I have long wanted to visit Seneca Falls, New York, birthplace of the American women’s rights movement, but had never been able to muster sufficient interest from friends or family. So when I learned that Encore.org board member Sherry Lansing was to be inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame, I was galvanized into action. Sweetening the pot was the fact that our former board member Bev Ryder’s relative, playwright Lorraine Hansberry, was also a (posthumous) inductee. I was a theatre major in college had studied and cherished Hansberry’s “A Raisin in the Sun”.
I persuaded a professor friend to come along, we bought our tickets and set out for the long drive to upstate New York.
Before the festivities began, we had a chance to visit a few of the town’s museums and historic sites – it was fascinating to learn that the area had not only fostered the women’s movement, but had many citizens who were ardent abolitionists as well as practitioners of the Shaker religion.
Seneca Falls is most famous as the venue for the first women’s rights convention in the country, held in 1848 at Wesleyan Methodist Chapel. Over three hundred people attended and the result was a “Declaration of Sentiments”, holding that men and women were created equal and entitled to the same rights.
After our whirlwind history tour, we headed for the weekend’s main event, the induction ceremony this year held at a local college. Every two years, the Hall of Fame choses to honor ten contemporary and historical women based on the significant impact and enduring value of their achievements.
Sherry Lansing was eloquent, warm and funny. Proud of her age, 73, she describes herself as a “perennial.”
She spoke with great affection about her mother, Margo, who was widowed at 32 and resisted the offer of her father’s business partners to take over the business for her. She would not allow them to do that, instead she insisted they teach her to run the business.
Lansing went on to shatter the glass ceiling in the film studio business where her career culminated in a 12-year stint as Chair and CEO of Paramount Motion Pictures.
After retiring in 2005, she founded the Sherry Lansing Foundation dedicated to cancer research, health, public research and encore careers for the greater good. In the encore arena, she created the EnCorps Teachers Program to retrain retired and mid-career technology professional to serve as STEM teachers in public schools.
We are enormously fortunate to have Sherry on our board, because she brings her business and financial acumen to the table, and because she is passionate about the mission of using experienced talent to build better, stronger communities.
Inductees this year also included Alice Waters, Aimee Mullins, Clare Boothe Luce, Temple Grandin and Matilda Cuomo. The impact of their work – and their stories – was simply stunning.
The next day’s panel at Wesleyan Chapel was about new directions for philanthropy and ended on a sobering note. One of the questioners, a well-spoken retired teacher, wondered aloud why organizations like the Women’s Hall of Fame, and others related to honoring or supporting women, struggled so mightily for funding.
I had similar questions and had heard stories throughout my visit about the pain of fundraising for a much needed new home for the Hall. The site has been chosen, plans drawn up and work begun but the process is slow due to funding challenges and was described as “one window at a time”.
As we left we reflected on the irony. To be in the very place where the women’s rights movement was born and where women’s achievements have been honored for the last forty years, yet which is struggling to fund a proper and permanent home leaves us wondering how much farther we have to go to achieve true equality.