Philanthropy Blog: Honoring Women’s Leadership

March 08, 2020

I’ve been thinking a lot about the power of women’s leadership as we enter into Women’s History Month and prepare to mark International Women’s Day on March 8. While many may debate the value of these special “months” I’d like to use the month of March to amplify the stories of women’s leadership throughout history. International Women’s Day will also celebrate the accomplishments of today’s women in technology, athletics, business, health care, and culture, and can ensure that those stories continue to be told with equal importance as their male counterparts. As the saying goes, if you can’t see it you can’t be it.

So what does women’s leadership throughout history look like? Women have been leaders in society, social change, the arts, business, and philanthropy (to name a few) for hundreds of years in the United States. Yet their stories often remain hidden, out of sight of the history books. This year marks the hundredth anniversary of Congress passing the women’s suffrage amendment. It’s a story we think we know well, with the names Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Lucretia Mott, and Alice Paul as the ones who appear in the history books. Even more exciting is the opportunity to dig deeper and learn more about the diversity of women involved in the movement. According to research and publications from Dr. Sally Roesch Wagner, the early suffragists interacted with native women and saw the political power and respect they received. Lucretia Mott spent the summer of 1848 with the Seneca Nation, observing clan mothers nominating tribal chiefs. The suffrage movement also has its roots in the abolitionist movement, and ties to the women who were early civil rights leaders, like Ida B. Wells (one of the founders of the NAACP) and Mary Church Terrell (the first African American woman to earn a college degree). It’s a complex story and one that deserves greater attention.

There are also women in all of our back yards who were active in the suffrage movement. These and other women leaders have been highlighted here in Boston by Mayor Marty Walsh’s creation of the Office of Women’s Advancement, which is hosting a year-long series of educational events to honor the work of those who fought for women’s right to vote and highlight their stories (made possible with funding from the Barbara Lee Family Foundation). Take a minute to learn about the Grimke sisters, who along with many others worked for abolitionism and women’s suffrage.

We have written several times before on this blog about the role of women’s leadership in philanthropy (Women in Philanthropy; The Power of Women in Philanthropy). Many of those same women involved in the fight for women’s suffrage were also leading philanthropists of the day, giving both their time and their financial resources to the cause. Alva Vanderbilt Belmont gave generously to the cause of women’s suffrage in both the U.S. and the U.K. (among other causes she cared about, including founding the Metropolitan Opera in New York). She worked to get votes for suffrage-supporting New York politicians, and even paid the bail for picketers who were arrested during protests. She used her Newport “cottage” Marble House for women’s suffrage rallies, and in 1914 hosted the Conference of Great Women there. She went on to fund the National American Women’s Suffrage Association and was elected president of its successor, the National Women’s Party in 1921. In 2016, on “Equal Pay Day,” Belmont was honored with the establishment of the Belmont-Paul Women’s Equality National Monument in Washington, D.C. Kudos to Marble House in Newport for highlighting Alva’s story throughout the house tour I took there recently.

This work links us very directly to the present day role of women’s leadership. The same Mayor’s Office for Women’s Advancement is marking the suffrage anniversary by calling for increased civic engagement throughout greater Boston, and celebrating the leadership of diverse women entrepreneurs, civic leaders, and philanthropists. Take a minute to visit the profiles of Extraordinary Women on their site. The Office is also calling attention to a variety of issues of importance in our communities, from the gender pay gap to childcare workforce and access.

I am inspired daily by women – past, present, and future – who lead by example. My colleagues and clients at Hemenway & Barnes are leaders in philanthropy, business, nonprofits, education, and more. My 16-year old daughter – and millions of her GenZ peers – confirm for me that the future is bright and that these stories matter. Take a moment in the month of March to pause and consider the impact of women’s leadership in your personal, professional, philanthropic, and community endeavors, and take a moment to honor and highlight their stories.

About the Author

Gioia Perugini is Associate Director, Family Office and Philanthropy Services at Hemenway & Barnes. She works with individuals, families, advisors, charitable trusts and foundations to provide a range of philanthropic and client services.

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