8 Women We Lost

… and what they helped us find

This year marked the end of many amazing women’s lives — from a World War II hero to a woman jailed for the crime of loving her husband. While they are no longer part of our world, these eight remarkable women — among untold others — helped shape it by championing justice and empowering other women. We will miss them dearly.

By Taylor Mallory

Georgia Frontiere (1927–2008)

Paved the way for women in the sports industry.

The first female owner of an NFL team, Frontiere took control of the Los Angeles Rams in 1979 when her husband left her 70 percent of his team ownership. At her first press conference, she lashed out at those in her industry who thought a woman couldn’t run a sports franchise, saying, “There are some who feel there are two different kinds of people — human beings and women.” But after her team reached the 1980 Super Bowl, she proved herself capable. She moved the team to St. Louis in 1995 after closing a lucrative deal to secure a domed stadium, then led the Rams during their Super Bowl–winning season in 2000.

Frances Lewine (1921–2008)

Shrugged off the evening gown and broke into the boys’ club.

When the Associated Press assigned Lewine to the job of White House correspondent in 1956, she was supposed to cover the activities of the first ladies. But frustrated that her male colleagues got to write about the president while she was relegated to Jacqueline Kennedy’s vacations, Lewine won a sex discrimination suit against the AP and also forced both the National Press Club and the Gridiron Club to allow female members. She covered the White House for six presidential administrations and worked as an editor and producer for CNN for nearly 30 years.

Mildred Jeter Loving (1939–2008)

Fought for love and equality – and won.

Loving, a black woman, and her white husband were rousted from their bed at 2 a.m. in 1958 and jailed for “unlawful cohabitation” because interracial marriage was illegal in Virginia. A local judge sentenced them to one year in prison or banishment from the state. So they took the matter to the U.S. Supreme Court, which ruled unanimously that laws barring interracial marriage in Virginia and other states were unconstitutional — making it possible for today’s more than 4 million interracial couples in the U.S. to marry.

Stephanie Tubbs Jones (1949–2008)

Stood her ground – even when her opinion wasn’t popular.

Jones, the first African-American woman elected to the U.S. House of Representatives from Ohio, was as liberal as she was outspoken — publicly challenging President Bush’s re-election in 2004 and the 20 electoral votes he won from her state by a slim margin. She was also one of only 11 House Democrats who voted against the war in Iraq, and she co-sponsored legislation to broaden Americans’ healthcare coverage. She previously headed the House Ethics Committee and was the first black woman member of the tax-writing Ways and Means Committee.

Harriet McBryde Johnson (1957–2008)

Shed new light on disability.

A lawyer and disability rights activist, Johnson started early in her lifelong mission to redefine the way the public viewed disabled people — as people whose lives are worth living. As a young teen, she led the effort to oust an abusive teacher from her special education school. Born with a congenital neuromuscular disease, Johnson later brought public attention to disability issues when she debated Princeton philosopher Peter Singer in 2003 about euthanizing disabled infants. In the New York Times Magazine, Johnson wrote, “The presence or absence of a disability doesn’t predict quality of life.”

Sister Catherine Mulkerrin (1935–2008)

Blew the whistle on child molestation.

As assistant director of the Boston Archdiocesan Office for Victims of Abuse, Mulkerrin heard allegations of sexual
abuse involving more than 100 priests. “I know I sound like a broken record,” she wrote in one of many memos to her supervisors, “but we need to put in church bulletins: ‘It has come to our attention that a priest stationed here between 19XX and 19XX may have molested children.’” Her repeated requests were ignored until 2002, when the sex scandal broke and her memos were used in a lawsuit against the archdiocese.

Barbara Seaman (1935–2008)

May have saved your life.

A central figure in the early women’s health movement, Seaman, author of The Doctor’s Case Against the Pill (1969), raised concerns about the dangerous doses of estrogen in the earliest oral contraceptives, which caused such side effects as stroke, heart attack and depression. By the 1980s, U.S. manufacturers had drastically lowered the dosage. Seaman, co-founder of the National Women’s Health Network, is also credited with helping establish patients’ rights, particularly “informed consent” and warning labels on medications.

Irena Sendlerowa (1910–2008)

Was an unsung hero of the Holocaust.

Sendlerowa, a Polish social worker, freed 2,500 Jewish children from the Warsaw ghetto from 1940 to 1943. To show her solidarity with the Jewish people, she put the Star of David armband on her right arm each time she entered the ghetto, where she smuggled children out through sewers, in suitcases and sometimes in her own clothes. Arrested in 1943, she was questioned, tortured and sentenced to death, but she never revealed the names of the children she’d rescued. Members of her clandestine activist group, Zegota, bribed a German executioner to let her escape, and she went on to be nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize.

This article originally appeared in the December.January 2009 issue of PINK Magazine.

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