Sonia Pressman Fuentes
Honors and Awards: 2014 - Present
On July 7, 2021, Sonia was recognized by the Wechsler Center for Modern Aging of the Marlene Meyerson JCC Manhattan for its inaugural 16 over 61 awards.
A collaboration between the Forward and the Marlene Meyerson JCC Manhattan’s Wechsler Center for Modern Aging
Jewish tradition is filled with stories of individuals who take transformative journeys late in their lives. Moses, Abraham, Sarah, Miriam, and Naomi are just a few who make invaluable contributions at mature ages. Instead of diminishing, their relevance to their communities intensifies as they age.
The lessons we can learn from today’s older adults are no less significant.
It was this inspiration that the Marlene Meyerson JCC Manhattan's Wechsler Center for Modern Aging partnered with the Forward to present the "16 Over 61 Awards."
With these honors, we've aimed to spotlight the creativity, leadership and initiative of adults who exemplify our collective values. We received more than 100 nominations from across the U.S. and Canada, representing a vast range of experience and backgrounds. A selection committee representing both organizations, as well as professionals and laypeople from diverse fields, worked to come up with the final 16, who are profiled below.
Our honorees don’t let age define or stop them. “The point,” said one of the award recipients, Gerald Cohen, “is to embrace and celebrate age wherever one is on the chronological scale. We have been granted a gift of longevity, and we must use that gift.”
“Judaism instructs that our time on earth is a gift to ourselves and to all those whom we encounter,” shared one of the honorees, Arthur Grabiner.
Those selected include rabbis, an artist, a musician, social-justice advocates, a former prison chaplain, educators, LGBTQ activists and the founder of a Jewish humor group. Stephen Rosen had his second bar mitzvah at the age of 83. Joseph Hample, the youngest honoree, is 64; Muriel Mandell, the oldest honoree, is 99. All are still active in their fields. What they have in common as Gerald Cohen put it, is the desire to “leave the world a better place.”
A video of the program held on July 7, 2021, is available for viewing:
MEET THE HONOREES
Sonia was included in an exhibit of 250 notable Cornell University women—alumnae, professors, and administrators—past and present called “Women in the Big Picture.” The exhibit was at the Willard Straight Art Gallery at Cornell from Feb. 24, 2014, through early April 2014. The exhibit was developed by Jordana Gilman, a 2014 Cornell graduate. You can read about the exhibit here.
Sonia’s picture (with her in a white sweater) is in the section on the right, top row, fourth from the left.
(Click image to enlarge)
From Sonia's publisher:
“We’re pleased to inform you that we have promoted this exhibit in our social media pages and we have also put up a page in our Xlibris Blogs website.
New York State Senate Resolution Honoring Sonia (April 29, 2014):
On March 26, 2013, the Senior Lawyers Division (SLD) of the American Bar Association (ABA) invited Sonia to be included in the ABA's Women Trailblazers in the Law Project. The Project consists of whole life oral histories of 108 outstanding senior women lawyers, judges, and legal academicians who have excelled in their careers and opened opportunities for other women. Ten of these oral histories are under seal, with varying requirements for lifting the restrictions.
As required, Sonia was interviewed for the Project on six occasions for one-two hours each time from July 2013 through March 2014 by a Sarasota, FL woman attorney, Liz Alpert. (Liz Alpert was mayor of Sarasota, FL from May 2018 to November 2019.) The best source for information on Sonia and the other Trailblazers is the website of the Robert Crown Law Library at the Stanford Law School, Stanford University, in Stanford, CA. When you access the website, scroll down and click on Sonia's name under her picture. Then you can access her oral history (listen to the interviews and/or read the transcripts of them), her bio, and photo gallery. If you click on any of the pictures in her photo gallery, they will enlarge and include captions.
The Women Trailblazers project has also sent transcriptions of the interviews to the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C. and the Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America in Cambridge, MA.
On May 20, 2015, Sonia received the following letter from Linda Ferren, Project Director, Women Trailblazers in the Law.
In October 2015, an article called "In Their Own Words: Preserving the Life Histories of Women Trailblazers in the Law" by Michael Smith (p. 21) was published in the Washington Lawyer, the official magazine of the District of Columbia Bar.
Historian Jill Norgren wrote a book, Stories from Trailblazing Women Lawyers: Lives in the Law, interweaving the histories of these trailblazing women lawyers. Sonia attended the launching of this book at the Wilson Center in Washington, D.C., on May 7, 2018. At the book launch, Jill Norgren gave an excellent talk and slide presentation on the history of women lawyers in the U.S. That talk was shown on C-Span 3 on June 10, 2018, and can be seen now at C-Span's website.
Sonia is mentioned in the "Conclusion" (pp. 183-4) of the section called "The New Face of Government." Read the conclusion.
Jill Norgren also created a Facebook page to introduce the 108 women lawyers celebrated in her book with short bios. Her bio of Sonia on Facebook follows.
"SONIA PRESSMAN FUENTES interviewed by Liz Alpert. Fuentes graduated summa cum laude from the University of Miami School of Law. A lifelong women's rights activist, she testified in Congress in favor of passage of the 1963 Equal Pay legislation. She was a co-founder of the National Organization for Women (NOW), WEAL, and FEW. In 1965 she joined the General Counsel's Office of the EEOC as its first woman attorney. While there she drafted important guidelines and decisions including one finding that airlines violated the law when they terminated or grounded stewardesses when they married, or reached their early 30's. She also served as an attorney with the DOJ, NLRB, and HUD. She was at GTE Service Corporation and TRW as an attorney and executive. Fuentes has received numerous awards and is the author of the memoir, `Eat First-You Don't Know What They'll Give You: The Adventures of an Immigrant Family and Their Feminist Daughter.'"
Sonia was one of sixteen women (nine living, seven dead) who were honored by the National Women's History Project (NWHP) in commemoration of Women's History Month for 2016 at a luncheon at the Hamilton Restaurant on March 19, 2016. The theme of Women's History Month for 2016 is "Forming a More Perfect Union: Honoring Women in Public Service and Government." There is a list of the honorees, their bios, and their pictures.
Sonia's bio reads as follows:
Sonia Pressman Fuentes
(1928 – Present)
NOW co-founder, first woman attorney
in the Office of the General Counsel at the EEOC (Equal Employment Opportunity Commission)
Sonia Pressman Fuentes is a lawyer, author, speaker and pioneering feminist leader who fought for women's equality in the work force and helped initiate the Second Wave of the women's rights movement.
Fuentes was born in 1928 in Berlin, Germany. When she was five years old, she immigrated to the US with her parents and brother to escape the Holocaust, arriving in New York City in 1934. In 1957 Fuentes graduated first in her class at the University of Miami School of Law.
She was the first woman attorney to work in the Office of the General Counsel at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), a government agency dedicated to enforcing federal employment discrimination laws. While there, she became the staff person who stood for the aggressive enforcement of the gender discrimination prohibitions of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. As the person who drafted a number of the initial landmark guidelines and decisions, Fuentes played an extremely significant role in increasing the opportunities for women in the work force in the second half of the 20th century.
Fuentes was one of the founders of the National Organization for Women (NOW) and was a charter member of the advocacy group Federally Employed Women (FEW). Fuentes has also served on the advisory committees of the Veteran Feminists of America (VFA) and the Longboat Key Education Center.
In 1999 she published a memoir, Eat First – You Don't Know What They'll Give You: The Adventures of an Immigrant Family and Their Feminist Daughter. Fuentes has dedicated her whole life to making equal rights for women in the work force, as well as in other arenas of society, a reality rather than just a promise. A key pioneer during the Second Wave of the women's rights movement, the enduring impact of her work is still evident today. For further information on Fuentes, visit her website at http://www.erraticimpact.com/fuentes.
NWHP developed a poster showing all of the honorees.
(Click on image to enlarge.)
Sonia's picture is in the top row, furthest right. It shows Stephen Shulman, chairman of the EEOC, presenting Sonia with the Superior Performance Award sometime between Sept. 14, 1966, and July 1, 1967.
On March 18, the day before the NWHP luncheon, Sonia had a luncheon for her Washington, D.C. area friends at the Asian Spice restaurant in Washington's Chinatown. Below are pictures taken at that luncheon.
Sonia with Millie Glazer (Sonia's cap, given to her by Barbara Howard, says "Women on 20s," the campaign led by Barbara to get a woman's picture on the $20 bill.)
Sonia with Millie Glazer and Sondra Seba Hemenway.
Sondra Seba Hemenway and Barbara Howard.
The following pictures were taken at the March 19 NWHP luncheon at the Hamilton Restaurant.
Sonia with Angie Klink, author of The Dean's Bible: Five Purdue Women and Their Quest for Equality (published Feb. 15, 2014).
Sonia with two longtime DC-area friends: Dr. Fann Harding (in black jacket) and Sondra Seba Hemenway (in black-and-white jacket). Sondra, Fann, and Sonia served together for years as members of the board of trustees of the National Woman's Party, now called the Sewall-Belmont House and Museum.
Sonia with Dr. Fann Harding.
Sonia with Nadine Smith, executive director of Equality Florida, the primary organization in Florida that advocates for LGBT rights.
Sonia with the presenter holding Sonia's award at the March 19, 2016, luncheon. In the background are two pictures that include Sonia that were displayed when she was being honored.
These two pictures were on Sonia's table at the Hamilton Restaurant. Click on each to enlarge.
Angie Klink wrote a guest blog for Purdue University about her attendance at the March 19 National Women's History Project's honors luncheon, which mentions Sonia.
Sonia was one of three Floridians honored at the March 19 luncheon. An article about that appeared in the online LGBT weekly on Mar. 7, 2016. Read the article here.
Radio interview (half hour) of Sonia, Nadine Smith, Jan Godown Annino, and Moses Jumper on WGCU-FM (the NPR station in Ft. Myers, FL) GulfCoast Live, by John Davis on Mar. 23, 2016. The purpose of the program was to let listeners know that three of the sixteen honorees honored by the National Women's History Project were Floridians: Sonia, Nadine Smith, and the late Betty Mae Tiger Jumper. Listen to the interview here. When the page opens you will find a link called "Listen". That listen link will have a blue triangle. Click to listen or right click and choose "save link as" to save the file to your own computer.
The National Women's History Project's PowerPoint presentation about the 16 honorees is here.
In 1988, while employed at the U.S. Department of Housing & Urban Development (HUD), Sonia spent four-five months as a LEGIS Fellow working for Senator Howard Metzenbaum's Senate Subcommittee on Labor on Capitol Hill. Her boss was a lawyer named James Brudney.
On Oct. 6, 2017, Jim Brudney, now a professor of law at the Fordham Law School, emailed Sonia that a memo she wrote to Charles T. Duncan, the General Counsel of the EEOC, in May of 1966 on the "Use of Statistics in Title VII Proceedings" is part of a casebook he co-authored and uses to teach first-year law students. Jim's email follows.
"I hope you’re doing well as you approach your 90th birthday.
"Although I am not sure I will be able to attend the wonderful event in DC on May 7, I wanted to be sure you knew that your pioneering memo on disparate impact is part of the Eskridge & Brudney casebook materials for first-year law students at Fordham.
"Forgive me if I have told you this before (even “younger” old people have memory challenges), but I teach Legislation & Regulation to 1Ls (as I have for 20-plus years at Ohio State and now Fordham). As part of the Introductory Unit on the Civil Rights Act, I require them to read your memo as we take up Griggs in the Fourth Circuit (a more interesting set of opinions pedagogically than the SCt’s).
"Anyway, I think of you fondly each January as I discuss the Memo with my students. You truly were a trailblazer on this front (and others).
Jim Brudney's Cases and Materials on Legislation and Regulation: Statutes and the Creation of Public Policy, 5th (American Casebook Series), which contains a discussion of, and cross reference to, Sonia's memo, was co-authored with William Eskridge, Jr. and Elizabeth Garrett. Sonia's memo is contained in a Documents Supplement to that Casebook, which was co-authored with William Eskridge, Jr.
On January 30, 2018, Jim Brudney wrote as follows to Sonia:
"It is the time of the year when I teach your May 31, 1966 Memo to Charles Duncan (Use of Statistics in Title VII Proceedings) to 90 first year law students. They are not expected to learn Title VII substantive law in my statutory interpretation/administrative law course (much less how to use statistics).
"Rather, the students are meant to understand how influential agency guidance can be in shaping the meaning of key emerging statutory concepts—in this instance, the meaning of discrimination. Judge Sobeloff embraced your agency guidance in his Fourth Circuit dissent in Griggs, and the SCt then endorsed the position when writing his dissent into law.
"Your name will continue to live on in my classroom (and elsewhere)."
On Feb. 27, 2018, the Cornell Club of Sarasota-Manatee (FL) sent out the following email about some of its members, including Sonia.
Our Members Have Been in the News!
In the World of Medicine
Dr. Joelle Vlahakis A&S '91 was the winner of the Sarasota Memorial Hospital Physician EXCEL Award. Joelle, the Medical Director of the Hospitals' Supportive Care Services and Associate Director of Medical Care Management, was described as the perfect blend of professional acumen balanced with sincere compassion.The award went on to say that she manages complex end of life and palliative care situations, always in a positive light. She is the mother of Olivia A&S '18!
Andy Guz MHA '05 is the CEO of Lakewood Ranch Medical Center and recently announced a $28.5 million expansion to the Center. Andy began his career with the center in November 2016. He is second from the right in the photo. Andy is a board member of the Sloan Alumni Association in the Sloan Program of Health Administration (College of Human Ecology) at Cornell.
In the World of Law
J. Allison Archbold A&S '94 has begun her own law firm, The Archbold Law Firm, P. A. and was named a 2018 Best Lawyer for Trusts & Estates by Best Lawyers of America. She is also the Secretary for the Board of Trustees for Selby Gardens, a member of the Cornell Council, a Director of the Sarasota County Bar Association and a member of the Executive Council of the Real Property, Probate & Trust Law Section of The Florida Bar.
Rick Gans A&S '80 was named the 2018 Trusts & Estates Lawyer of the Year for the Sarasota metro region by the peer-review group Best Lawyers of America, having also received that honor in 2016 and is a Fellow of the American College of Trust and Estate Counsel. Among his many volunteer roles, Rick is the Board Chair of the Community Foundation of Sarasota County and of the Woman’s Exchange. He is the principal tubist in the Sarasota Concert Band.
And In the World of Women
Sonia Pressman Fuentes
Several years ago, the Senior Lawyers Division of the American Bar Association began a project called Women Trailblazers in the Law, for which they selected 100 American women lawyers, judges and academicians. Sonia was one of those women who had been pioneers in their own careers and for those of other women. Transcriptions of the interviews are online and at the Library of Congress, the Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America, and the Robert Crown Law Library at the Stanford Law School. Her life story is included in a book to be published this May, Stories from Trailblazing Women Lawyers by Jill Norgren. Sonia is a co-founder of NOW, the National Organization for Women. She recently spoke before the Ladybugs, the local chapter of the Ninety-Nines, an international organization of women pilots founded in 1929 and was interviewed on SNN with Elina Lunin, president of the Ladybugs.
Sonia receives Backbone Award at the annual conference of the Secular Student Alliance.
On June 30, 2018, Sonia was interviewed at the annual conference of the Secular Student Alliance (SSA) at Ohio State University in Columbus, OH and given the Backbone Award for her work in women's rights. This is a flier that was distributed to attendees by SSA.
(Click the image to enlarge)
A picture of most of the conference attendees follows. Sonia is in the fifth row from the top on the furthest right-hand side.
(Click on the image to enlarge)
The Backbone Award:
Sonia's getting this award was discussed in the July 2018 issue of the "Alumni Insider," the enewsletter of the University of Miami (FL) Law Alumni Association.
"Each year, the Backbone Award is given to a secular person whose dedication and work over many years has been foundational in the cause of civil rights, freedom, and equality. Sonia will receive the Backbone Award at the 2018 Secular Student Alliance national conference this summer."
On March 29, 2019, Sonia was added to the Veteran Feminists of America (VFA) Pioneer Histories Project. Her listing can be found here.
In 2025, the University of Miami (of whose law school Sonia is an alumna) will celebrate its 100th anniversary. The Law Alumni Association embarked on a new project to record the story of the law school through the eyes of alumni. In that connection, Georgina Angones, Assistant Dean, Law Development & Alumni Relations, and Anthony Stewart, Office of Law Development & Alumni Relations, Director of Development and Annual Giving, came to Sarasota, FL on June 12, 2018, to interview Sonia and another Miami Law School alumna. Sonia's 15-minute interview may be seen here.
This new project and Sonia's inclusion in it, among other alumni, were the subjects of an article in the spring 2019 issue of the Miami Law Magazine on page 82. You can access this issue of the magazine here.
On June 24, 2020, a page about Sonia was added to the website Women's Voices Media. You can view the page here.