In 1954 there were few women in the work force. Most who had joined it during World War II returned to work in the home in the fifties. There were few women lawyers, doctors, or, of course, politicians.
Anywhere we look today—whether in the sciences, politics, education, business, or the arts—we see enormous change in the status and participation of women. By the year 2005, three out of five new entrants to the work force will be women. Many law schools report more female than male students and, for the first time ever, this fall, women constituted a majority of medical students entering Johns Hopkins, Yale, and Harvard.
A gateway of opportunity is springing open, largely due to the trailblazing work of women who came before us. Their outstanding efforts in the face of criticism and doubt started to change attitudes, and they remain as role models and inspiration to women today.
Women’s involvement in every level of society—doing important work at home and in the office—is more than a matter of equity. We bring a different perspective to all we approach, whether politics, business, or child rearing. Our life experiences are different and our priorities along with them.
The important thing is options—being able to chart our own course, whatever it may be, without societal impediments. Each of us should be able to reach as high as we can depending on our unique talents, needs, and circumstances.
The broadened role of women in society shows that Americans have grown in understanding and wisdom. We are finally learning to value the contributions of more than half the population. If, as Elizabeth Cady Stanton once wrote, “a woman’s place in society marks the level of civilization,” then we have certainly become more civilized since 1954.
Anyone who looks back to that year would surely see what a difference forty years has made. In 1995 the country will be looking back even farther, celebrating the seventy-fifth anniversary of women’s suffrage. I hope we will continue to vote with our heads and hearts to ensure equal participation in society for all our members.