As a Board officer and former Chicagoan, I’ve been back and forth to the city a lot lately to introduce the National Women’s History Museum to my friends, friends of friends, business colleagues of friends, and, frankly, any stranger who will talk to me including a young woman at O’Hare Airport who asked if she could have the Museum button I was wearing to give to her mother: it read “Well-Behaved Women Rarely Make History.” It’s been fun and gratifying.
But two recent Chicago events reminded me of why this museum exists and must take its place at the National Mall — community, sisterhood, remembrance and cultural (r)evolution.
Chicago Event #1
Partners Anita Ponder, Jennifer Breuer, and Laurie Holmes and the Women’s Committee of Drinker Biddle & Reath LLC hosted a dialogue among 40 successful and diverse Chicago women about how gender roles have had an impact on their lives and what the Museum can do to inspire cultural change. We explored an incredible range of topics. We discussed the legacies of ground-breaking Chicago women who came before us. We shared personal stories and aspirations. We shared links to our online exhibits on African American women and Chinese-American women. Our plans for exhibits about Latinas and Jewish American women were presented. We talked about the Museum’s mission to be a change agent for gender equality. It was intense and electric!
We talked about feminine values and similarities as well as contrasts in gender roles across different ethnic and racial groups. Noting that men share the common language of sports (“how ‘bout those Bears?”), one woman called for us to help find a similar language to bring women together. The inimitable Hedy Ratner, President and Founder of the Women’s Business Development Center responded: “Shoes! We meet. You say “Great shoes!” …we bond.” The crowd broke up. It was a Sex and the City moment….. And we bonded.
Chicago Event #2
My friend Kaarina Koskenalusta, the (first woman) President and CEO of the Executives’ Club of Chicago invited me to join the Speakers Table at her final Women’s Leadership Breakfastof the season. I accepted immediately. Kaarina introduced me to a ballroom filled with 1400 executive women and men as a former Chicagoan and an Officer of the National Women’s History Museum. And then she said: “Susan needs to raise a lot of money to build this important legacy and tribute to all women on the National Mall in Washington, DC. Please support her in this effort.” The packed Chicago Hilton Ballroom clapped and cheered.
I connected with Sherren Leigh, the publisher of Today’s Chicago Woman Magazine and a sponsor of the Executives’ Club Women’s Leadership Series. She and the magazine’s Associate Publisher flew to New York in April to join us for Good Housekeeping’s star-studded ShineOn eventthat benefited the Museum. Sherren has been supportive in helping us to extend our Chicago network.
It’s About “Us”:
Our president Joan Bradley Wages often states that the National Women’s History Museum goes far beyond the “hall of fame” approach to history. Of course, we tell the wonderful stories of individual women leaders. But we go much further to look at what women have accomplished together. Our exhibits explore how women as a collective force, for example, were the community builders of Jamestown , the first colonial settlement in the United States. Among other things, our exhibit on the Progressive Era tells the stories of the women of the settlement houses in Chicago and New York who gave rise to the passage of major public health, education and labor reforms.
Welcome to the Community:
And so, with the privilege of joining the amazing women at Drinker Biddle and of the Executives’ Club last month, I rejoined a community — a sisterhood of smart, successful, and supportive women in Chicago. I hope they will join my community of women who will build a museum on the National Mall that celebrates women. Women’s history teaches us that together we can be the architects of our future culture.
— Susan Sudman
Secretary, National Women’s History Museum