In 1984, California Congresswoman Anna Eshoo conceived the San Mateo County Women's Hall of Fame to recognize local adults and youth of courage and excellence, and to assure that the unique contributions of women were indelibly etched in the historical record. In the process of creating the Hall, we learned that we do not have to look "out there" to find heroes and role models. They are in our midst, and in yours.
Here's how we do it. Each year, a special countywide nomination process discovers 30 to 50 adults and young women of excellence. From the anonymous nomination forms, a panel of judges from outside the county then selects 8 women and 2 young women to be honored. In January the newly chosen inductees are notified by phone and formal letter of congratulations. Several weeks later the women are introduced, interviewed, and photographed during a special reception at the County Courthouse. A full story with pictures is printed in the newspapers.
The 10 honorees are presented at a banquet before a sold-out audience of 800. The inductees, ages 18 to 85, represent various races, religions, and social and educational backgrounds. Some are shy and others very bold. Some are serious and others very humorous. Each one gives a short talk from the heart and the diverse audience is unified into one supportive community. The event is powerful, glorious, and inspiring. The memories carry over from year to year.
Several of us inducted in 1994 wanted to highlight the honorees and their interesting and amazing contributions to life, so we published a book providing a picture of the women inducted during the first ten years of the Women's Hall of Fame. The book presents photo portraits and one-page biographies of each woman and young woman, providing insights into their diverse backgrounds and what or who inspired them to respond as they did. Each has a unique story to tell.
A biography of women had never been done in our county, although there were many fabulous women known for their contributions in their communities early in the century. Our county's women not only gave birth, nurtured, and civilized, they affected our history and demonstrated remarkable talents and abilities. Until recently, these contributions were unrecognized and unappreciated. Portraits of Dedication: The San Mateo County Women's Hall of Fame, 1984 - 1994, brought to life some of the stories of these pioneer women, and drew larger community attention to recent Hall of Fame honorees.
The book is focused on one county, yet it is universal. From the experience of women in one locale comes a rich lode of creative ideas for individuals to initiate - for business, youth, education, community service, cultural change, and global survival. Each woman had a cause and tenacity; and many of us battled social pressures, serious handicaps, and self-doubts to pursue a wide range of community and professional successes and breakthroughs.
Helping to assemble the book and meeting many of the other honorees for the first time greatly inspired me and made me more proud to be a woman. To value our gender and honor each other encourages and strengthens other women, especially young girls in search of role models. It calls for respect from men and boys in the community as well.
Women have the power to make our families, communities, and even the planet, be anything we want them to be. That power is enhanced when we recognize the many accomplishments of women in our own communities - something a local Women's Hall of Fame did for us. I am moved by what Matthew Arnold said: "When women come together purely and simply for the good of humankind (and our whole diverse living system), there will be a power such as the world has never known." The time is surely now to come together in that spirit, to honor each other and to celebrate being women.