Building on the legacy of the first writer to document the history of women in 1405 and of three notable Americans, the National Women’s History Museum (NWHM) paid tribute to three living legends on November 14th: former U.S. Senator and former President of the American Red Cross, Elizabeth Hanford Dole; legendary photographer Annie Leibovitz; renowned poet, author and playwright Dr. Maya Angelou; at the NWHM’s second annual Christine de Pizan Honors Gala at the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center in Washington, DC. In addition, Pulitzer Prize winning author Richard Rhodes was recipient of the Henry Blackwell Award.
“Frangela” – Frances Callier and Angela V. Shelton- who are real life best friends served as emcees. They set the tone for the evening with their hilarious comments and razor sharp commentary about the challenging role of women in history and the importance of financial support for building a museum.
Joan Bradley Wages, President and CEO of the NWHM, told the audience of 300 guests, who had flown in from as far as South Africa and Senegal, Texas, Detroit, California, that the NWHM and the de Pizan awards were established to bring women’s history to light, with the goal of educating people about the key role women have had throughout history and about the need to build a women’s history museum on the National Mall.
“Women have woven the very fabric of this nation – whether through the essential role of motherhood or in the fields of education, healthcare, business, and technology – you name it and women have been there,” Wages said. “It is beyond time for the women of our nation to be recognized.”
The Honors were established by NWHM in 2011 to celebrate the legends of pioneering women of the past by showcasing their achievements alongside the contributions of their modern inheritors. Each of the recipients was recognized with a “living legacy” award named in honor of historic figures in the same professional, artistic, or political and governmental area they have established themselves in.
Renowned poet, historian and best-selling author Dr. Angelou received the Gwendolyn Brooks Living Legacy Award, named after one of the best known American poets in history. Elizabeth Dole received the Clara Barton Living Legacy Award, named after the founder of the American Red Cross. Dole served as President of the American Red Cross from 1991 to 1999, becoming the first female head of the Red Cross since its founder, Clara Barton.
Annie Leibovitz, one of the most acclaimed photographers in the world today, received the Dorothea Lange Living Legacy Award, named after Lange, an influential American photojournalist best known for her work for the Farm Security Administration whose works helped humanize the consequences of the Great Depression and influenced the development of documentary photography.
Pulitzer Prize winning author Richard Rhodes was recipient of the Henry Blackwell Award, given in honor of Blackwell, a 19th century advocate for social and economic reform, who was one of the founders of the American Women Suffrage Association and who published the Woman’s Journal, starting in 1870. Rhodes, Dole, Leibovitz gave remarks in acceptance of their awards, while Dr. Angelou’s poignant remarks were shown on screen, along with those of actress Meryl Streep, a long time spokeswoman for the NWHM. Rhodes, whose book about actress Hedy Lamarr chronicles the life of the famous actress and her role in developing a radio anti-jamming device that would prove crucial during the Cold War. Her research is now recognized as fundamental to today’s wireless technology. In his remarks, Rhodes paid tribute to his wife and to all women. “Women hold the world together,”Rhodes said.
In addition to serving as President of the Red Cross, Dole was elected to the U.S. Senate and held Cabinet-level positions as U.S. Secretary of Transportation and U.S. Secretary of Labor. She made humorous note of examples of how she had to break through the glass ceilings at various points in her career, recalling a time when she was at Harvard law school that a then fellow male law student who is now a well-known lawyer chastised her for taking a spot at the law school that should have gone to a man. Dole also praised the NWHM’s leadership for “tireless efforts” to build a museum that will showcase the role of American women.
Leibovitz paid tribute to Lange’s work of photos such as that of the “migrant worker” taken during the era of the Depression, greatly influenced her career in which she became one of the world’s most famous photographers known for unique poses of famous people while working as a photojournalist for Rolling Stone and then Vanity Fair. Dr. Angelou, who appeared by video, is recognized as one of the great voices of contemporary literature as a poet, educator, historian and best selling author.
She described the influence that Brooks had on her and her writing career and poetically underscored the need for a women’s history museum to be established. Dr. Angelou’s award was accepted on her behalf by her cousin, Dr. Gloria Herndon, who served as the evening’s co-chair and flew from Africa to accept Dr. Angelou’s award. She also expressed strong support for the building of a National Women’s History Museum.
Wages concluded by calling attention to the fact that the NHWM has petitioned Congress to create a commission to identify a permanent hone on or near the national mall, offering to build the museum with private funds.
“I’ll leave you with one astonishing fact – there is no women’s history museum in any nation’s capitol in the world,” Wages said. “The National Women’s History Women’s Museum will be a first in a nation’s capital to show the full scope of the history of its women and will serve as a beacon to people everywhere. It will be looked upon as proof that America is truly a place of liberty and justice for all.”
In conclusion, I had the utmost pleasure of attending the 2nd Annual De Pizan Honors Gala. I attended the first gala last year honoring Meryl Streep. I look forward to attending this inspirational event next year and beyond! In awe and inspired by the women who paved the way and whose continued to do so. Special thanks to the women behind the upcoming Museum who are working hard, every day, every hour to establish a foundation for our women, our generation to know our background and that yes, we are truly worth it! BIG Thanks to Jan Du Plain, Elizabeth Dole, Annie Leibovitz, Dr. Maya Angelou, the lovely ladies of Frangela and finally, Joan Bradley Wages!
– Christine Shepherd
Photos by Christine Shepherd, Larry French and Anthony Tilghman
About the National Women’s History Museum
Founded in 1996, The National Women’s History Museum is a nonpartisan, nonprofit educational institution dedicated to preserving, interpreting, and celebrating the diverse historic contributions of women and integrating this rich heritage fully into our nation’s history, currently located online at www.nwhm.org. Legislation is underway to purchase federally owned land on which to build the National Women’s History Museum. The site will border several of the nation’s most iconic museums on the National Mall. A coalition of 47 business and professional women’s organizations representing eight million members supports NWHM’s efforts for a permanent site, along with 50,000 members who have supported the Museum. The women’s coalition has publically advocated for building the Museum near the National Mall. NWHM is a 501(c) (3) organization.
About Christine de Pizan
Christine de Pizan was the first Western woman to write about women’s history in 1405. She is best known as the author of The Book of the City of Ladies, which she wrote to combat existing ideas about women’s nature. The book has given de Pizan the distinction of being the first woman recognized as a chronicler of women’s history. The NWHM is dedicated to continuing de Pizan’s work of documenting women’s achievements and is proud to present the Honors in her name.
Learn how you can support NWHM here.