia Sotomayor graduated from Princeton University and Yale Law School before working as a lawyer and judge in New York City. In 2009, President Obama nominated Sotomayor for appointment to the U.S. Supreme Court. She is the Court’s 111th justice, and third female justice.

This year, one of our nations’s most respected and accomplished women will retire from her post, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. She served as a U.S. senator from New York from 2001 to 2009, ran for president in 2008 and went on to become the first former first lady to serve in a president’s cabinet.