Nestled in the heart of upstate New York, in a small town called Seneca Falls, stands the Women’s Hall of Fame. Women’s history buffs will recall the historical significance of Seneca Falls, which hosted the 1848 “Women’s Rights Convention, attended b}’, among others, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony. Their faces are among the 47 women honored in the halls with photographs, archival letters, and biographical information. The Women’s Hall of Fame was created “to honor in perpetuity these women, citizens of the United States of America, whose contributions to the arts, athletics, business, education, government, the humanities, philanthropy and science have been the greatest value for the development of their country.”
When LILITH Board Member Yvette Gralla called to tell us about her recent trip to the Women’s Hall of Fame. I was reminded of my own visit, a few years ago. “Walking along the corridor of the Hall, I was greeted by posters of the honored women’s faces, intended to invoke a sense of respect and awe for these accomplished women. However, it took only a few moments for me to become aware of the absences. The Hall’s declaration of Seneca Falls as “the birthplace of women’s rights” gave me a clear indication of the Hall’s perspective; the experience of many minority and disempowered populations were under-represented, or not represented at all, including Jewish-American women, Latina-American women, Asian- American women. Native American women, and lesbians.
Here is your chance to correct this bias: The women honored in the Hall are chosen by a National Honors Committee, consisting of the heads of national women’s organizations, such as the League of Women’s “Voters. These select women choose from a list of nominated women. But anyone is eligible to nominate a candidate simply by filling out a nomination form. In a telephone interview, the director. Sue Lowell Butler, warned me, “Don’t try and nominate your mother—it won’t work.”
When I asked Butler about the absence of Jewish women, she said, “There are Jewish women. We just don’t put little Jewish stars by their names.” Closer examination reveals just one Jewish woman in The Women’s Hall of Fame, Gertrude Belle Elion, a Jewish woman scientist. The Women’s Hall of Fame stands to honor notable women, and we have the power to make sure that Jewish and other women are not excluded—the same power wc have with other historical projects such as the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, the Lesbian Herstory Archives, or the Wiesenthal Beit Hashoah Museum of Tolerance.
So maybe my mother won’t appear in The Women’s Hall of Fame, but this year I’m nominating Emma Goldman. I’m hoping that the next time I visit Seneca Falls, she’ll be waiting for me.