Hillsborough establishes Women's Hall of Fame listen03/16/11 Kate Bradshaw
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March is Women’s History Month, a time when local, national and international leaders examine the profound, yet often unsung impact women have had on the course of events. Hillsborough County used the observance to establish a Women’s Hall of Fame that celebrates local women who fought against unfair social and political barriers.
Harvard historian Laurel Thatcher Ulrich coined the well-known phrase “well-behaved women seldom make history.” She wrote it in a scholarly article about Puritan funeral rites, but women now embrace it as a call to challenge conventional gender roles. The inaugural inductees into the Hillsborough County Women’s Hall of Fame were known for defying social norms. One of these was Mary Cash, who was awarded the honor posthumously. Cash was a parental figure for Patricia Doby, who called Cash a trailblazer.
"Mary Cash was the first black registered nurse in the state of Florida. She worked at Alafia hospital as supervisor for 30 years and then she was the first black nurse in the emergency room at Tampa General. I'm a nurse and I was a nurse for 44 years so it sort of runs in the family."
Today, ten women were inducted into the hall of fame, which will be on display at the Tampa Convention Center. Hillsborough County Commission on the Status of Women Chair Yvonne Fry said the list has an ethically diverse range of women from all kinds of backgrounds who have one thing in common:
"Whatever it took was their attitude and buck the status quo and made significant impacts and contributions to our county."
Fry said the Women’s Hall of Fame intends to commemorate those who challenged racial and gender barriers. It also aims to inspire those who are growing up in an era where a girl won’t raise eyebrows if she says she aspires to become a doctor of secretary of state.
"I just think for inspiration for women and the young girls coming up for them to see what's possible where it wasn't possible a short time ago."
Another inductee is Hillsborough Clerk of the Circuit Court Pat Frank. Fry said she was an easy choice.
"She is currently serving as Clerk of the Court here in Hillsborough County. She has done so much and still, in her 80's I believe, is making changes and making a difference here in our county."
Another was Sandy Freedman, who in 1986 became Tampa’s first female mayor.
"This is an old city in the United States, and that accomplishment absolutely needed to be recognized and explored and for other younger girls, as I said, that are considering public service to see how a woman can manage and lead and inspire and shape a city and a community."
The other inductees are Betty Castor, Helen Gordon Davis, Cecile Essrig, Clara Frye, Adela Gonzmart, Sylvia Rodriguez Kimball, and Sadie Martin. Commission member Joanne Lighter said women in Hillsborough women seem to have a particularly strong influence at the state level.
"We have the first female elected official in the Florida Legislature came from Hillsborough. The first female Cabinet member was Betty Castor. She came from Hillsborough. Our first Attorney General is Pam Bondi, she came from Hillsborough."
While the Commission on the Status of Women highlighted what women have accomplished in Hillsborough County, the group tempers its optimism with the message that more needs to be done. Lighter is president of the Spring of Tampa Bay, one of the largest domestic violence shelters in the area. She said domestic violence in Hillsborough County has spiked, and that there have been 18 domestic homicides in the county each year for the past two years.
"Governor Crist released statistics last April. Domestic manslaughter was up 72 per cent. While crime, in general, is down crime in the home is up."
Lighter said there’s a connection between the recession and domestic abuse.
"It's because an abuser is about power and control. And if they can't control a lot those things they tend to focus on one individual and say 'you're the person who's making my life difficult'."
Asked whether she thinks the conservative backlash and the influence of Sarah Palin will cause a backslide in the status of women, Lighter said as long as women reserve their right to be heard, the answer is no.
"We have many dynamics to deal with and, you know, I thank Sarah Palin and I thank Alex Sink and I thank all of the women who step forward in this country to help us move forward in that discourse. Whether you agree or disagree, I believe women who really do speak out publicly, they are exercising their rights as an American to do that."
The Commission will hold awards breakfast May 26 at the Tampa Convention Center, where hall of fame will be on display. You can find more information at thespring.org.