DoD Salutes Women's History Month
By Rudi Williams
National Guard Bureau
WASHINGTON, March 16, 1999 [For the Women's History Month web special (with graphics and related
sites), go to www.defenselink.mil/specials/womenshistory/.]
Women have come a long way over the last 200 years, moving from support roles to roles of combat and leadership in the armed forces, said Dr. Sue Bailey.
Bailey, assistant secretary of defense for health affairs and keynote speaker at DoD's March 8 salute to Women's History Month, said the annual celebration "has taken firm hold across America." Noting that this year's theme is "Women: Putting Our Stamp on America," Bailey said the word "stamp" refers to women's positive impact on American culture and society.
"Other women have put their indelible mark on America without fanfare, receiving public attention only occasionally for the work they do," said Bailey, a Naval Reserve lieutenant commander. "But our country has benefited from all of these women. She used the experiences and contributions of white, African-American, Japanese-American, Hispanic American and Native-American women to illustrate women's impact.
Aviator Amelia Earhart, she said, set numerous altitude, speed and distance records. Earhart became the first woman to cross the Atlantic in an airplane in 1928, the first woman to fly the Atlantic solo in 1932, and the first woman to fly nonstop across the United States in 1935. She received the Distinguished Flying Cross and was lost over the Pacific during an around-the-world flight in 1937.
"She left a clear stamp on all of our imaginations," Bailey said. "The choices she made with her life also helped change America's notion of what a woman could do when give the full opportunity."
Some women, Bailey continued, made their own opportunities, like Sojourner Truth, an escaped slave who couldn't read or write, who spoke eloquently for the abolition of slavery before large public gatherings.
"She persuasively challenged America to live up to its promise of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness for all, including blacks and women," the doctor said. She traveled from Massachusetts to Kansas before the Civil War. "She electrified audiences with her booming voice and her perfect language. Sojourner Truth galvanized audiences and altered the thinking of many who had a chance to hear her forceful words," Bailey said.
While growing up in Japanese-American areas in California in the 1920s and '30s, Yoshiko Uchida realized there were no books about children like her, Bailey said. Uchida decided to write one -- and ended up writing 28 books about Japanese-American children and their experiences.
"Her most famous is still the popular 'Journey to Topaz' that recounts her family's internment during World War II," Bailey noted. "The messages of her life helped thousands of Asian Americans growing up in two different cultures feel pride in what and who they are. In most recent years, Yoshiko Uchida books have helped ease the transition for two generations of Southeast Asian immigrants to the United States."
Bailey said American Indian Ada Deer, former assistant secretary of Indian affairs in the Department of the Interior, put her stamp on America by making outstanding contributions to her tribe and the nation.
In 1973, when new legislation threatened to strip the Menominee Indian tribe of federal recognition, Deer organized a lobby and successfully reversed the tide with the Menominee Restoration Act, Bailey said.
"Ada Deer is clearly a modern day hero," Bailey said. "[Her] actions 25 years ago not only benefited her own people, but also ended the threat of tribal termination as a federal policy forever."
She said Hispanic-American Grace Olivares' social activism positively impacted the lives of many in the Southwest. A high school dropout, Olivares was the first woman disc jockey in Phoenix, Ariz., in the 1950s. At age 42, she became the first woman graduate of the Notre Dame University law school and went on to become director of the Office of Economic Opportunity. She later founded her own television and public relations businesses in New Mexico.
Chinese-American Maya Lin's launched her career when her entry won unanimously over 14,000 other designs for the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, Bailey said. Lin has since been commissioned to design the Civil Rights Memorial in Montgomery, Ala., and monuments, buildings and installations in Pennsylvania, North Carolina, New York and other states.
"These are markers that have helped define America's architectural design and consciousness in the late 20th century," Bailey said.
Military women like Army Dr. (Lt. Col.) Rhonda Cornum have left an indelible stamp on the armed forces of America, Bailey said. Flight surgeon Cornum and two other helicopter crew members survived a crash behind enemy lines while returning from a rescue mission during the Gulf War. Suffering from two broken arms, a smashed knee and a bullet wound, she was taken prisoner by Saddam Hussein's Republican Guard. Cornum is now a staff urologist at Eisenhower Army Medical Center at Fort Gordon, Ga.
"She has blown away the current myth of women unable to cope in combat," Bailey said. "I say 'current,' because over 400 American military women were killed during World War II and 88 were taken prisoner of war."
Bailey said celebrating Women's History Month "helps remind us of the many women who have contributed to the opportunities all of us enjoy here today."
Navy Command Master Chief Donna A. Williams spoke about enlisted women's contributions to the Navy. Stephanie L. Gunn, 11, read her award winning DoD-sponsored Women's History Month essay. She's a sixth grader at Washington's John Tyler Elementary School.
The observance ceremony was hosted by Francis M. Rush Jr., principal deputy assistant secretary of defense for force management and personnel, and William E. Leftwich III, deputy assistant secretary of defense for equal opportunity.