- Interviews of, and Articles about, Sonia
Interviews of, Articles about, and Books that Include Sonia
Articles about Sonia are also contained in the section on Belgium.
- On Aug. 29, 2029, the subject of the Yiddish Book Center’s newsletter was “Returning to Our Roots.” The newsletter featured seven interviews from its Oral History Project on that subject, the second of which involved Sonia. She was thrilled to follow Leonard Nimoy’s interview.
- Annette Bethel, a feminist on Sonia’s worldwide feminist email list, sent her on August 14, 2022, the minutes from the NOW 1967 conference that she came across in doing research.
A reference to Sonia is at the end of the write-up, as follows:
“The meeting then had a talk on job discrimination. Aileen Hernandez, a past employee of the EEOC (Equal Employment Opportunity Commission) introduced Sonia Pressman, a present employee of the EEOC, to talk on the subject of the action a woman can take against job discrimination and what part the EEOC takes in the case. Sonia Pressman briefly outlined what Title 7 covers, explaining that federal law in most cases conflict with state protective laws. Employers can not run segregated job ads in the papers. Insurance benefits must be equal for both men and women. AN employer can not refuse to employ a married women. There are many court cases resulting from Title 7; many more cases than were expected when the word sex was added to the Civil Rights act. Sonia Pressman then reviewed the legal procedures one should take in discrimination cases.”
Copyright © 2022 by Thomas Dublin, Kathryn Kish Sklar, Judy Tzu-Chun Wu, Rebecca Jo Plant and Alexander Street, a ProQuest Company
On April 19, 2022, Penguin Random House published The Great Stewardess Rebellion: How Women Launched a Workplace Revolution at 30,000 Feet by Nell McShane Wulfhart, in which Sonia plays a prominent part.
In 1968, many U.S. airlines terminated or grounded stewardesses (who flew only on domestic flights) when they married or turned 32 or 35. U.S. airlines also had other requirements and restrictions on these women flight cabin attendants that they did not have on male flight cabin attendants who flew on international flights, were called pursers, and did the same jobs as the stewardesses. Many stewardesses and their union filed complaints with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) about these practices.
Sonia drafted the decision wherein the EEOC found that the airlines’ policies on age and marriage for stewardesses violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. That decision was later confirmed by the courts. It was the beginning of the legal revolution in women’s rights in the U.S., which later spread worldwide.
The book received outstanding reviews from the Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, and many other publications. Nell McShane Wulfhart discussed the book on radio station WHYY, an NPR affiliate, in Philadelphia, on May 3, 2022, at 10 a.m. on Radio Times. You can hear her comments, including a reference to Sonia, here. (When you get to this website, click on “Listen 49:29” at the top.)
- On Aug. 26, 2021, Growing Bolder, an organization for and about seniors, put an article about Sonia on its website.
- On Aug. 14, 2020, SRQ magazine in Sarasota had an article about Sonia by Andrew Fabian entitled "Foot Soldier for Women's Rights Retells Stories From the Front Lines."
- On July 24, 2020, there was an article in Sarasota Magazine by Kay Kipling about Sarasota's celebration of the centennial of suffrage, which mentioned Sonia twice.
- Article in Town and Country magazine of April 19, 2020, about the history of the ERA begins with a quote from Sonia.
- On Apr. 2, 2019, author Pamela S. Nadell's book, America's Jewish Women: A History From Colonial Times to Today, was published. Ms. Nadell interviewed Sonia for the book, and Sonia is included in it. The New York Times' Mar. 29, 2019, review of the book included the following statement: "From Betty Friedan to Sonia Pressman, Bella Abzug and Gerda Lerner, Jewish women had an outsize role in the feminist struggle."
- The November 30, 2018, issue of the Washington Post contained a column by Petula Dvorak about the ERA and Sonia's comments on it.
- In its October 2018 issue, Sarasota's newspaper, West Coast Woman, announced Sonia's Oct. 24, 2018, talk to the Sarasota chapter of AAUW.
- The Washington Post has a newsletter that explores identity and culture in America called About US, which included Sonia on July 13, 2018.
- On Dec. 20, 2017, Sonia was featured on the cover of the Sarasota section of the Sarasota Herald-Tribune with regard to her talk scheduled for Jan. 11, 2018, to the Ladybugs, the Sarasota chapter of the Ninety-Nines, an international organization of women pilots founded in 1929. The local chapter was founded a year ago.
- From Nov. 9 through 11, 2017, the Sarasota Herald-Tribune's website contained the following article about a talk Sonia was due to deliver at the first anniversary of the Sarasota chapter of the Ninety-Nines, an international organization of female aviators that was founded in 1929.
- In the Jewish Women's Archive blog of July 27, 2017, in the entry, "Combatting Sexual Harassment and Assault in Schools," by Sara Lebow, Esther Warkov, co-founder and co-executive director of SSAIS (Stop Sexual Assault in Schools), refers to Sonia as a senior mentor and a "distinguished feminist lawyer."
- On July 1, 2017, SSAIS (Stop Sexual Assault in Schools) issued its Final Report on its action under an AAUW Community Action Grant Awarded to Stop Sexual Assault in Schools 2016-2017. Sonia is one of seven women quoted at the beginning of the report, as follows:
Two of the critical areas in gender discrimination today are sexual harassment and sexual assault. Most of the attention has, however, been focused on college and university campuses. SSAIS is performing a vital service in fighting sexual harassment and assault in an otherwise forgotten area: K-12. “Sexual Harassment: Not in Our School!,” using experts and student activists, sets forth the applicable law in this area and suggests ways in which families, students, school administrators, faculty, and the community can fight this scourge in grades K-12. -Sonia Pressman Fuentes, attorney, co-founder National Organization for Women
- Sonia in Jewish Women's Archive quiz.
- On Mar. 1, 2017, in its blog, the Jewish Women's Archive for Women's History Month recognized Jewish women lawyers and researchers of second wave feminism, of whom Sonia was one.
- Minnah Stein, a 16-year-old student at Sarasota's Pine View School for the gifted, mentions Sonia in her blog post about the Violins of Hope program brought to Sarasota by the Jewish Federation of Sarasota-Manatee. Minnah's picture is at the end of her post.
- On Jan. 26, 2017, Sonia's friend and mentee, Minnah Stein, a 16-year-old student at Sarasota's Pine View School for the gifted, blogged about Sonia's escape from Nazi Germany in 1933.
- Sixteen-year-old feminist activist and fighter against sexual assaults in schools, Minnah Stein, describes participating in the Women's March (attended by 10,000) in Sarasota, FL and dedicates her first picture to Sonia.
- In connection with the 50th anniversary of the founding of NOW, the Fall 2016 issue of Beacon, the bi-annual magazine, in hard cover and online, of the National Museum of American Jewish History in Philadelphia, PA, included a profile of Sonia called "Founding (Jewish) Mother." Click the arrow at the right of the magazine cover until you come to page 4. To enlarge the print, click on the icon of the open square box to the right of the sliders that are at the bottom of page 4. To leave the page, click "Esc" on your keyboard.
- Sonia was profiled in the May/June 2016 issue of Suncoast Living Magazine, a magazine for people on Florida's West Coast.
- Sonia is included among six women highlighted by the National Women's History Project on Mar. 1, 2016.
- On Feb. 29, 2016, the Veteran Feminists of America, published an ebook of biographies and pictures called Our Fabulous Feminists, which includes Sonia. It can be downloaded for free.
- This picture of Sonia appears on page 36 of the Summer 2015 magazine, Jewish Currents, a progressive, secular voice, as part of an article called “The Jewish Left: A Visual History, Part Two: 1946-2015,” written by the editorial board of that magazine.
- On July 24, 2015, Zoe Nicholson, a feminist activist who is specializing in Alice Paul, sent out an enewsletter, which contained the following about Sonia:
"When I began to study Alice Paul to the exclusion of everything else I realized that phone interviews would be pivotal and rare options. Miss Paul was 92 when she died in 1977 and those who knew her, interned for her or worked for her hold priceless memories that need to be harvested.
"I made calls. Some were emotional. Some were poetic and nostalgic. Of course some were all about politics. But then I made a call that set my sails; it was with Sonia Fuentes. I can still hear her impatience and disgust that most do not know the brilliant strategist mind, the lifelong commitment, the legislation and international impact of Miss Alice Paul. I felt challenged and dug deeper than I had previously planned."
- An article about Sonia in the Winter 2015 issue of Gravitas, an online and hard copy magazine that focuses on women in the Sarasota and Tampa, FL areas.
- In March 2015, Sonia's story went on the website of Just Do Your Dream. To access it:
- Go to justdoyourdream.com,
- click on the drop down menu under "Stories" at the top,
- select "Speaking, Coaching, Teaching," and
- scroll down to Sonia's story when you reach that screen.
- See references to Sonia on the blog of Candy Dawson, the wife of Greg Dawson, author of Hiding in the Spotlight (March 1, 2015).
- Sonia is quoted in a Sarasota Herald-Tribune article of Nov. 5, 2014, about the political campaign for Congress of her 101-year-old friend, Joe Newman.
- Announcement of Sonia's interview on radio station WBAI in program commemorating the 50th anniversary of the passage of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which, among other things, prohibits gender discrimination in employment by covered employers, employment agencies, and labor unions.
- The Jewish News of Sarasota-Manatee, Vol. 44, No. 6 (June 2014, p. 10).
- Excerpt from the June 5, 2014, "Jewdayo" section of Jewish Currents.
- Sonia participates in a Holocaust Survivors program at the Al Katz Center for Holocaust Survivors and Jewish Learning in Sarasota, FL. Front-page article, Bradenton Herald-Tribune, April 28, 2014.
- Dec. 2013 Newsletter of the E.B. Crawford Public Library in Monticello, NY, to which Sonia’s publisher, Xlibris Corp., donated a copy of her memoir.
- Danielle (DanYang) Yu Interviews Trailblazing Feminists, November 7, 2013.
- Xlibris, the publisher of Sonia’s memoir, featured her in its Author Spotlight in November 2013, and also published this article in its November newsletter.
- By Catharine Skipp, "A Conversation with the Remarkable Sonia Pressman Fuentes, J.D. '57," Miami Law Magazine, University of Miami School of Law, Fall 2013. (If you need to enlarge the text to read it in your browser, click on it with your mouse.)
- Jewish Women’s Archive, This Week in History, Week of July 1, 2013, recognizes Sonia’s work at the EEOC on the anniversary of the opening of the EEOC.
- June 13, 2013, Report of Leita Kaldi, head of the UN Women’s Book Club, Sarasota, FL, on the discussion of Sonia’s memoir, with Sonia present, on June 10.
- Sarasota's Sonia Pressman Fuentes to Receive Breaking the Glass Ceiling Award, April 17, 2013.
- On March 14, 2013, the Veteran Feminists of America (VFA), an organization dedicated to recognizing the pioneer feminists of the second wave of the women’s movement, announced the revamping of its website at www.vfa.us. Sonia is mentioned throughout the website.
- On February 21, 2013, the Women’s Herstory Initiative, Words of Women, International Women’s Day, based in Dallas, TX, announced that the essay of seventeen-year-old Talia Weisberg about Sonia on the subject “The Most Influential Woman in My Life” won the Words of Women Essay contest.
- The book, Jews of Sarasota-Manatee, by Kim Sheintal (Arcadia Publishing, Feb. 2013), contains a 2002 photo of Sonia in front of a sign about the Jewish Genealogical Society (JGS) of Southwest Florida (p. 25). Sonia gave a talk to JGS on March 2002. The link will open to page 25.
- “Boston Commons,” by Talia Weisberg, was published on January 8, 2013, in Fresh ink for Teens, an online newspaper sponsored by the Jewish Week in New York City.
- "Groundbreakers or Ground Takers?" by Talia Weisberg, was published on December. 8, 2012, in Fresh ink for Teens, an online publication sponsored by the New York Jewish Week.
- By Tyler Whitson, "Women's Rights Pioneers Strive to Influence and Inspire a New Generation," Sarasota News Leader, November 16, 2012. (Visit the Sarasota News Leader Web site.)
- "Women's Rights Pioneer Sonia Fuentes Speaks at Law School," enewsletter of the Cornell University School of Law, Oct. 31, 2012.
- By Deborah Carney, "Sonia Pressman Fuentes Interview About Feminism and Her Memoir," October 8, 2012.
- Interview with Sonia Pressman Fuentes as a Featured Writer on authormepro.com, August 30, 2012.
- By Nick Friedman, "Neighbors: Sonia Pressman Fuentes," July 4, 2012.
- Sonia is mentioned in an article commemorating the 46th anniversary of the June 1966 founding meeting of NOW. (Jewdayo section of Jewish Currents, June 30, 2012)
- Sarasota Observer, June 28, 2012: Sonia presents copies of her memoir to prizewinning young women students at Booker Middle School, Sarasota, FL.
- RTIRonline asks Sonia to comment on the death of Nora Ephron, June 28, 2012.
- Is Laura Bush feminist enough for Alice Paul Award?, Washington Post, June 20, 2012.
- Sewall-Belmont House draws fire for honoring Laura Bush, Washington, DC's The Examiner, June 20, 2012.
- Who Will Speak Out Against an Outrageous Insult to Former First Lady Laura Bush?, The Huffington Post, June 18, 2012. It says at the end of the article "Continue reading" but we don't have access to any additional material.
- Laura Bush's fight for women, Washington Post, June 19, 2012.
- Sonia initiates campaign to protest the National Woman’s Party/Sewall-Belmont House & Museum’s plan to give the Alice Award to Laura Bush, Washington Post, June 18, 2012.
- Cary Franklin, “Inventing the `traditional concept’ of sex discrimination,” Harv. Law Review, Vol. 125, # 6, p. 1307 (2012), Univ. of Texas Law, Public Law Research Paper #219.
- "Eva Alexandra Countess Kendeffy, Sonia Pressman Fuentes and Rabbi Jonathan Katz", Longboat Key Observer of March 11, 2012. This picture also appeared in the Sarasota, FL, Jewish News (April 2012, p. 14B).
- By David Beard and Bethonie Butler, "The keys to a better life? Everyone has an opinion," February 21, 2012.
- Interview of Sonia by Talia bat Pessi, a high school student, that went online on Feb. 9, 2012.
- Feb. 5, 2012, Interview with Cyrus Webb, editor of Conversations Magazine.
- "Jean Faust, First President of the First Chapter of NOW," December 8, 2011.
- By Abby Weingarten, "Feminist Revisits Her Birth Country," November 9, 2011 (Online version | Photocopy)/Sonia with Dr. Bernd Wollschlaeger.
- Generations of the Shoah International Newsletter, October 2011.
- "NOW Conference: Action, Inspiration and Connection," Now National Times, Fall 2011.
- "Sonia Fuentes, writer, speaker, and feminist activist, tells us about her life," HavaMAG Life, Issue 4, September 2011. (To access the article: Click on the arrow to the right until it takes you to the Table of Contents on the left. Next, click on the first item in the Table of Contents, which is the article about Sonia, on page 10. When you come to the article, double click on each page to make the type readable.)
- "Featured Author," Published by Sonia's publisher, Xlibris Corp., in a newsletter and on its website, July 27, 2011.
- By Slavica Monczka, "Feminist Sonia Pressman Fuentes. Her Passion for Women's Rights," appeared in the e-zine, Inspirational Woman's Magazine, on July 24, 2011, and was written by Slavica Monczka.
- On July 21, 2011, Amanda Gonzalez wrote an article about Sonia for the blog of Ms. JD, an e-zine targeted to women law students and beginning women lawyers.
- By Slavica Monczka, "Something Beautiful is Happening," seductivelyfrench.com, July 5, 2011.
- "Blending motherhood and working: Moms work by choice — and also out of necessity," Deseret News, June 26, 2011.
- "Second Wave Founder" by Sonia Fuentes, girlscantwhat.com, June 9, 2011.
- The CHJ Connection (Vo. XIV, No. 9, May-June 2011).
- Sonia’s March 3, 2011, letter to the editor of the Sarasota Herald-Tribune is discussed in “Religious Rehab at Florida Jail Sparks Protest,” Church & State (Vol. 64, No. 4, Apr. 2011), the magazine of Americans United for Separation of Church and State. The letter is included and can be read in the Letters to the Editor section of this website.
- The CHJ Connection, the newsletter of the Congregation for Humanistic Judaism in Sarasota, FL, December 2010.
- TILES, the newsletter of the Jewish Museum of Florida, December 2010.
- The Quotable Woman, The First 5,000 Years (6th ed., October 2010), an anthology by Elaine Partnow, includes three quotations from Sonia.
- By WomensRadio Staff, October 12, 2010.
- By Cathy B Stucker, sellingbooks.com, September 8, 2010.
- Column called “WorkWise BlogTip: Know when to be direct” by Dr. Mildred L. Culp, which appeared in the Modesto [Calif.] Bee of Sept. 6, 2010.
- Radio-TV Interview Report, "Elena Kagan—Fifty and Fabulous," July 7, 2010.
- By Joan Collins, The Sullivan County Democrat newspaper on June 18, 2010.
- By Joan Collins, The Sullivan County Democrat newspaper on June 11, 2010.
- Author Spotlight, Xlibris, June, 2010.
- By Andrea Kay, USA Today, May 17, 2010.
- By Nancy Gibbs, "Love, Sex, Freedom and the Paradox of the Pill, A Brief History of Birth Control," April 22, 2010.
- By David Ball, Sarasota Herald-Tribune, February 20, 2010.
- By Tamar Burris, published on the Web site, Story of My Life, January 19, 2010.
- By Marita Meegan, akgmag.com interviews, August 2009.
- By Corie Russell, She Knows, July 2009.
- By Meigs Glidewell, Sarasota Herald-Tribune, June 30, 2009.
- By Heather Dunhill, Sarasota Herald-Tribune, June 4, 2009.
- By Veronica I. Arreola, Viva la Feminista, April, 2009.
- By Amanda Joe, The Cornell Daily Sun, April 23, 2009.
- StopGap Magazine, the members’ magazine of the Fawcett Society in the UK, Spring 2009.
- Sonia, who graduated from Monticello High School, in Monticello, NY, was profiled in the October 2008 issue of the newsletter of the Monticello Central School District and is on the district’s website.
- By Bill Hutchinson, "A life of standing up for women," Sarasota Herald-Tribune, June 9, 2008.
- By Kristen J. Tsetsi, Journal Inquirer, March 31, 2008.
- By Evelyn L. Moya, The Docket, February 2008.
- By Linda Jimenez Glassman, "English Corner" Radio Sefarad interview, August 2007.
- By Ruth Lando, Sarasota Herald-Tribune, July 1, 2007.
- By Steven A. Bibb, Passages, Summer 2007.
- By Marsha Fottler, Sarasota Herald-Tribune, May 12, 2007.
- By Erica Brody, National Council of Jewish Women Journal, Winter 2006 (pdf. file).
- Featured Author, Xlibris, November, 2006.
- By Adam Levin, Washington Jewish Week, June 29, 2006.
- By Susan Weidman Schneider, The Reporter (Spring 2006, Vol. 55, No. 2, p. 10), a publication of Women's American ORT.
- The Barrister, the University of Miami (FL) School of Law alumni magazine, Winter 2005.
- By Debra Rubin, "The f-word Online exhibit features local Jewish feminists," October 27, 2005. Sonia is one of six Washington, DC area women included in the exhibit of the Jewish Women’s Archive called Jewish Women and the Feminist Revolution.
- By Jacqueline Sternberg, Washington Jewish Week, April 28, 2005.
- Sonia was one of seventy-four Jewish women included in an exhibit of the Jewish Women's Archive (JWA) called The Feminist Revolution at jwa.org/feminism Her write-up is at jwa.org/feminism/fuentes-sonia-pressman. She is also pictured on JWA's website.
- By Ken Millstone, The Potomac Almanac, October 13-19, 2004.
- Sonia was featured in the August 5, 2004, issue of the University of Miami Alumni E-Newsletter (she is an alumna of the law school) as follows:
Featured Alumna Sonia Pressman Fuentes Leader of the Women's Movement Isn't Slowing Down
For most immigrants fleeing Nazi Germany in the early 1930's, America was a land of freedom and opportunity that usually came with the price of hard times and hard work that left little room for philosophical or social conviction. Not so for Sonia Pressman Fuentes, JD '57, who even today is continuing to work hard in support of her convictions. Fuentes is one of the most lively and active feminist public speakers and authors today, not allowing herself to rest on the laurels of her past accomplishments or slow down in the twilight of her life. From being the first female attorney in the Office of General Counsel at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to being one of the co-founders of the National Organization of Women (NOW), Fuentes continues today to be driven and energetic in her pursuit of women's rights. Recently, Sonia has been traveling the globe and continuing her experiential education in culture, society, and the arts. She has also spoken on behalf of candidates supportive of the women's movement, and will be featured in an upcoming documentary by Jennifer Lee regarding a revival and the second wave of the women's movement. Her memoir, Eat First. You Don't Know What They'll Give You; The Adventures of an Immigrant Family and their Feminist Daughter continues to be a popular and inspirational selection for all people in all walks of life...
- By Jeanette Friedman, Lifestyles Magazine, Fall 2003 (pdf file).
- By Sheri' McConnell, National Association of Women Writers, May 2003.
- By Michael Pollick, Sarasota Herald-Tribune, November 25, 2002.
- By Magdalena Ball, The Compulsive Reader, July 2002.
- By the Editor of WomenWriters.net, June 2002.
- By Phil Fink, radio interview on Shalom America, WELW 1330 AM, Cleveland, Ohio, Feb. 3, 2002 (not available on the www).
- By Norman Simms, Chadashot, August 2001.
- By Bill Adams, The Senior News, July 2001.
- By Jenna Glatzer, WriteRead University, May 14, 2001.
- Publishing Success Magazine, May 2001.
- By Lisa Katz, "The Making of a Jewish American Feminist: Sonia Pressman Fuentes." This is a seven-part piece about Eat First and Ms. Fuentes.
- Part 1: Book Synopsis - "Let it be"
- Part 2: Book Synopsis - A Meaningful Contribution
- Part 3: Book Synopsis - The Focus of Sonia's Life
- Part 4: Book Synopsis - The Fight for Women's Rights
- Part 5: Book Synopsis - Underground Activity
- Part 6: Jewish Q&A
- Part 7: Eat First--You Don't Know What They'll Give You
- By Barbara Ruben, Senior Beacon, October 2000.
- Cornell Chronicle (Vol. 31, No. 31, April 20, 2000).
- By Lynn Laframboise, Word Wrangler Publishing, February 2000.
- Shalom, newspaper for the Reading, PA, Jewish community, February 2000.
- By Linda Eberharter, Bridge Works Publishing, January 2000.
- By Marlena Thompson, Washington Jewish Week, December 16, 1999.
- By Linda Davis Kyle, "Writers Around the World," August 1998.
- By Eva S., "Evenings with Eva," July 21, 1998.
- By Ellen Joan Pollock, Wall Street Journal, May 1998. (This article is a follow-up to a 1975 Wall Street Journal article by Mary Bralove.)
- By Risa Molitz, "Fuentes' lecture leads to talk on uniting women," University of Virginia's The Cavalier Daily, October 22, 1997.
- By Frankee Nesta, West Coast Woman, May 1997.
- Beginning of interview of Sonia on the early history of the EEOC by Sylvia Danovitch, assistant to the EEOC's chairman, on Dec. 27, 1990.
- By Betty Friedan, It Changed My Life: Writings on the Women’s Movement, 1976.
- By Mary Bralove, Wall Street Journal, May 13, 1975.
- Excerpt from Betty Friedan’s article, “Up from the kitchen floor,” NY Times Magazine (March 4, 1973), crediting Sonia with giving her the idea to start an organization to fight for women like the NAACP fought for its constituents.
- Sonia Fuentes makes news : June 24, 1970 : Woman Fights For A Job As Park Guard
- Courier-Times, Bucks County, PA, June 25, 1970.
- By Dorothy Gilcrest, Anniston (AL) Star, October 21, 1969.
- Sonia is mentioned in several of the footnotes of the attached 1969 law review article dealing with marital restrictions on stewardesses, now known as flight cabin attendants.
- By Louise Hutchinson, "U.S. Hearings to Weigh Sex in the Skies," Chicago Tribune Press Service (July 23, 1967).
- "Women's Equality Is Pressed," Hartford (CT) Courant (Dec. 7, 1966, p. 1).
- By Sylvia Porter, Post-Crescent, May 28, 1963.
- B’nai B’rith Women’s World, November 1959.
- By Susie Marbey, The Miami Hurricane, May 10, 1957.
Sonia Pressman Fuentes
They Made Herstory
HIAS Pioneers of Women's Rights
by Steven A. Bibb
This article appeared in Passages, the magazine of HIAS, The Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, summer 2007.
We know of many HIAS immigrants and their children who played important roles in America’s development. While surely there were many, many such women who contributed significantly to the Women’s Rights movement ~ Bella Abzug, Emma Lazarus (who volunteered at HIAS), Wendy Wasserstein, Betty Friedan, and the legendary Emma Goldman are just a few who come to mind ~ we bring you three such pioneers who helped make herstory.
Sonia Pressman Fuentes
Born in Berlin in 1928 to Polish parents, Sonia Pressman (who added Fuentes to her name when she married) fled with her family to the United States in 1933 to escape the escalating situation in Germany. After spending months in Antwerp, the family boarded the S.S. Westernland for the United States and arrived in this country on May 1, 1934. After HIAS helped the family to get settled in the Bronx, her father returned to the business he’d been in in Berlin and opened a men’s clothing store in Manhattan.
Unable to adjust to the pace of life in New York City, he relocated the family to the Catskill Mountains of New York. There, the Pressmans entered the summer resort business, first renting and running a rooming house in Woodridge and then building and operating a bungalow colony on 50 acres of land in Monticello.
Because Sonia’s English was superior to that of her parents, she handled all the family’s legal work, including the drafting of rental contracts, which ignited her interest in the legal profession. While in high school, at the urging of a classmate, Sonia applied for and was awarded a scholarship and made plans to attend Cornell University. Her parents were deeply opposed to her going to college and felt that a college education would “turn off any prospective suitors.” Despite these objections Sonia went and began her school career by majoring in languages, then switched to psychology and spent her senior year in the Graduate School of Business and Public Administration.
After graduating Phi Beta Kappa, Sonia moved to Long Beach, N.Y., to join her parents, who by that time had sold the bungalow colony. Sonia expected to be inundated with job offers, but they never came. Instead, she had a series of short-lived jobs, and, after seven months, she went to back to school, this time to study shorthand at a business college. She finished her shorthand course on a Friday and that Monday, she landed a job as a secretary. She worked as a secretary for four years, felt she was not living up to her potential and decided to go to law school. In 1954, she entered the University of Miami School of Law in Coral Gables, Fla.
After graduating first in her class, she went to work as a lawyer for the Department of Justice in Washington, D.C. In 1965 she got a job as the first woman lawyer in the general counsel’s office at the newly created Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). The EEOC’s mandate at that time was to enforce a law that prohibited employment discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex and national origin. The agency’s main goal was to fight discrimination against African Americans because the law the agency implemented grew out of the civil rights movement. In its first fiscal year, however, the agency found that allegations of sex discrimination constituted 37 percent of the charges filed.
“At that time, few Americans were aware that there was such a thing as sex discrimination,” recalls Fuentes. “In my early speeches for the EEOC, any reference to ‘women’s rights’ was greeted with laughter. Words like ‘sex discrimination’ and ‘women’s rights’ hadn't yet become a part of our national vocabulary.” “At that time, men and women lived in two different worlds. A woman’s place was in the home. Her role was to marry and raise a family. She was not to have career ambitions, although she could work for a few years before marriage as a typist, clerk, secretary, telephone operator, schoolteacher, saleswoman, librarian, social worker or performer. When she had children, she was to raise her sons and daughters differently so that they too would conform to the socially acceptable gender roles.”
The EEOC moved very slowly on issues of sex discrimination or not at all, and this became very frustrating to Sonia, who by this time had become one of the most aggressive people on the staff of the EEOC with regard to the issues of sex discrimination. She had an opportunity to vent that frustration when Betty Freidan, author of The Feminine Mystique, came to the EEOC to conduct interviews for an upcoming book. Behind closed doors, the two women spoke. “I told her that this country needed an organization to fight for women like the NAACP fought for African Americans,” recalls Fuentes.
In June 1966 at a luncheon during the Third National Conference of Commissions on the Status of Women in the United States, Freidan and a small group planned an organization that subsequently became NOW (National Organization for Women). Its purpose, as written on a paper napkin by Freidan, was “to take the actions needed to bring women into the mainstream of American society, now, full equality for women, in fully equal partnership with men.” By the end of the day, NOW had 28 members.
In October 1966, a second organizing meeting was held at which another 26 founders, one of whom was Sonia, adopted a statement of purpose and skeletal bylaws. NOW then embarked on an ambitious program of activities to get the EEOC to enforce the anti-discrimination law for women. As a result of pressure from NOW, the EEOC began to take seriously its mandate to eliminate sex discrimination. It conducted hearings and began to issue interpretations and decisions implementing women’s rights. As a result of NOW’s actions, the EEOC’s rulings, court decisions and the developments that followed, the status of women in this country began to change – not only with respect for employment, but in every area of society.
Sonia retired as an attorney with the federal government in 1993 and is now an accomplished public speaker and author. She will be honored this fall by the Veteran Feminists of America as one of the feminist lawyers who fought for women’s rights in the 1960s and ’70s. Sonia, who lives in Sarasota, Fla., says, “We've achieved a lot, but much remains to be done.”
“In my early speeches for the EEOC, any reference to ‘women’s rights’ was greeted with laughter. Words like ‘sex discrimination’ and ‘women’s rights’ hadn't yet become a part of our national vocabulary.” ~ Sonia Pressman Fuentes
Ruth Bader Ginsburg
Born in New York in 1933, Ruth Bader Ginsburg grew up in the Flatbush section of Brooklyn. Her father, Nathan, had fl ed the pogroms of Odessa and arrived in the United States in 1911 with the help of HIAS. From an early age Ruth’s mother, Celia, proved to be a strong role model for her daughter. “My mother told me two things constantly,” says Ginsburg. “One was to always be a lady, and the other was to be independent.”
After graduating high school, Ruth attended Cornell University. While there she met Martin Ginsburg who would later become her husband. After graduating first in her class from Cornell, and her husband’s stint in the army, the couple enrolled at Harvard Law School. Ruth decided to attend law school “for personal, selfish reasons. I thought I could do a lawyer’s job better than any other. I have no talent in the arts, but I do write fairly well and analyze problems clearly,” said Ginsburg to the ACLU.
Law school for women in the 1950s was not the norm, and Ruth faced much adversary from professors at the school. At a dinner in honor of the nine female students enrolled at Harvard Law School in 1956, the dean asked each woman to explain why she was “occupying a student slot that should have gone to a deserving man.” Enraged by this comment, Ruth became determined to excel at law school. Despite that fact that she already had a baby daughter to care for, by the end of her first year she was appointed to the prestigious law review. Later, Ruth transferred to Columbia Law School, where she also made the law review, becoming the first women to achieve this honored position at two major schools. A year later, she graduated at the top of her class.
Despite being a star pupil, her grades did not help Ruth land a job in the law profession; not a single law firm in New York City offered her a position. “In the fifties, traditional law firms were just beginning to turn around on hiring Jews,” Ginsburg told NPR. “But to be a woman, a Jew and a mother to boot, well that combination was too much.” Professors at Harvard Law School proposed her to work as a clerk for Supreme Court Justice Felix Frankfurter, a fellow Jew, but the Justice admitted that he was not yet prepared to hire a woman.
Eventually she worked as a research associate at Columbia Law School before joining the faculty at Rutgers University Law School in 1963. When she discovered that her salary was lower than that of her male colleagues, she joined an equal pay campaign with other women teaching at the university, which resulted in substantial pay increases for all women on staff. While employed there, she became pregnant with her second child, and out of fear of losing her job, she hid her pregnancy by wearing baggy clothes. She later went on to become the first tenured female professor at Columbia Law School.
In 1972 she became an active participant in the American Civil Liberties Union, eventually becoming the first director of the ACLU’s Women’s Rights Project. During her time there she began representing cases before the Supreme Court, where she would eventually argue a total of six cases for women’s rights, winning five. The effect of these decisions was to change laws nationwide to reduce sex discrimination in hiring and to prevent job termination because of pregnancy. “Race discrimination was immediately perceived as evil and intolerable. But the response I got when I talked about sex-based discrimination was ‘What are you talking about? Women are treated so much better than men.’ I was talking to an audience that thought I was somehow critical about the way they treated their wives and daughters,” recalled Ginsburg.
In 1980 she was appointed by President Jimmy Carter to serve as a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals in the D.C. Circuit, and she remained in this position until 1993, when she was appointed by President Bill Clinton to succeed retiring Justice Byron R. White of the Supreme Court. During the confirmation hearings, she received the highest rating from the American Bar Association and was approved by a Senate vote of 96 to 3.
Ginsburg is considered to be a liberal on the bench, who is respectful of precedent and is hesitant to involve the court in political battles. She also takes a strong stand against the mixing of church and state. She continues to show a strong desire to continue to promote women’s rights, as in a case in 1996, when it was ruled that state funded Virginia Military Institute must open its doors to women.
At her confirmation hearing in 1993, Ginsburg said “In my lifetime, I expect to see three, four, perhaps even more women on the high court bench.” Now that Justice Sandra Day O’Connor has retired from the bench, Ginsburg is the only woman left and, as she told USA Today, now fears that a woman justice is a “one time curiosity, not the normal thing.”
Born in Bialystok, in Russian Poland in 1887, Cecilia led an unconventional life from an early age. Her father owned a cigarette factory in their hometown, and Cecilia would frequently be left in charge in her father’s absence. By the age of 12 she had gotten caught up in the Socialist spirit of the times and had succeeded in organizing the cigarette factory’s workers. Though the factory did not last, Cecilia’s career in social work and issues had already begun. Cecilia, fearful of the pogroms, joined the Socialist Zionists and would frequently protest on the streets. Soon the Russian government accused the group of being anti-government and the police began to raid their meetings in battles that became increasingly violent. In 1905 the family fl ed for America.
After arriving in New York, and turning down job offers until she could speak English, Cecilia went to the Astor Place Library (which would later become the headquarters for HIAS) determined to learn English. Spending hours on end at the library, she taught herself not just English, but also Hebrew, German and Yiddish, and eventually learned to speak seven languages. This feat brought her to the attention of the head of the Hebrew Division, where she became an assistant to the librarian. She later worked as a translator for the famed Jewish banker and philanthropist Jacob Schiff. It was while in this position that she came to the attention of the New York Section of the National Council of Jewish Women (NCJW,) an organization that worked hand in hand with HIAS.
Founded out of concern for the hundreds of thousands of single and unaccompanied young Jewish women who came through the port of Ellis Island, the NCJW feared that these young women might be “mislead into immoral lives, and other girls will be subjected to great dangers because of the lack of some directing and protecting agency at Ellis Island.” At the time, it was not uncommon for young, newly arrived female immigrants to be taken advantage of, and many fell into lives of crime and prostitution. It was the job of the NCJW “to make sure that the ‘uncle’ who was waiting to meet the immigrant girl was truly her uncle and not a procurer.”
“To rescue human dignity from this nightmare – that was the single thought my co-workers and I had,” recalled Greenstone in 1962. “To show them that in all the hard sorrow of their lives, they did not stand alone, and they did not have to succumb. To show them that if one person misuses or betrayed them, another would not; that their violated dignity could not be healed on the street, in theft, in drink, in drugs or suicide. To show them dignity could only be restored by that which a human does for oneself.”
Beginning work in 1907, Greenstone would eventually work six days a week at Ellis Island, assisting single women, mothers and children through the immigration process. She personally intervened in countless cases where young women, who had been rejected by the health inspectors, were scheduled for deportation. She helped those, who because they could not speak enough English to answer inspector’s questions, were labeled “retarded” and set to be deported. She arranged for kosher food to be delivered to patients at the island’s hospital, and she established Shabbat and holiday services on the Island for Jewish immigrants. In 1910 alone the NCJW dealt with over 60,000 women and children, most of whom were helped by Cecilia.
In her spare time she taught English classes and arraigned socials, theater outings and events that would bring newly settled immigrants in touch with American life. She helped to arrange marriages for young women whose suitors were moral and upstanding citizens, and she helped young women find work. Her motto: “ jobs, not charity.”
By 1912 she was promoted to head agent for the NCJW on Ellis Island. A 1913 letter to an official at HIAS reads in part that “Miss Greenstone spends every cent of her salary to help the immigrants on the island… [She] renders her service without any regard to time or effort to any girl or woman who needs her service.”
In 1914 Cecilia was asked by HIAS to travel to Riga, in Russian Latvia to inspect a new facility that had been built by the Russian government to house Jewish immigrants that were awaiting passage to America. Given the special commission as a “delegate” to Russia, Cecilia traveled to Europe aboard the Kursk. It was an uneventful trip, but a day before they reached Liverpool, England declared war on Germany, and the path of the Kursk was diverted. Cecilia became a witness to the first naval battle of World War I.
By the time she returned to America, the number of immigrants arriving at Ellis Island was dwindling. With the war in Europe the number of immigrant arrivals dropped, from 875,000 in 1914 to 28,000 by 1918. After the end of the war, restrictive new laws limited the number of Jewish immigrants, and Greenstone was no longer needed at Ellis Island.
Greenstone later married and had two children, but always continued her career in social work, first at Hamilton House, then Henry Street, and later through the depression years and the second World War at the Grand Street Settlement. She later worked as a social worker at the Sons and Daughters of Israel Home. She died in 1971 at age 84.
“She was a liberated woman in Russia,” recalled her great grandson Jesse Peterson, “running a cigarette factory, marching into a hail of bullets with the young Socialist Zionists and emerging as the matriarch of the entire Greenstone family. This was not a woman who would accept second-class status in any culture or country, and throughout her career, she fought it, both for herself and her fellow women. In America, she took up the same struggle against injustice that she had fought on the streets of her native Russia, but here, rather than protest; she would fight injustice as a social worker, caring for one victim at a time.”