You Need to See It, to Be It

March 13, 2018

Submitted by Sarah Smith Lubarsky, Interim Executive Director, Connecticut Women’s Hall of Fame

March is Women’s History Month and along with Everyday Democracy, the Connecticut Women’s Hall of Fame is taking a moment to reflect on the advancement of women’s rights, and racial equity, particularly when it comes to education.  

One area of education that is still striving for equitable representation of talent is in the area of STEM, Science, Technology, Engineering and Math, as only 25% of STEM jobs are held by women. Last year the Hall educated 300 girls through STEMfems workshops, engaging them in scientific exploration alongside female professionals. Because only 7% of Fortune 500 Companies have female CEO’s, this past school year the Hall educated 3,500 students with our women-centric classroom programs throughout the state, inspiring their continued leadership. Along with a good education, women (and men) need role models to be inspired by; to know that we can achieve great things too.

As Billy Jean King said, “You need to see it, to be it.” With this in mind we’d like to introduce you to three of our Inductees who were leaders in education and civil rights, and serve as role models who changed the world!

Prudence Crandall’s designation in 1995 as Connecticut’s State Heroine reflects her courageous and unwavering commitment to abolitionism and education reform in the school she maintained for “Young Ladies of Color” in Canterbury—the first academy in New England for African American women.  In 1832 after reading an article regarding the plight of African American children, Prudence admitted 17 year old Sarah Harris, knowing full well that there may be disapproval from the townspeople. As she continued to educate African American girls there was considerable backlash from the town and a Black Law was established that barred the teaching of “any colored people…not inhabitants” without the town’s permission.

Crandall was arrested, spent a night in jail and faced three trials. Her trials laid the foundation for our next Inductee, Constance Baker Motley.

In 1950 Constance Baker Motley wrote the original complaint in the case of Brown v. Board of Education. She used many of the arguments that were used in the trial of Prudence Crandall.  Constance was the first African American women ever to argue a case before the U.S. Supreme Court, in Meredith v. Fair, winning James Meredith’s effort to be the first black student to attend the University of Mississippi in 1962. Motley was successful in nine of the ten cases she argued before the Supreme Court. The tenth decision, regarding jury composition, was eventually overturned in her favor and she was a key legal strategist in the civil rights movement, helping to desegregate Southern school, buses, and lunch counters.

The third inductee we would like to recognize is Edythe J. Gaines.  When she passed away at the age of 83, her son Richard reflected on her life and her dedication to children, both as a mother and civic-minded career woman. “She believed in kids, even when they didn’t believe in themselves” Richard explained. “Her belief in them would give them belief in themselves.” Gaines’ steadfast conviction that youth should be given the chance to succeed led her to a fruitful career as a pioneer in education. This faith in the younger generation would also propel Gaines to become Connecticut’s first African American public schools superintendent, the first woman in the state to hold the position. After her tenure as superintendent she chose to remain in Hartford and continued to play an important leadership role in education and community service. From 1979 to 1991, Gaines served as a commissioner for the State Department of Public Utility Control. In 1992, she was named to the Board of Governors of Higher Education, and in 1995 she was given the opportunity to serve a four-year term on the Connecticut State Board of Education.

The Connecticut Hall of Fame is encouraged by the work that Everyday Democracy is also doing to attain more gender and racial equity in institutions of education nationwide through Dialogue to Change, capacity building and community engagement.  Our collective efforts are already having a positive impact.

Sarah Smith Lubarsky is the Interim Executive Director for the Connecticut Women’s Hall of Fame.  The Connecticut Women’s Hall of Fame is an educational outreach organization whose mission is to honor publicly the achievement of Connecticut women, preserve their stories, educate the public and inspire the continued achievements of women and girls and stands as the state’s premier source for Connecticut women’s history with more than a hundred Inductees.


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