A Night of Inspiration, Education and Fun at NWHM’s 2012 “de Pizan Honors”

It was a celebration of historic and contemporary American women last night at NWHM’s 2nd annual de Pizan Honors awards ceremony at the Reagan Building in Washington, DC, as Dr. Maya Angelou, Senator Elizabeth Dole and Annie Leibovitz accepted this year’s Living Legacy Awards. 300 guests attended the gala to honor the achievements of these remarkable women and to help the Museum pay homage to the work of American women in building our nation.

This year’s award-winners were former  U.S. Senator and former President of the American Red Cross, Elizabeth Hanford Dole; legendary photographer Annie Leibovitz; renowned poet, author and playwright Dr. Maya Angelou. Pulitzer Prize-winning author Richard Rhodes was honored with the Henry Blackwell Award. The comedy duo, Frangela, returned to emcee the event and were a major highlight of the show.

The de Pizan awards were established to bring women’s history to light, with the goal of educating people about the key role women have had throughout history and about the need to build a women’s history museum on the National Mall.

Women have woven the very fabric of this nation – -whether through the essential role of motherhood or in the fields of education, healthcare, business, technology – you name it and women have been there,” Joan Wages, NWHM CEO & President, said.  “It is beyond time for the women of our nation to be recognized.”

The Honors were established by NWHM in 2011 to celebrate the legends of pioneering women of the past by showcasing their achievements alongside the contributions of their modern inheritors.  Each of the recipients was recognized with a “living legacy” award named of honor of historic figures in the same professional, artistic, or political and governmental area they have established themselves in.

Dr. Angelou received the Gwendolyn Brooks Living Legacy Award, named after one of the best known American poets in history.  Dole received the Clara Barton Living Legacy Award, named after the founder of the American Red Cross.   Dole served as President of the American Red Cross from 1991 to 1999, becoming the first female head of the Red Cross since its founder, Clara Barton.

Leibovitz, one of the most acclaimed photographers in the world today, received the Dorothea Lange Living Legacy Award, named after Lange, an influential American photojournalist best known for her work for the Farm Security Administration whose works helped humanize the consequences of the Great Depression and influenced the development of documentary photography.

Pulitzer Prize winning author Richard Rhodes was recipient of the Henry Blackwell Living Legend Award, given in honor of Blackwell, a 19th century advocate for social and economic reform who was one of the founders of the American Women Suffrage Association and who published the Woman’s Journal, starting in 1870.

Rhodes, Dole, Leibovitz  gave remarks in acceptance of their awards, while Dr. Angelou’s poignant remarks were shown on screen, along with those of actress Meryl Streep, a long time spokeswoman for the NWHM.

Rhodes, whose book about actress Hedy Lamarr chronicles the life of the famous actress and her role in developing a radio anti-jamming device that would prove crucial during the Cold War.   Her research is now recognized as fundamental to today’s wireless technology.  In his remarks, Rhodes paid tribute to his wife and to all women. “Women hold the world together,” Rhodes said.

In addition to serving as President of the Red Cross, Dole was elected to the U.S. Senate and held Cabinet-level positions as U.S. Secretary of Transportation and U.S. Secretary of Labor.  She made humorous note of examples of how she had to break through the glass ceilings at various points in her career, recalling a time when she was at Harvard law school that a then fellow male law student who is now a well-known lawyer chastised her for taking a spot at the law school that should have gone to a man.  Dole also praised the NWHM’s leadership for “tireless efforts” to build a museum that will showcase the role of American women.

Leibovitz paid tribute to Lange’s work of photos such as that of the “migrant worker” taken during the era of the Depression, greatly influenced her career in which she became one of the world’s most famous photographers known for unique poses of famous people while working as a photojournalist for Rolling Stone and then Vanity Fair.

Dr. Angelou, who appeared by video, described the influence that Brooks had on her and her writing career and poetically  underscored the need for a women’s history museum to be established.

Dr. Angelou’s award was accepted on her behalf by her cousin, Dr. Gloria Herndon, who served as the evening’s co-chair and flew from Africa to accept Dr. Angelou’s award.  She also expressed strong support for the building of a National Women’s History Museum.