The National Women's Hall of Fame inducted 10 women Saturday, celebrating their pioneering efforts in areas that include medicine, entertainment, the military and politics. There was also a luncheon and ceremony to celebrate 100 years since suffragists gained the right to vote in New York.
During a conversation before the luncheon at the New York Chiropractic College, the women expressed mostly hope for the future of gender equality, especially in the workplace, which is one of the last frontiers for women's rights activists.
“The world has changed tremendously since when I was in the business,” said Sherry Lansing, former CEO and Chair of Paramount Pictures. Lansing was the first woman to head a major production studio. “If we reported some of the things that went on in the movie business when I was in my 20's we would’ve gotten fired. Today the entire network gets fired not the person who reported it.”
Gloria Steinem was also in attendance. As a former inductee, the pioneering women's rights activist was there to celebrate Victoria Jackson, a philanthropist who radically changed how we approach understanding and treating diseases. Steinem said she has hope because now the battles she fought have become accepted by the majority and said President Donald Trump's election has "wakened people."
"We are woke as we now say and I've never sen such continuous, kind of bottom-up activism in my life so I have hope," she said.
Mamie Hansberry accepted an induction on behalf of her sister, Lorraine Hansberry, noted playwright and author of A Raisin in the Sun. She said racial inequality had also vastly improved. Lorraine Hansberry had been a vocal critic of society and advocated her entire life for better opportunities for black Americans. She died during the height of the Civil Rights Era but Hansberry said she’d be happy about America today
“I think she’d be quite happy. We had a president, Barack Obama,” she said, adding how important Obama was to the black community. “And our family had open housing- that was our main focus. And President Obama and Mrs. Obama now live in the area that we opened down Hyde Park Boulevard.”
She admitted she never knocked on their door but told students at Northeastern University her family had always been hopeful and joked, "my father knew we'd have a black president and wanted him to have a nice place to live."
However, the inductees also said that doesn’t mean the issues have disappeared. When asked about hostile working environments for women today, Dr. Temple Grandin said women often have to be “twice as good.”
“You have to be the best of the best. I had to be twice as good as a man,” said Grandin, a champion of farm animal welfare who has pioneered animal and livestock science. “I went into a man’s industry in the 70s. There were no women working in the feed-yards of Arizona in the 70s and there were some good guys that helped me but you have to be the best and you have to have confidence.”
“And if you don’t have confidence, pretend you do,” said Lieutenant General Carol A. Mutter. She said pretending to have the confidence until you really do can help many women. She added that most coworkers won't know the difference and often confidence can make women more likely to volunteer ideas and be a part of assignments and projects.
“I would add resilience. You really have to learn not to take everything personally even though it may be directed and you have to just pick yourself up and do it again,” Lansing chimed in.
The induction ceremony is the first since 2015, when 10 other women were inducted. This year's inductees are: Matilda Raffa Cuomo, Dr. Temple Grandin, Lorraine Hansberry, Victoria Jackson, Sherry Lansing, Clare Boothe Luce. Aimee Mullins, Carol Mutter, Dr. Janet Rowley and Alice Waters.
Governor Andrew Cuomo celebrated their accomplishments and the women's rights activists before them in a speech during the luncheon.
The governor talked about his push for a change to the state constitution to codify abortion rights should Roe V. Wade ever be overturned. “If Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott were here today, they would say, ladies it is the time to stand up and organize and mobilize and make your voice heard," Cuomo told the gathering. There are now 276 inductees at the National Women's Hall of Fame. The Hall is in the process of renovating the former Seneca Knitting Mill to be its new home.