The month of March marks Women’s History Month, in which we celebrate the incredible women who have helped shape our country, society, and everyday life. Much in the same vein as the establishment of Black History Month, Women’s History Month was established to highlight and remember those whose contributions were often ignored, overlooked, or outright stolen.
As we look back and celebrate the women who helped shape our world, we are also reminded of the work that needs to be done going forward — to close the gender-pay gap, to protect reproductive rights, and to reckon with a culture of sexual harassment and assault.
This year, Women’s History Month comes in the midst of the #MeToo and Time’s Up movements and coincides with an incredible moment of empowerment, giving our celebration of this month a special significance.
So, in order to pay tribute to all women and their contributions of all stripes, I’m taking a moment to talk about a few of the women who have made a difference in my life, inspired me, or made a lasting impact on our state.
My grandmother, Mamie Todd, was one of the biggest inspirations of my entire life. She spent her life working to make her community better in some of the most important, and often most thankless jobs. After moving to Baltimore with my grandfather in 1941, she went to work for Planned Parenthood and would go on to become a state social worker. She dedicated her life to helping the poorest families in our state. She lead one of the first big efforts to stop the sexual exploitation of vulnerable children in Baltimore and she helped train young social workers who would go on to continue that work, including future Senator Barbara Mikulski. She was an incredible woman, who knew that big change came from small acts and you couldn’t half-solve a problem.
My mom, Ann Jealous, took after her own mother and was making a difference from an early age. She’s always been fearless, and, at twelve years old, she sued Western High School during the Brown v. Board era. She would ultimately desegregate the school at 15 and was part of the first class of black girls to go all the way through to graduation. From there, she became an activist and a teacher in some of Baltimore’s most vulnerable neighborhoods, where she dedicated herself to changing the lives of the young students she encountered. Just like my grandmother, she dedicated herself to shaping and improving her community in ways that only she could.
The third woman I want to honor is Verda Freeman Welcome. Welcome was the first black woman in the country to be elected to a State Senate seat when she was elected to the Maryland State Senate in 1962. After starting her career as a teacher in Baltimore City Public Schools for 11 years, she became a community leader through her involvement in Baltimore City neighborhood groups. Throughout the 1950s, she became an advocate fighting to dismantle racial barriers in Baltimore and throughout Maryland. In 1959, she was elected to the House of Delegates. In almost 25 years in public service, she fought to end racial discrimination, obtain equal pay for equal work, protect voting rights, institute criminal justice reform, and abolish capital punishment. She shattered barrier after barrier and was a trailblazer that inspired scores of young leaders who came after her.
As I take a moment to honor these women who have inspired me, I hope everyone takes a moment to acknowledge the women who have touched their own lives.