Senior Power: “History is written by winners... and the bad witch is old.” -- Child, interviewed on PBS program, The Goddess Remembered

By Helen Rippier Wheeler
Wednesday March 02, 2011 - 12:35:00 PM

March is Women’s History Month. Why a celebration of the history of women in particular? And what’s it got to do with senior power? It’s annual recognition that recorded history still omits the history of females, and that when something is noted about them, it is often distorted.  

Circa 1968, linguists, sociologists and feminists began pointing out that traditional history often ignores 50% of the population or misrepresents women's achievements. The word history is from the Greek root for the concepts of inquiring, knowing, learning. Herstory was coined to emphasize that women’s lives, deeds and participation in human affairs have been neglected or undervalued in standard history books and official documents.  

American presidents, governors and mayors have waffled in proclaiming recognition of National Women’s History Month and of International Women's Day, annually celebrated worldwide on March 8th. With the advent of World War I, antiwar demands were added, and, in 1916, American women called it International Women's Day. Observance of International Women's Day waned until it was revived by American feminists following the rebirth of the contemporary Women’s Movement in the 1960’s.  


Women have always served their compatriots as part of their nation’s military. They have volunteered and spied, been conscripted, and served in combat and as prisoners of war. During World War II, many American civilian women served as homemakers, prisoners-of-war, volunteers, and defense plant workers -- the Rosies. Typical wage-paying jobs available outside the home to American women in the 1930s -- when they could get work -- had been domestic, shop girl, waitress and cook.  

An unprecedented demand for new workers was suddenly created by the United States' entry into World War II. Women were asked to work outside as well as inside of the home. The media called on them to "Do the job he left behind". The Rosie-the-Riveter persona was created, although not all women became riveters. They earned money, joined unions, and found new benefits in being in the labor force. Minority women for the first time entered major industrial plants. 

But when the War was over and the Rosies wanted to stay on their jobs, the American economy and way of life no longer welcomed them. They were out of their place. In 1944 the average woman's salary was $31.21 a week for her labor, while the men who remained on the home front averaged $54.65 a week. For a while, it had been a time when women were no longer forced into roles society created for them. They became free to create their own lives and sense of self, moving in the direction of sex/gender equity. These women are now senior citizens and elders. 


We don't stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing,” wrote feminist George Bernard Shaw (1856-1950). Let’s play! From international current and past history, this diverse group of people represents many fields and accomplishments, often made while they were considered “OLD! “ 

1. In 1971, following forced retirement at 65, she "convened" the Gray Panthers to advocate for seniors' rights.  

2. I am an 80-year old Berkeley resident named Rosita Dolores Alverio, although 

you may know me as Anita, Maria Callas, or, more recently, Amanda Wingfield. I was the first actor and the first Hispanic to win an Emmy, a Grammy, an Oscar, and a Tony! In 2000 I was presented with a National Osteoporosis Foundation award for my work raising awareness.  

3. This author of The Joys of Aging and How to Avoid Them is an actor, concert pianist, and Los Angeles resident who made many trips to Vietnam to entertain the troops.  

4. This American lawyer in 1992 became the first black woman elected to the U.S. Senate. She and Senator Dianne Feinstein became the first women to serve on the influential Senate Judiciary Committee.  

5. First woman of Japanese ancestry elected to the U.S. House of Representatives, in 1972 her persistence resulted in passage of "Title IX." She served as assistant secretary of state under President Jimmy Carter before returning to Hawaiian politics. 

6. The first woman elected to the U.S. Senate in her own right and to represent Kansas in the Senate. 

7. The first woman Admiral of the U.S. Navy.  

8. Orphaned at age 9, the frequent butt of jokes as an adult, she became a 

respected American newspaper columnist, world traveler and UN delegate involved in the Women's Trade Union League. Active in politics until the end of her life, she chaired the Kennedy administration's ground-breaking Presidential Commission on the Status of Women.  

9. I was born in Prague. I was 60 years old when I became the first female U.S. Secretary of State. 

10. The book Silences was an analysis of authors’ silent periods, including the problems working-class writers have in finding time to concentrate on their art. It was researched and written in the San Francisco Public Library. Several critics pointed to the author’s Communist past, but once her books were published, she became a teacher and writer-in-residence at numerous colleges, including Stanford University while residing in Oakland. 



The House passed the Continuing Resolution (H.R. 1) on Feb. 19, 2011 with amendments that made an already terrible bill worse. The legislation headed to the Senate would 

defund implementation of the landmark health care law. It would eliminate the Women's Educational Equity program, which helps schools comply with Title IX, the law that prohibits sex discrimination in federally funded education programs. In addition, H.R. 1 cuts funding for prenatal care and maternal and child health, education, job training, community health services, assistance for the elderly, Social Security offices, housing, food safety, environmental protection, and more.  



Bob Burnett’s column, “The Public Eye: Republicans Renew Their War on Women,” in February 16, 2011 Berkeley Daily Planet. 


1. Margaret “Maggie” Eliza Kuhn (1905-1995) 

2. Rita Moreno (1931- ) 

3. Phyllis Diller (1917- ) 

4. Carol Mosley Braun (1947- ) 

5. Patsy Matsu Takemoto Mink(1927-2002) 

6. Nancy Landon Kassebaum Baker (1932- ) 

7. Grace Murray Hopper (1906-1992) 

8. Anna Eleanor Roosevelt (1884-1962)  

9. Madeleine Korbel Albright (born Marie Jana Korbelová (1937- ) 

10. Tillie Lerner Olsen (1912-2007) 


Helen Rippier Wheeler can be reached at No email attachments; use “Senior Power” for subject.