We have seven more amazing women to share with you for Week Two of Because of Her: Seal Celebrates Women. And make sure you go back to Week 1 if you missed it!
It isn’t a stretch to call Jackie Joyner-Kersee, the most decorated track and field athlete in Olympic history, one of the greatest athletes of all time.
Named after Jackie Kennedy, the family story is that her grandmother was sure she would be “the first lady of something.” Watching the 1976 Summer Olympics, Jackie was inspired to put all her focus on athletics. After being encouraged to switch to track instead of basketball by her college coach Bob Kersee, her career skyrocketed. Joyner-Kersee won three gold medals, two silver, and a bronze over the course of her Olympic career, becoming the first American to win a gold medal for the long jump and the first woman to ever earn more than 7,000 points in the heptathlon, and still holds the world record.
Joyner-Kersee retired in 2001, founding the Jackie Joyner-Kersee Foundation and helping to establish Athletes for Hope, both of which provide resources and support for athletics in the U.S. and abroad.
The last ruler of Hawai’i and its only Queen, Lili’uokalani’s story is one of a ruler who was devoted to her people and determined to fight the annexation of her country.
Before she came to power, an armed militia had coerced her late brother, King Kalakaua, to sign the “Bayonet Constitution,” which ceded their power to white American and European businessmen. When she tried to establish a new constitution, a group of officials supported by U.S. Minister John Stevens staged a coup, naming Sanford Dole (of the Dole Pineapple company) the first President of Hawai’i. Unwilling to risk the lives of her subjects, and under house arrest for treason after an attempted insurrection, Lili’uokalani abdicated the throne under duress and lived out her life as a private citizen.
A musician, scholar, and fierce protector of her people, Lili’uokalani was a tremendous supporter of Hawaiian culture and identity. She wrote more than 160 songs in her native language (despite it being banned for over a century after annexation), including “Aloha ‘Oe” or “Farewell to Thee,” which became the Hawaiian anthem and beloved cultural symbol.
Lili’uokalani did not live to see her language restored and her people’s first attempts to restore the culture and identity that was stolen from them by corporate greed and colonialism. However, the statue of her that stands in downtown Honolulu, often decorated with flowers by residents, is a tribute to her lasting legacy.
A professor at UCLA School of Law and Columbia Law School specializing in race and gender issues, Kimberlé Crenshaw is best known for coining the word ‘intersectionality’ in 1989.
Influential in the creation of the equality clause in the South African Constitution, she wrote the background paper for the UN World Conference on Racism and facilitated the addition of gender to their declaration. She is a founding member of the Critical Race Theory Workshop, the Women’s Media Initiative, and the African American Policy Forum, which delivers research-based strategies to combat racial injustice, gender, inequality, and other human rights issues, and makes particular effort to uplift all youth of color.
Although the concept of intersectionality was not new to feminism, it was not formally recognized until Crenshaw’s theory. Intersectionality describes “overlapping or intersecting social identities and their related systems of oppression or discrimination.” For feminism to be truly successful it must be intersectional, understanding how institutional prejudice damages and limits people in different ways. Intersectional feminism takes particular care to fight the historical (and modern) tendencies of the feminist movement that exclude and isolate women of color and queer women.
Because of Kimberlé Crenshaw and her work for justice, feminism is a better movement, and more and more women are finding the support and resources they need to fight injustice.
The first woman elected chief of the Cherokee Nation, Wilma Mankiller is best known for her programs to make the Cherokee self-sufficient, emphasizing that Cherokee values can help solve contemporary problems.
A disabled mixed Cherokee woman, Mankiller took an entry-level job within the Nation after participating in the Native American Occupation of Alcatraz and quickly rose through the ranks. Mankiller was elected principle chief despite reservations from the unusually male-dominated Cherokee leadership of the time, but handled her detractors and the sexism directed at her leadership with ease; when some particularly argumentative members of the council refused to stop interrupting her, she had off-switches installed in the council’s microphones.
Mankiller tripled her tribe’s enrollment, doubled employment, decreased infant mortality, increased education, and constructed housing, health centers and infrastructure. In 1990 she signed an unprecedented agreement, allowing the tribe to control its federal funding directly, and improved federal-tribal negotiations, which paved the way for today’s “Government-to-Government” relationship between the Cherokee Nation and the U.S. Federal Government. She has been honored countless times for her work, including with the Presidential Medal of Freedom. “What caused me to have faith in myself to speak up,” Mankiller said, “was that my desire to do something and contribute was stronger than my own fear of speaking up.”
For more wonderful quotes and information on her inspiring work, check out this interview.
Yuri Kochiyama’s life changed on December 7, 1941, with the bombing of Pearl Harbor. Practically overnight, she went from grade-school teacher to internment camp prisoner, as she and her remaining family were forcibly relocated.
Once freed, she and her husband Bill Kochiyama moved to Harlem in New York City. It was there, surrounded by her black and Puerto Rican neighbors, that Yuri began participating in sit-ins, inviting the Freedom Riders to speak at open-houses she held in her apartment. The momentum of the Civil Rights and especially the Black Nationalist Movement captured Kochiyama’s focus, and shortly thereafter she befriended Malcolm X, communicating with him through letters and postcards for more than a year. She was present at his assassination, and a famous Life magazine photo shows her cradling his head in her hands moments after he was shot.
Yuri became increasingly involved and radicalized in various components of the Civil Rights Movement. FBI files later labeled her as a “ring leader” of black nationalists and a “Red Chinese agent.” She was part of a group of Puerto Ricans that took over the Statue of Liberty to raise awareness for the Puerto Rican struggle for independence. She became a mentor in the Asian American movement that gained strength during the Vietnam War protests, and successfully pushed for reparations and a formal apology from the government for the internment of Japanese Americans. She continued to fight for numerous causes, such as the rights of political prisoners and nuclear disarmament. In 2005, she was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize.
Norma Merrick Sklarek
As the first African American woman to become a member and then a Fellow of the American Institute of Architects, Norma Merrick Sklarek was a designer of high-visibility, cutting-edge work, an influential mentor, and a bold trailblazer and leader in her field.
Her designs can be found in the San Bernardino City Hall, the Los Angeles International Airport, The Fox Plaza in San Francisco, and the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo. She was also the first black woman to form her own architectural firm, Siegel-Sklarek-Diamond, which was the largest woman-owned and mostly woman-staffed architectural firm in the U.S. After retirement, she served on both the California Architects’ board and as a chair of the AIA’s National Ethics Council.
Sklarek was an invaluable mentor for other women and people of color entering her field, and many other architects, like Michael Enomoto and Marshall Purnell, credit her with making their careers possible. Kate Diamond, a friend, mentee, and one of her partners at Siegel-Sklarek-Diamond, said, “All of us, and certainly Norma, carry the scars of opportunities that were closed when clients made assumptions that were unwarranted, but if you let that stop you, none of us would have survived at all, and Norma certainly wouldn’t have. . . She simply made up her mind to look at the good side of things and find a way around it. If one door wasn’t opened, she was going to open another one. And she did that consistently all the way down the line.”
The first woman and first Latina to hold the office of Surgeon General, Dr. Antonia Novello made the health of America her priority, improving care and fighting for the health of women, children, Latinos, and other minorities.
Born in Puerto Rico, Antonia Novello completed her medical degree at the University of Puerto Rico and the University of Michigan. Novello’s aunt died of kidney failure while Novello was still in medical school, inspiring her to specialize in nephrology, and she went on to set the national guidelines for organ transplantation. She used her position as Surgeon General to educate the public and push legislation on pervasive health issues, such as underage drinking, smoking, drug abuse, AIDS (especially in women and adolescents), childhood immunization, and improved healthcare for the Latino community. Dr. Novello is known best for her campaign against the tobacco industry, putting a stop to cigarette advertising aimed at children, and launching the Healthy Children Ready to Learn Initiative. She has held several positions of note after her tenure as Surgeon General, including the UNICEF Special Representative for Health and Nutrition, Visiting Professor of Healthy Policy and Management at Johns Hopkins, and Commissioner of Health for the State of New York.
Commenting on the factors that inspired her path, Dr. Novello said, “I want to be able to look back someday and say, ‘I did make a difference.’ Whether it was to open the minds of people to think that a woman can do a good job, or whether it’s the fact that so many kids out there think that they could be like me.”
Go on to Week Three >>