Last week, the White House named the recipients of the Presidential Medal of Freedom. This year five amazing women trailblazers will receive this prestigious honor, including Dolores Huerta, Madeleine Albright, Juliette Gordon Low, Toni Morrison, and Pat Summitt.
These five phenomenal women will receive the United States’ highest civilian honor. The White House says the honor is “presented to individuals who have made especially meritorious contributions to the security or national interests of the United States, to world peace, or to cultural or other significant private endeavors.”
Seeing these women receive this distinguished honor reminds us that it all starts with the smallest actions. Organizing on your campuses and in your communities betters the lives of women and is an important act of civic engagement. We can look to these five amazing women as role models in the work that we do on the ground, and as inspiration for all that we can accomplish in the future.
Here are the profiles of each of the women being honored this year:
- Dolores Huerta is a longtime social justice advocate for civil, workers, and women’s rights. In 1962, she co-founded the National Farmworkers Association (NFA), which would later become the United Farm Workers (UFW). During her time with UFW she gave migrant workers a voice and helped them organize strikes and boycotts on consumer goods to protest inadequate labor conditions. She was a critical influence on the passage of California’s Labor Relations Act of 1975, the first of its kind at the time. Huerta has been monumental figure in securing equal rights of workers, and continues to fight today not only for workers, but for women of color, immigrants, the poor, and young people. She currently serves on the board of the Feminist Majority Foundation and is the founder of the Dolores Huerta Foundation where she trains and develops community organizers to be leaders in their community.
- Madeleine Albright served as the first woman U.S. Secretary of State under President Bill Clinton. As Secretary of State she helped expand NATO, pursued peace in both the Middle East and Africa, advocated to reduce the spread of dangerous nuclear weapons, democracy, and social justice domestically and around the world. Finally she served as America’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations. She currently chairs the National Democratic Institute and is President of the Harry S. Truman Scholarship Foundation.
- Toni Morrison brought to life through her literature the experiences, trials and tribulations of African American women. Some of her forever cherished pieces included Beloved, Song of Solomon, Sula, and Bluest Eye. Her use of language, dialogue between characters, themes, and interpretations of American reality through these novels gave readers a basis for discussing race, gender and other social inequalities. She earned a Pulitzer Prize for Beloved in 1993 and was the first African American woman to win a Nobel Prize in 1993.
- Pat Summitt is both a champion for women both on and off the basketball court. She is the all-time winningest leader among all NCAA basketball coaches for women and men and has set the second-best record of NCAA championships in basketball. She has broken down stereotypes about women and sports, proving to many that women are capable of being competitive and successful athletes. Unfortunately, she was recently diagnosed with early stage Alzheimer’s, which has caused her to resign her post from the University of Tennessee Women’s Basketball. However, she decided to become a spokesperson against Alzheimer’s and will make grants to nonprofits through The Pat Summitt Foundation to help bring research and awareness to the disease.
- Juliette Gordon Low should be personally thanked by all Americans for those great Girl’s Scout cookies! Aside from the cookies, more importantly, she founded the amazing Girls Scouts USA in 1912 to teach and empower young girls to become professionals, leaders, and active citizens in their communities. Girl Scouts USA is now the largest educational organization for girls and currently has over 50 million members. This year the organization will celebrate its 100th Anniversary and has proclaimed 2012 to be “The Year of the Girl”. Low’s medal is being awarded posthumously.