SENIOR POWER: Women’s History

By Helen Rippier Wheeler
Thursday March 01, 2012 - 03:04:00 PM

Shortly before her death in 1998, Bella Abzug declared "They used to give us a day-- it was called International Women's Day. In 1975 they gave us a year, the Year of the Woman. Then from 1975 to 1985 they gave us a decade, the Decade of the Woman. I said at the time, who knows, if we behave they may let us into the whole thing. Well, we didn't behave and here we are."  

March 8 is International Women’s Day. March 2012 is National Women’s History Month. The theme this year is Women’s Education – Women’s Empowerment.  

Why celebrate history of women in particular? Because it is recognition that recorded history still omits females, and that when something is noted about them, it is often distorted or played down, contributing to the misogyny that sustains global sexism. 

Why bring this up in a Senior Power context? Because most senior citizens are women, many of whom are alone and low-income. 

What may be accomplished in the present and for the future by a glance at the past?  

Women have gained some equality (an oxymoron, like partial virginity) in the workplace, but a wage gap based on gender remains. Although enactment of the Equal Pay Act nearly 50 years ago abolished wage differences based on sex/gender, in 2009, the median weekly earnings for female full-time wage and salary workers was 80% what men make.  

The fact that women earn less than men has serious repercussions throughout their lives. Reduced salaries mean smaller Social Security payouts and slimmer pension benefits. Many women take time off full-time work to raise a family or care for an aging relative, resulting in fewer years that they can pay into a retirement plan. Women are also more likely to work for smaller firms or part-time in jobs that have no tax-deferred retirement plan. 

A recent study shows that, on average, California “working women” make $8,300.00 less per year than men, costing these women about $37 billion annually. The data also suggest that, as women work more hours, the gap between the genders increases. The good news is that the wage gap in California is slowly narrowing and is smaller than the national average. Although women are 50.3 % of the state’s population, women are only 28 % of California legislators and 16.8 % of the U.S. Congress. From the start of the Recovery through May 2011, women lost 218,000 jobs, while men gained 768,000 jobs.  

Women now outnumber men in American colleges. However, in comparing then-and-now post-high school enrollments, one should also factor in: the number who actually graduate, how their major concentrations differ, and relative numbers in graduate schools and achieving graduate-level degrees. Researchers and reporters often fail to recognize the significance of whether an institution provides undergraduate and or graduate level matriculation, has full professional and regional accreditations, offers full and or part time study, provides onsite (or any!) class attendance, etc. 

The California budget ax has come down on public colleges and universities, resulting in reduced access to higher education, which creates an additional barrier to higher earnings and economic security for women. Since 2007, enrollment in community colleges has declined by 129,612 students, with women accounting for 81.6% of this decline. 

The share of women with jobs dropped over the past year, while the share of men with jobs was flat. Older women remained in the workforce, but were more likely to live in poverty. The poverty rate for older women increased between 2006 and 2012.  

The Governor’s 2012/2013 Budget Proposal eliminates the California Commission on the Status of Women, the only official voice for women and girls within state governance. 

This Commission will be forced to close its doors in April after 47 years of advocating for California women and their families. 

The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), adopted in 1979 by the UN General Assembly, is often described as an international bill of rights for women. The U. S. has not yet ratified this treaty. In 2008, CEDAW was transferred to the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, in Geneva. 

The Fourth World Conference on Women in 1995 in Beijing mobilized the global women's movement into strategic alliances and collective power that resulted in participating nations' commitment to the advancement of women outlined in its Platform for Action. The decennial Fifth World Conference on Women that would have been held in 2005 was not. Will it ever be held?  


How many of these heroes from California’s herstory can you identify? 

  1. California’s first woman lawyer, she was active in women’s rights, social welfare and politics.
  2. The owner and editor of the West Coast’s oldest black newspaper, The California Eagle, in l912, seeing no black workers on a visit to the County Hospital, appealed to the Los Angeles Board of Supervisors, who agreed to hire if she sent qualified women; she continued to pressure, and 10 years later the first black secretary and nurses were hired.
  3. During her time in UC, B office, she increased the enrollment of women from 1,200 to 6,400 by raising money for scholarships, expanding curriculum and housing opportunities. She encouraged women to participate in student government. During her tenure, the schools of Nursing and Social Welfare and the departments of Home Economics and Decorative Arts were established. She was also involved in the founding of the Women's Faculty Club, one of the earliest female faculty organizations to exist at a co-ed university.
  4. She grew up in Whittier, lived in France and northern California, where her book on aging, Sister Age, was written when she was 75, well known as a gourmet-author.
  5. As California’s first female architect, she was one of the first women to attend UC Berkeley as a civil engineering student. The first woman to attend the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris. She designed 700+ buildings, was known to climb around the construction sites – in dresses – to supervise the building of her designs.
  6. This economist lectured on labor and social policy and wrote stories until she met Jane Addams at the California Women’s Congress in 1895 and was inspired to write the classic Women and Economics, since published in 7 languages.
  7. When it was rumored that women were being mistreated at the City Hospital, this San Francisco Examiner journalist threw herself in front of a truck; taken to the hospital by horse cart, her resulting expose caused reforms.
  8. She won several civil rights court battles. She was a 19th Century female entrepreneur. Of partial African descent, she was widely known as Mammy Pleasant. She used her fortune to further the abolitionist movement, worked on the Underground Railroad across many states and then helped bring it to California during the Gold Rush Era. She was a friend and financial supporter of John Brown and well known in abolitionist circles. After the Civil War, she took her battles to the courts in the 1860s, and won several civil rights victories, one of which was cited and upheld in the 1980s.
  9. She was the first woman to carry the U.S. mail as a stagecoach driver. Her father was the Wells Fargo stage line agent, and when one of his regular drivers became ill, she was given the chance to take over. She became a regular backup driver.
  10. Born into slavery, provided no formal education, she learned about midwifery and herbal remedies from other slave women. The family she worked for eventually made their way to California, where slavery was against the law. But the law rarely punished slave owners or freed the slaves who worked for them. Her daughter was dating a free African American man through whose connection she gained her freedom. She worked as a mid-wife and later with a Los Angeles doctor. Living frugally, she was able to save enough money to purchase a home – one of the first African American women to own land in Los Angeles.
ANSWERS in next week’s column 


MARK YOUR CALENDAR. Readers are welcome to share by email news of future events and deadlines that may interest boomers, seniors and elders. Daytime, free, and Bay Area events preferred. 

Current-March 4, 2012. STAGEBRIDGE presents the World Premiere of Counter Attack!, a new play by Joan Holden, starring Joan Mankin as an aging waitress who discovers that her lifelong position is suddenly under attack. Inspired by Candacy Taylor¹s 2009 book, Counter Culture: The American Coffee Shop Waitress. The Ashby Stage, 1901 Ashby Ave., Berkeley. For show times and to reserve tickets: or 510-444-4755 x114. 

Current-March 30. “Berkeley Women Vote: Celebrating California Suffrage 1911-2011.” An Exhibit at the Berkeley History Center, 1931 Center Street. 510-848-0181. 

Friday, Feb. 24. 9 A.M.-4 P.M. Annual convention. United Seniors of Oakland and Alameda County. 510-729-0852. 

Friday, March 2. 12:15-1 P.M. UC,B Dept. of Music students perform chamber music. Free. Hertz Concert Hall. 510-642-4864. 

Tuesday, March 6. 1 P.M. Mastick Book Club. Mastick Senior Center, 1155 Santa Clara Ave. , Alameda. Book Club members will review House Rules by Jodi Picoult. 510-747-7506. 

Tuesday, March 6. 7 – 8 P.M. San Ramon Library Foundation Book Club. San Ramon Library. 100 Montgomery St. This month we're reading Death Comes for the Archbishop, by Willa Cather. Newcomers are welcome to drop in at any time! 925-973-2850. 

Wednesday, March 7. 12:15-1 P.M. University Wind Ensemble: Robert Calonico, director. Vaughan Williams: English Folk Song Suite. Lauridsen/arr. H. Robert Reynolds: O Magnum Mysterium . Steven Bryant: Stampede . Henry Fillmore/arr. Loras Schissel: Lassus Trombone. Nelson: Savannah River Holiday. Hertz Concert Hall. Free. 510-642-4864. 

Wednesdays, March 7 and 14. 9 A.M. – 1 P.M. Mastick Senior Center, 1155 Santa Clara Ave. , Alameda. AARP Driver Safety Program. Designed for individuals 50+, this 8 hour course is taught in 2, 4-hour sessions over a 2-day period. Preregistration required; cost is $12 per person for AARP members, $14 non-AARP members. Registration payable by check ONLY, made payable to AARP. Sign up in the Mastick Office. 510-747-7506. 

Thursday, March 8. 4:30 P.M. Kensington Library, 61 Arlington Av. eReader Workshop. Please bring your own device and library card to the workshop. 

Free. No reservations needed. 510-524-3043. See also March 15. 

Thursday, March 8. 6:30 P.M. El Cerrito Library, 6510 Stockton Avenue. Join board certified psychologist Dr. Marshall Zaslove for an evening meditation workshop and interaction. He will base his presentation on the book, Inner and Outer Peace through Meditation, by Rajinder Singh. 510-526-7512. 

Sunday, March 11. 1:30 – 4:30 P.M. Book Into Film. Central Berkeley Public Library, 

2090 Kittredge St.. Discussion group participants will read the book Between A Rock And A Hard Place at home and then to view the film adaptation. Following the film, participants will discuss the book, the film and the adaptation process.
Sponsored by the Friends of the Library, this free Book Into Film program offers adult and teen patrons the opportunity to discuss. 510-981-6100. 

Sunday, March 11. 2:30-3:30 P.M. Concord Library, 3900 Savio St. The Concord Library Mystery Book Club meets on the second Sunday of each month. The book for March will be The Cold Dish (A Walt Longmire Mystery) by Craig Johnson. Free. 925-646-5455 

Monday, March 12. 12:30-1:30 P.M. Albany YMCA/Albany Library Brown Bag Lunch Speaker's Forum: What Makes American English so Interesting? Dr. Gunnel Tottie, author of An Introduction to American English and Professor of English language and linguistics at the University of Zurich, will discuss American English in the context of American history while making comparisons with British English. Albany branch library, 1247 Marin Av. 510- 526-3720. 

Monday, March 12. 7 P.M. Kensington Library, 61 Arlington Avenue. 

Berkeley Repertory Theatre discussion. A docent from the Berkeley Repertory Theatre will discuss the current production, Moliere’s A Doctor in Spite of Himself, the traditional story of a girl, who feigns illness to avoid an unwanted wedding. Free. 510-524-3043 

Tuesday, March 13. 1:30 P.M. . Mastick Senior Center, 1155 Santa Clara Ave., Alameda. Douglas Borchert, J.D., SBC, underwriting counsel, columnist, will present “The America’s Cup: Racing the Wind.” Sign up in the Mastick Office or call 510-747-7506. This program is sponsored by the Mastick Senior Center Advisory Board. 

Tuesday, March 13. 6:30-7:30 P.M. Pleasant Hill Library, 1750 Oak Park Blvd. Book Pleasant Hill Library Book Club. Meet other readers for fun engaged discussions. We will be reading The Lost City of Z: A Tale of Deadly Obsession in the Amazon by David Grann. 925-646-6434. 

Wednesday, March 14. 12:15-1 P.M. Free. Hertz Concert Hall. University Baroque Ensemble, Davitt Moroney, director. Music of Bach, Handel, Charpentier. 510-642-4864. 

Thursday, March 15. 4:30 P.M. Kensington Library, 61 Arlington Av. eReader Workshop. Please bring your own device and library card to the workshop. Free. No reservations needed. 510-524-3043. 

Sunday, March 18. 2 – 3:15 P.M. San Francisco Shakespeare presents Macbeth. Central Berkeley Public Library, 2090 Kittredge St. The touring company presents a 55 minute production of the "Scottish play" with costumes, props, sets and recorded music. Stay for a Q&A session with the actors. 510-981-6100. 

Wednesday, March 21. 12:15 – 1 P.M. Noon concert, UC, B. Music Department. Hertz Concert Hall. UC Berkeley Symphony Orchestra, David Milnes, director. Weber: Bassoon Concerto, Drew Gascon, soloist. Debussy: Nocturnes. Tickets not required. 510-642-4864. 

Wednesday, March 21. 7:00- 8:00 P.M. Albany branch library, 1247 Marin Av. Adult 

Evening Book Group: Pat Barker's Regeneration. When poet and soldier Siegfried Sassoon writes a letter critical of England's efforts in World War I, he is sent to a mental hospital where Dr. W. H. R. Rivers tries to help patients express their war memories as a means of healing their "nerves." Rosalie Gonzales facilitates the discussion. Come to one meeting, or all meetings. Books are available at the Library. 510- 526-3720. 

Friday, March 23. 12:15-1 P.M. Bustan Quartet. Free Noon Concert Series. Lecture/demonstration: Co-sponsored event: Highlights: Hertz Concert Hall. Visiting Israeli group demonstrates their work in crafting new means of musical expression from diverse resources. Tickets not required. 510-642-4864.  

Saturday, March 24. Berkeley Public Library North Branch final open day for BranchVan Service at Live Oak Park. See April 7. 

Monday, March 26. 7 P.M. Kensington Library, 61 Arlington Av. Book Club.  

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peal Society by Mary Ann Shaffer. Each meeting starts with a poem selected and read by a member with a brief discussion following the reading. New members are always welcome. Free. 510-524-3043. 

Current-March 30. “Berkeley Women Vote: Celebrating California Suffrage 1911-2011.” An Exhibit at the Berkeley History Center, 1931 Center Street. 510-848-0181. 

Tuesday, March 27. 3 – 4 P.M. Central Berkeley Public Library, 2090 Kittredge St., 

Tea and Cookies at the Library. A book club for people who want to share the books they have read. 510-981-6100. 

Wednesday, March 28. 1:30 - 2:30 P.M. Great Books Discussion Group: Mikhail Bulgakov's Master and Margarita. Albany Library, 1247 Marin Av. Rosalie Gonzales facilitates the discussion. Come to one meeting, or all meetings. Books are available at the Library. 510- 526-3720 

Wednesday, March 28. 2-3 P.M. Moraga Library. 1500 St. Mary’s Road. Join a Berkeley Rep Theatre-trained docent to talk about the latest production, John Logan's Tony Award-winning two-character bio-drama about abstract impressionist, Mark Rothko, that's been called a "master class of questions and answers." Free. 925-376-6852. 925- 254-2184

Saturday, April 7. 1 – 5 P.M. Berkeley Public Library North Branch Grand Reopening Event. The final open day for BranchVan Service at Live Oak Park will be Saturday, March 24, 2012.  

Monday, April 9. 11:30 – 1:30 A.M. Older Adult Passover Seder. Jewish Community Center of the East Bay, Berkeley Branch 1414 Walnut Street. Kosher meal will include chicken and matzo ball soup, gefilte fish with horseradish sauce, fresh green salad w/ hard boiled eggs, roasted chicken, matzoh kugel, and wine. The Seder will be led by Ron Feldman. $10 JCC East Bay Member. $13 Non-Member. RSVP by March 29. Contact: Front DeskPhone: 510-848-0237. Email: 

Saturday, April 14. Berkeley Public Library Claremont Branch’s final open day for BranchVan Service at St. John’s Presbyterian Church.