While Women’s History Month is indeed a time to look back and celebrate those who have brought our society forward, it is also a time to push for the advancement of women today. Grand Valley State University is one institution that elected to do just that when selecting Philomena Mantella as the next president of GVSU, the first woman president of the university.
The advancement of women has felt so strong in the past year, with the appointment of Mantella and the slew of women taking seats in Congress and positions of power across the country. It appears that not just the future but the present is in-fact, female.
Michigan’s past too has been fueled by strong women who helped push the state forward. Merze Tate of Mt. Pleasant was a trailblazer in higher education as the first African American to graduate from Western Michigan University and the first to earn a PhD in government from Harvard. Another female innovator was Cora Reynolds Anderson, the first woman and only Native American elected to the Michigan House of Representatives just four years after women received the right to vote. Anderson went on to work towards improving health care as a state representative.
One of the most fascinating Michigan women is Harriet Quimby of Arcadia, the first woman in the country to gain a pilot’s license. Quimby was also the first woman to fly across the English Channel.
What these women and hundreds of others were able to do is advance gender equality by being the historic ‘firsts’ of many unique feats. Today, women everywhere are still achieving incredible ‘firsts’. Like Serena Williams, originally born in Saginaw, went on to be ranked #1 in the Women’s Tennis Association. The past 2018 midterm election also saw a large amount of women being sworn into Congress as the need for female representation increases in America’s polarized climate. These women include Michigan’s Elissa Slotkin and Indiana’s Jackie Walorski who each bring more diverse, female perspectives to a male-dominated Congress.
In celebrating these women and their accomplishments we remember the essential role women play in everyday life. From mothers, to teachers, to diplomats each are helping to shape the world a little better, a little kinder. Beyond recognizing women’s achievements, it is important to see the undying need to continue to push women’s rights forward. Whether it be through supporting women’s fight for their right to choose or helping to advance sometimes forgotten female voices.
As Grand Valley shifts into a new age of leadership under it’s first female president, it is important to remember the women who helped lay the path that led Mantella here. Celebrating women’s accomplishments especially in terms of leadership helps demonstrate how far America and even Michigan have come in gender equality. Women leaders of yesterday and today represent the kind of positive change that influences the leaders of tomorrow to make their world just a little better and a little kinder.