Minutes of the July 16, 1998 Commission Meeting
The first meeting of the President's Commission on the Celebration of Women in American History was held at 2:00 P.M. on July 16, 1998 at the Ontario County Court House in Canandaigua, New York.
In accordance with Public Law 92-463 as amended, this meeting was open to the public and members of the public were present.
Note: The night before the meeting, each member present viewed a videotape produced by the General Services Administration explaining various regulations and responsibilities that apply to members of a Federal Advisory Committee.
Commission Members Present
Ann Lewis, Co-Chair
Dr. Johnetta Cole
In addition to members of the public, Martha Davis from the General Services Administration and Ruby Shamir from the White House staffed the meeting.
Call To Order
Introduction and Statement of Purpose
Ms. Lewis then went on to define the role of the Commission as developing ways to best acknowledge the role of women in American history, noting that the Commission will present the President with a report in March 1999, Women's History Month.
Ms. Lewis spoke of the aims of the Commission as being twofold:
Ms. Lewis began by noting that the Millenium Program was established with the idea of honoring the past and imagining the future, representing, what President Clinton has called, two sides of the same coin. Given that the United States is a country that is always in the process of becoming, we cannot progress further, without knowing whence we have come. Our knowledge of history is uneven, and part of the work of this Commission is to develop ways to chronicle a more truthful history.
When the women of Seneca Falls called for equal rights for women, they based their Declaration of Sentiments on the Declaration of Independence, indicating that the ideals upon which this nation was founded represent the model to which we must aspire and contrast our true condition. In the case of women, if they are not implicitly included, they are explicitly denied. Only a history which is inclusive can be true.
A second point that Ms. Lewis made was regarding heroes. She said that we want our children to have heroes whose paths they feel able to follow.
Ms. Lewis noted that as we move towards the Millennium, people are thinking more and more about our history. The Commission ought to be thinking of ways to make history accessible and interesting. Some have had the idea of building a museum in Washington D.C.; others have been seeking and continue to seek different ways of celebrating women's history. This Commission ought to be a clearinghouse of sorts for that information.
Anna Eleanor Roosevelt
Ms. Roosevelt continued by saying that the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) is a vital issue; we need to take the chance to get it ratified by the millennium as it is an affirmation of who we are as Americans. We now have the opportunity to take the women's movement, which began with grand intentions, to the international arena.
Dr. Johnetta Cole
First, Dr. Cole said that the role of teaching and learning history is to give people a map of where they have been so that they can know where they are and help determine where they are going. Americans ought to have an honest history that reflects the lives and experiences of the many players of history, but one that also acknowledges the contradictions in the lives of many of the heroes.
Using history as the launching pad, the Commission's recommendations to the President ought to include real life stories. The Commission should consider the building of monuments, but should also incorporate the living testimony on the history of women. Her-story must be as essential as reading, writing and arithmetic to every boy and girl so that heroes and sheroes can be established.
Dr. Cole also wanted the group to make sure that the heroes it brings to life are not only extraordinary people. Incorporated in the new history/herstory we teach, there needs also to be the struggle of the ordinary, hardworking people that speak to the multi-faceted roles that women have held in society. The women's rights convention of 1848 involved mainly women from a certain community, but they also drew heavily on the values held by many others, such as Native Americans. In this nation's enormous diversity is its history and its great strength.
Ms. Harris wanted to ensure that whatever material the Commission gathers can be used as accredited material, and therefore provide a forum of sorts for more work by women historians and professionals.
She said the great value of the work of this Commission is that it will give people the opportunity to find themselves, their place and their role models in American history. The Commission needs to incorporate women's history activities on local and state levels, including tribal governments.
In Ms. Ochoa's assessment, part of the reason for the holes in our understanding of history can be attributed to a limited understanding of courage, which is traditionally defined as fighting wars with the full support of governments and peers, or as flying into space with a team of professionals and the support of the American people (as Ms Ochoa does). The women who signed the Declaration of Sentiments did so without the support of their communities and peers. Rather they were harshly and personally criticized for their work, and that is truly courageous; standing up for beliefs in equality in the face of an unsupportive public. Perhaps the Declaration of Independence should be taught alongside the Declaration of Sentiments. Ms. Ochoa would like to see this Commission broaden our understanding of courage.
Ms. Ochoa hopes that the inclusion of the science and technological community to this sort of project will open both the scientific and women's communities to each other.
Ms. Ochoa believes that the establishment of a women's history museum in Washington D.C. would be an important step towards promoting the visibility of women's history, but made clear that the Commission ought to focus on a number of ideas as well. Not only do we need to create new women's history institutions, but this Commission also needs to address the institutions that historically have deliberately excluded women from certain industries and processes.
The mythic figures of our culture are tough men, but women are absent from our collective history. Ms. Goldsmith named a number of women whose marks on history are extraordinary, but whose names are unknown to most Americans. These women were reviled and criticized, but they were strong. We need to strengthen and empower women with stories of their history. Women can do men's work brilliantly, and have in times of crisis. Ultimately, opportunities have been taken away from women, and their choices limited, but women need the empowerment of their stories for strength.
Additionally, Ms. Goldsmith pointed out that because the notion of celebrity has replaced that of the hero, there is no place for the role model to arise. Ms. Goldsmith suggested the establishment of a center that could bring together various organizations and foundations that support women.
Ms. Goldsmith would also like to see the Commission develop a white paper for libraries and museums that would help those institutions develop guides and tours of women's history to make the discipline more accessible. This would also give it a human touch. She then reminded the group of the words of Frederick Douglass: agitate agitate, agitate.
At this point in the meeting, Co-Chair Ann Lewis opened the meeting to public comment.
Members of the Public
Ms. Lewis briefed the group on ideas for future work, noting that with the use of the Internet there is greater ability to get more information than ever before to young people. Ms. Lewis suggested these responsibilities include:
Ms. Lewis suggested that means of amplification should include the Internet, and letters to organizations. She stated that the Commission could function as the "eyes and ears" of potential programs, and also as a means of promotion of programs that are functioning well.
This listing engendered conversation about other options as well. Ms. Ochoa suggested that the Commission get in touch with the people developing a Women's History Museum in Dallas, TX. Ms. Goldsmith suggested that we initiate contact with libraries, museums and other educational facilities with letters of introduction. Dr. Cole cautioned that the Commission should not be thought of or seen as experts, rather that it be used as a resource or clearinghouse for information and testimonials, and that the group needs to strike a balance between the two.
In a discussion of how to go about reaching people with this information, Ms. Harris suggested that the Commission bring its discussions to localities. She particularly praised the idea of setting up trails in local areas that give life to women's history. Ms. Goldsmith cautioned that tour-type programs need to be well researched and guided, so that they would really be enriching.
Ms. Newburger suggested that the Commission could reach professionals through their work associations, but that we seek to contact people who work in the home through organizations such as the Parent-Teacher Association. Dr. Cole suggested that the most wide-ranging way of reaching people is through video, and that the Commission ought to consider producing one.
At this point, two more members of the public spoke:
After some discussion, the dates tentatively agreed upon for the next meetings are as follows:
I hereby certify to the best of my knowledge, the foregoing minutes are accurate and complete
Martha Davis can be contacted by e-mail at email@example.com or by phone at (202)501-0705
Minutes to other Commission Meetings: