From struggle to success, frustration to determination, women have fought for equality. International Women’s Day on March 8 is a day not only of focusing on the past achievements made by women around the world but also of looking toward the future. Though there have been some tremendous changes over the several decades, the fight for equality is far from over, and there is still much to accomplish globally.
Looking locally, this past January, Janet Levit was named the president of the University of Tulsa, making her the first female president. This Sunday, March 8, to celebrate International Women’s Day, The Collegian is interviewing Janet Levit.
According to the United Nations’s official website, International Women’s Day was first established a national holiday in the United States on Feb. 28, 1909. The Socialist Party of America established the day in order to recognize the garment workers’ strike in New York, where women protested against the work conditions they were under in 1908. Gradually this spread to Europe. In 1910 Copenhagen, Denmark, the Socialist International recognized the struggle for women’s rights, which was the start of International Women’s Day.
According to the UNESCO (United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization) website, in 1975 the United Nations recognized and celebrated International Women’s Day. In December 1977, the General Assembly used a “resolution proclaiming a United Nations Day for Women’s Rights and International Peace.”
As of 2020, International Women’s Day is celebrated in several countries with continuous plans for innovations in the near future.
Whether it’s international or local, the achievements made by women and for women are groundbreaking, especially as we celebrate International Women’s Day. The University of Tulsa is no exception to making history for women’s rights, either. As mentioned on the school’s website, before TU was established in 1894 as Henry Kendall College “at the request of the Synod of Indian Territory,” the college founded a boarding school: the Presbyterian School for Indian Girls in 1882.
Later on in the 20th century, women became more recognized, prompting a new look at Tulsa’s history with women’s rights and innovations, going beyond their roles at the time. Judith Jaeger, the author of “Pathfinders and Way-Makers: A Women’s History of Early Tulsa,” began her research on Tulsa’s history, where it showed a lesser-known portion of the females that helped shape the city.
As she looked further into it, she saw most of the documented people were men. She stated that if someone “read a lot about the early history of Tulsa,” they would see that most of it would be about the “bankers, the oilmen, the ranchers, the doctors.” She then went on to explain that “if the women in their lives are mentioned at all, it’s usually just a couple of lines about their marriage and how many children she had.”
Nevertheless, Jaeger was interested in finding more out, which she did. She discovered a woman named Lilah Lindsey, who Judith Jaeger described as “truly one of the ‘founding mothers’ of Tulsa. She was involved in more than 30 organizations and wrote for such papers as the Indian Pioneer Papers.”
Women like Lilah Lindsey and Judith Jaeger are leaders, as they notice their surroundings and decide to something that could affect their community positively.
One of those women is Janet Levit.
Growing up, she was immersed in law. “My father is a lawyer who practiced civil rights law for his entire career. My grandmother had a law degree from Northwestern, which was remarkable for the late 1930s,” Levit fondly recalled.
“I am not surprised that I forged a career combining teaching and the law,” she later added. With this, she found her true passion — helping her community reach its fullest potential.
This led her to a few of her most recent and major accomplishments. Levit was also named the first female provost and the first female dean of the TU College of Law.
When asked about her amazing accomplishments, Levit shared that her hard work is “a product of a faculty of trailblazers.”
Later she stated that, “However, if I am ‘trailblazing’, it is only possibly because of those who came before me.”
Though she is deeply thankful for the people who forged a path for her, she understands what role it plays in her life: “I appreciate the extent to which being a ‘first’ carries responsibility.”
With this in mind, she has taken every aspect into consideration with the invaluable experience she has had over her career.
Aside from her work here at TU, President Levit remains adamant about her passion for women’s rights globally. “I intend to dedicate significant time over the next decade of my life to women’s rights, equality for women and combating implicit gender bias,” Levit explained.
A few years ago, she committed herself to her goal to help women outside of the United States.
“In 2015, I started working with a group of human rights lawyers on maternal mortality issues in Uganda,” she said.
Within the University of Tulsa as well as the greater Tulsa area, as she contemplates her next move, Levit stated that, as she progresses in her presidency and women’s rights activism, she plans on bringing a positive change with the work she’s done.
International Women’s Day is a celebration of the success of women, both past and present. Nevertheless, it should be a time of reflection and appreciation of what women have struggled for as well as a moment to have hope for what the future brings.