Commentary: March is Women’s History Month

We also celebrated the 108th International Women’s Day on Friday, March 1, with activists advocating for social and financial equality and an end to violence. The day’s theme for 2019 is “Balance for Better” and celebrates women’s achievements. This year’s commemoration follows a record 117 women elected to U.S. Congress last fall and several announcing a run for president in 2020. All of this inspired me to write more about women you may not have heard of.

We all loved the movie “Green Book,” but recently I came across an obituary in the NYT for Raven Wilkinson, 83, Black ballerina who braved shows in the segregated south as well. She was the first African-American dancer to perform with a major ballet company--Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo, a well-known company touring the US in the 1940’s and 50’s.

Ms. Wilkinson was born in 1935 (-2018) and grew up in a middle-class Harlem household.  She began ballet at the age of 5 and studied under Maria Swoboda, a Russian teacher who had danced with the Bolshoi Ballet.

As a young adult, she tried to join the Ballet Monte Carlo three times and finally on the fourth try, she was accepted. Because the company toured in the South, they had hesitated having a black woman as part of their company. And, there were Southern confrontations and separate hotel accommodations for Ms. Wilkinson. The company supported her, but because of the confrontations, she left and joined the Dutch National Ballet for seven years, later joining the NYC Opera dancing and later taking part in the stage action.

In 2015, Misty Copeland, the first African-American Ballerina to be named a principal dancer at the American Ballet Theater in NY sought Ms. Wilkinson out after hearing her story in the film “Ballets Russes” — a wonderful film documenting the famous Ballet Russes, an essential piece of 20th-century dance history. Both ballerinas became fast friends.

Ms. Wilkinson never considered herself a pioneer, “my race is not of significance, all I wanted to do was dance.”

Another NYT obituary recently shared the life of Evelyn Berezin’s (1925-2018). Did you know she built the first word processor? She was born in the Bronx to Sam and Rose Berezin, Jewish immigrants from Russia. Ms. Berezin and her family lived in an apartment under elevated tracks. She listened to the roar of the subway trains growing up while reading “Astounding Stories” magazine in her bedroom. She graduated from high school at 15 and attended Hunter College, Brooklyn Polytechnic Institute and earned her physics degree from NYU.

In 1972, as an employee of the Electronic Computer Corp, she was directed to “design a computer.” She had never seen one before.

“Hardly anyone else had,” she said. “So I just had to figure out how to do it. It was a lot of fun — when I wasn’t terrified.”

An early computer of hers was used to make range calculations for artillery. When Ms. Berezin moved to a new employer, Tele-register, she designed an office computer to keep books to automate a national banking system and the first computerized airline reservations system for United Airlines.

In 1969, Ms. Berezin acted on her computer design using chips known as integrated (making it a true computer) circuits to record and retrieve keystrokes for text editing. Along with two male colleagues in 1969, she used her’s and Intel’s semiconductors in her first processor. She holds nine computer-related patents.

She was a computer pioneer and the founder of Redactron Corp, a tech startup who relieved us from the drudgery of the typewriter by building and marketing the first computerized word processor. Ms. Berezin called it the Data Secretary and her first ad was in “Ms. Magazine” in 1971.

Eva Schloss, a courageous woman of our time, was recently a featured speaker at Cal Poly. She is one of the last living survivors of Auschwitz. I found her to be such a neat lady with a sharp mind, memory and sense of humor after all she has gone through.

She experienced horrors we could never imagine, but she and her Mother survived. Mrs. Schloss was also a friend of Anne Frank before both of their families were transported to camps. After surviving, she made her way to England, married and raised three daughters. She did not talk about her experiences until 1985, but now devotes herself to Holocaust Education lectures all over the world and works for global peace. Read her book, “Eva’s Story.”


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