Women Work! is a network of amazing individuals, dedicated to helping women achieve economic self-sufficiency. The Women Work! Hall of Fame recognizes individuals who have made substantial contributions to the mission of Women Work! and to women in transition.
Gilda has directed efforts for displaced homemakers programming in Maine since its inception 25 years ago. In 1978 Gilda was hired to work part time with a budget of $10,000 to provide services to displaced homemakers. Today, the Maine Centers for Women, Work and Community are located in 18 communities, with 34 full-time staff and a budget of $1.6 million. The lives of 20,000 women have been changed through the training and support services provided by the Maine Centers.
Gilda applied her leadership and organizational development skills at the national level serving nine years on the Women Work! Governing Board. During her tenure as President, Gilda guided the organization through a comprehensive process that culminated in the changing of the name to Women Work! Her participatory style of leadership and deep respect for and trust in the process ensured a positive outcome and support for the organization’s growth.
Gilda has received numerous awards for her leadership and public action on behalf of Maine citizens. In praising her accomplishments, one of the original sponsors of the Maine Displaced Homemakers legislation remarked: “The organization has gone far beyond anything I could have envisioned. You took our good idea and made it relevant and meaningful to the women of Maine.” And, we would add, she has done the same for Women Work! and women across the nation.
Laurie had been a widow for five years when she met Tish Sommers in 1975. At age 55, Laurie was unemployed and not happy about it.
The daughter of a Chicago homemaker and a candy-store owner, Laurie had a background in advertising. She was a full-time homemaker and stepmother to Christine, and hadn’t been employed for the 15 years of her marriage or the five years since her husband died.
Laurie joked when she joined the newly formed Alliance for Displaced Homemakers in 1976 that her organizing experience was with the mothers’ volleyball team at her stepdaughter’s parochial school. But as Tish put it, “Laurie took to organizing like a duck to water. She did some remarkable grassroots work.”
With her background in advertising, she wrote punchy, succinct press releases and made hundreds of media contacts. She became the “circuit rider” for the movement traveling throughout the country telling her personal story and organizing thousands of women with similar stories. In Tish’s words, “Laurie more than anybody was not only responsible for the organizing, but for the movement aspect … We could not have done it without her.”
Widowed at a young age, this mother of one began her activism while she herself was in and out of work. Once a Rosie the Riveter, a member of the Army Medical Corps, a mortician’s assistant and head of a billing department, Milo was a regular “Jill of all trades.” Experiences on different jobs opened her eyes to injustices of all kinds – gender, racial, age – that women faced in society. In 1973 Milo met Tish Sommers and found a way to channel her frustrations while helping women overcome adversity in the workplace. “Tish and I had many issues in common, especially around inequities toward older women and work,” explains Milo. She quickly joined the Women’s Action Training Center in Oakland, CA, and a year later headed Jobs for Older Women with Tish.
To Milo, the most pressing problem was to help older women get through company doors. A period of time with the California Department on Aging allowed Milo to travel the state building strong political contacts and working to improve state legislation. Once again, Milo connected with Tish when she was recruited from the Department of Aging to become director the nation’s first Displaced Homemaker Program.
Housed at Mills College in Alameda County, the program opened in 1976 and sought to create jobs for women long out of the labor market. Her mantra at the time was “get up, get a foot in the door, and something better will happen.” As director of the program, Milo also traveled the country helping other local programs get started. As a result, a network of programs was born.
“Don’t agonize.organize,” was Tish’s rallying cry in the 1970s to women in mid-life who found themselves “displaced” from their traditional roles as homemakers. Trained as a dancer who studied in Germany in pre-World War II, Tish’s early years were spent organizing youth groups, working in the South, involved in ideological struggles,
and as an activist in the 60s. In 1949, she married Joe Sommers, ten years her junior. She adopted a son and settled down as a “faculty wife” in Seattle, WA.
Twenty-two years later, at the age of 58, Joe told Tish that while he appreciated her and liked her very much, he didn’t love her. They divorced and after a period of pain, confusion and resentment, Tish re-committed herself as the activist she had been before her marriage.
Tish became active in the National Organization for Women and collaborated with other women to set up the Women’s Action Training Center in 1973 in Oakland, CA, offering classes in organizing and identifying issues. For Tish the most pressing women’s issue was employment, and in 1974 she started Jobs for Older Women. The response convinced Tish that women who had bought into the traditional roles of wife and mother and found themselves out of that job in mid-life as a result of divorce or widowhood were an up-and-coming disenfranchised political group. Devalued as “only housewives” and without adequate job skills, they were often in despair and full of rage. Tish set out to capture that energy as a political force. The result was the Displaced Homemakers Movement.
For more than 20 years, Pat has dedicated her life to making a difference in the lives of women in Tennessee. In 1979, after 10 years as an elementary school teacher, Pat joined the YWCA of Nashville and began empowering displaced homemakers and other women in transition. As career and employment counselor, director of employment services, and later Executive Director of the Sarah Brown Branch of the YWCA of Greater Memphis, Pat developed new opportunities for women and increased funding for employment programs. Additionally, she connected Tennessee’s YWCA programs with Women Work!
The visionary force behind Tennessee Women Work! (TNWW!), Pat saw a need for the establishing a state affiliate of Women Work! (then the National Displaced Homemakers Network). For many years, she served as state representative leading advocacy efforts for women and girls, and working on legislative, employment and training issues for the growing state network. Pat also brought her leadership skills to the national level serving as regional representative and Vice President for Service Providers on the National Governing Board.
Pat has made a lasting contribution to the employment of women in nontraditional jobs. She was a pioneer in designing programs to recruit and train women for work that had previously been for “men only,” such as apprenticeship programs in the trades and cable installers in the telecommunications industry.
Pat led TNWW! into the 21st century and today, the women of Tennessee are benefiting from her foresight and dedication. Praising her accomplishments, TNWW! members stated, “Pat is an exemplary role model for the network. Her leadership and mentorship has led to other service providers assuming leadership positions within Women Work! locally, statewide, regionally and nationally.” For that alone, Women Work! is fortunate.
Loydia devoted more than three decades to building a statewide network of programs for women in transition in Georgia. As equity administrator and assistant to the Commissioner for Technical and Adult Education, she brought resources to these programs from diverse agencies.
It was through her vision, strategic thinking and persuasiveness that Loydia helped agency heads “see the light” – that their agencies could reach their goals by partnering with Georgia’s New Connections to Work network of programs. Loydia’s light shined on many places – human resources, workforce development, technical education and the state legislature – and resulted in more than $3 million in funding. And the investment paid off, saving the state $13.5 million in assistance payments and generating $15 million in state tax revenue.
Along the way, Loydia mentored hundreds of women to achieve their own greatness. As Vice President of Women Work!, she created a national project to create awareness about diversity throughout the organization and in the corporate sector.
The dedication to Loydia in the New Connections to Work annual report says it best: “[Loydia’s] strong commitment to assure access to educational opportunities to all Georgia’s citizens has been a critical focus as employment and social reforms have reshaped federal and state funding for special population programs.”