March can't hold these great women

March 22, 1994|By Myriam Marquez

DESPITE all the news-media hoopla over Nancy Kerrigan winning a mere silver medal for figure skating at this year's Winter Olympics, the real record-setter, who deserved much more media attention, was Bonnie Blair.

Speed skater Blair is the first American woman to win five gold medals in Olympics competition.

Speaking of firsts, here's a name most people don't know: Arlene Blum. She's the American who led women mountain climbers in 1979 to the top of Annapurna in central Nepal, which, at a height of 26,504 feet, is the highest peak in the Himalayas. Upon arrival, Ms. Blum's team installed a banner on the ground with this message:

"A woman's place is on top."

As Ms. Kerrigan might say, "How corny."

Which leads me to National Women's History Month. The March celebration of women's history follows National Black History Month.

It's nice to have a month of recognition, but why can't we simply honor Americans -- whether they're women or minorities -- throughout the year?

I wonder how many of today's students know something about the following women and girls, all American trailblazers?

Take Margaret Brent, for instance. She was the first woman to practice law in Colonial America. In 1638, she became the first woman to have the right to own property in Maryland.

It's incredible that, more than 200 years after Brent broke ground during Colonial times, women still couldn't practice law in the United States. It wasn't until 1869 that Arabella Mansfield was admitted to the bar to practice law in Iowa.

And 10 years later, in 1879, Belva Lockwood was the first woman lawyer to argue a case before the U.S. Supreme Court. Lockwood pushed to have the courts grant women the same rights in voting and owning property that men had.

It took almost 100 more years before a black woman lawyer served as a judge in the federal court system. In 1966, Constance Baker Motley, a former New York state senator, earned the bench seat.

Also from New York came the distinguished Shirley Chisholm, who in 1968 became the first black woman to be elected to Congress.

Our history has had many tough women to serve their country in times of war, too.

Consider what happened to Dr. Mary Walker, who worked as a surgeon during the Civil War. She became the first woman to win the Medal of Honor, only to have it revoked by Congress when Walker had the nerve to get involved in the suffrage movement. In 1920, more than 50 years after the 15th Amendment removed race as a barrier to voting, women finally were granted the right to vote in this country, thanks to the determination of thousands of brave women such as Walker.

Susan Picotte didn't earn her medical degree until 1913. She was the first Native American woman to do so in this country.

Now for some guy sports: Bernice Gera in 1972 was the first woman to umpire a professional baseball game. Forty-one years earlier, Jackie Mitchell, the first woman pitcher in the history of professional baseball, struck out Babe Ruth on her second day on a Chattanooga team. (This is one fact I will enjoy mentioning to my two sons, who seem to delight in yelling at each other, "You throw like a girl!")

Those mentioned above are included in a list of "100 American women who did it first," compiled by the National Women's Hall of Fame, 406 Skyhill Road, Alexandria, Va., 22314.

Of the list of 100, Anna Taylor is one of my favorites. She was the first person with enough courage to go over Niagara Falls in a barrel in 1901. Talk about riding out the white water in a barrel of fun!

Myriam Marquez is an editorial page columnist for the Orlando Sentinel.

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