Chairman, President Benson, members of the Board of Trustees,
faculty and staff…my thanks to you.
To my esteemed fellow Doctors of Humane Letters…Mary Ramsay
and Lucille Whipper…we have certainly come a long way and folks
don’t even think of calling any of us baby.
am humbled to be in your esteemed company.
you the class of twenty oh eight…Congratulations...you have made
Now before I start I need to know a few things…Will all of the women who are receiving degrees today please raise
and Mary and Lucille and I would not be receiving degrees today
were it not for a woman named Carrie Pollitzer.
Today we are celebrating 90 years of coeducation at the
College of Charleston…but for an educational institution founded
in the 1700’s it is interesting to look at what prompted the
longstanding male student body
and faculty to change their minds and admit women…
You all need to know the story of Carrie Pollitzer…Carrie
was one of the three Pollitzer sisters of Charleston...Carrie,
Mabel and Anita. All 3 of them went to Columbia University in New
York because there was no higher education institution for them to
attend in Charleston in the early 1900s. In April of 1917 the
United States entered World War One. Thousands and thousands of men
began to be shipped overseas. Carrie Pollitzer was running the
first kindergarten program in Charleston in a carriage house behind
her family home on Pitt. St. She had been concerned for a long time
that the College of Charleston did not admit female students.
So in light of the impact the war would have on student enrollment
she though it an appropriate time to press her case with the
College Administration. She took it upon herself to call on
Dr. Randolph, the President of the College at that time. She
implored him to allow women to be admitted. Dr. Randolph, who
adamantly opposed coeducation refused to consider her plea. But
Carrie pressed on asking for a concrete reason for continuing to
not allow women. He finally said to her that the College couldn’t
afford to admit women as they didn’t have the money to add a
separate ladies room. Carrie took that as her call to arms. When
asked how much building a rest room would cost he told her it would
cost $3000…which was a fortune in 1917. He obviously thought that
a sum that size would intimidate Carrie
into dropping the subject of coeducation. Au contraire…instead
Carrie said…let me see what I can do. She spent that summer (before
AC!) and fall going door to door asking for donations from friends
and neighbors and by the end of the year she had raised $3000.
in fall of 1918 ten women were enrolled at the College of
Charleston…and now today all of us follow in their footsteps.
will all of you who have mothers, sisters, daughters, wives or
girlfriends please raise your hand…It stands to reason then that
all of us should have a vested interest in women’s issues...and
more importantly why we still have them.
your lifetime you have seen the ferocious impact of a tragic
terrorist act on Sept. 11, 2001 and then just 7 years later you
have been participants in breaking down the barriers of race and
gender in our political process. Not bad for the first two decades
of your life. But what awaits you out there…First of all you
have no excuse for not knowing what is going on in your community,
the country and the rest of the world. You are the first generation
to have access to total connectivity…and because of that simple
fact you have a responsibility to strengthen those connections
across the globe…and by doing so help to make a difference. You
will eventually figure out how you will do that…how you will
determine your life’s passion.
please do not beat yourselves up if you aren’t 100% sure what it
is you want to do today…The most interesting people I know
didn’t know at 21 what they wanted to do with their lives…some of
the most interesting 40 year olds I know still don’t…
really is a process of elimination and a question of listening to
the messages of your life. I
can only share with you my life as an example of finding one’s
grew up in this beautiful city with parents who gave generously to
our community through the gift of theatre…Just over 30 years
ago my father, Emmett Robinson received an honorary doctor of
humane letters from then President Ted Stern…I heard on a daily
basis how important it was to give back and I took it to heart. I
had the benefit of a great education including time here on this
early in my career I learned a powerful lesson. I realized that I was
being paid less than 2 men who had the same job that I did. I
finally worked up my nerve to ask my boss for a raise based on the
difference between our salaries and my recognized performance. His
response to me was that I ‘would always be a secondary income’
and he didn’t have to pay me as much as the men because I would
get married and be supported by my spouse. I was shocked but
instead of having a meltdown (it was 1975 after all) I went back to
my office and wrote my letter of resignation. That took a lot of
nerve on my part and real guts as I had no other job lurking in the
wings but I did it and I have never regretted it.
should I do next…it seemed obvious to me that I needed to get a
different perspective so I joined the Peace Corps and was sent to
Afghanistan for 2 years. It changed my life. I was assigned to
create health education materials for women who couldn’t read or
write. This job seriously challenged all that I had learned about
human rights. I was completely overwhelmed by the conditions under
which women lived in Afghanistan…they had no rights, couldn’t
vote, own property, have a bank account, no access to or
control over their reproductive health care or selection of a
spouse…it was a medieval society where women were the serfs.
I came back to the US and took a job with then Lt. Gov. Nancy
Stevenson who was the first woman in SC to be elected to statewide office.
I experienced first hand the difficulties that the few women in the
legislature had in being accepted as equals. I spent 6 years
working in state government learning how the good old boy system
worked and finding it not only blatantly discriminatory against
women but completely oblivious to the issues affecting women’s
lives in this state. It was time to get a new perspective again.
went back overseas again as a Peace Corps Country Director. I
spent three years in southern Africa where I found another
population of women being denied basic human rights…I then went
on to work at Peace Corps Headquarters and had the opportunity to work in over 40 other third
world countries. I saw first hand over and over again…that where
women are disenfranchised the overall economic and social
health of a country is affected adversely.
imagine my coming back to Charleston 12 years ago and finding women
in my own state being held back by issues that one would only
expect to find in a third world country. I accepted the job with
the Center for Women and found to my dismay that in Charleston
county thousands of women are living in poverty…800 people are
living in Awendaw right up the road from Town Centre in Mount
Pleasant without drinking water in their homes…and every 52
minutes a teenager gets pregnant in this state.
is 50th in the nation in terms of the number of women
serving in the state legislature…and there are NO women in our SC
Senate. But we are in the top ten in this state when it comes to
the number of women murdered by their spouse or significant other. That’s
a heck of a way to be in the top 10.
finally heard the message…and now I want you hear it because it
affects all you.
the class of twenty oh eight have the opportunity to have a lasting
impact on our society by addressing inequities that have gone on
too long...all of you…men and women…have a vested interest in
taking on this challenge...it affects your present and your
children’s futures! In SC on average women make 72 cents for
every dollar a man makes…one third less than their male
counterparts…all of you who you have mothers and sisters or
daughters or wives or girlfriends should be outraged at this level
of discrimination…you need to address this because when the women
in our lives are
treated with equity your quality of life will improve as well.
all of you parents with daughters graduating today you need to know
that within a year among the men and women graduating here with the
same majors…the women will be making 80% of what their male
classmates are making...10 years after college graduation the women
fall even further behind earning only 69% as much as the men who
graduated with them today.
Let me give you some examples…If women were paid on an equal
basis with men i.e. equal pay for equal work it would have a huge
economic impact for
this state annually of $13 billion dollars . This $13 billion would
represent the multiplier effect on total sales for SC businesses
that would occur if the gender gap in the labor force were to
close…Or look at it this way…by closing the gender gap there
would be an increase in household earnings of $16 billion
dollars…think what a family could do with that kind of an
increase in earnings…think what a difference that would make for
single mothers in particular.
here’s the kicker in this time of economic distress…where
unemployment is high and cash is low and our state government is
cutting budgets across the board…by closing the gender gap in
SC…paying women that extra 28 cents would generate increased
income and sales taxes for the state of SC of $1 billion
dollars…think what state government could do with that!!! Per
capita personal income in SC would rise from just over $26,000 (83%
of the national average) to over $29,000(93% of the national
wouldn’t be cutting Medicaid and Medicare and unemployment
benefits if we just had that extra 28 cents.
equity alone would make a huge difference in this country and in
our community. And it would serve as an example to the rest of the
listened to the messages that were being sent to me and tried to do
something. At the Center for Women here in Charleston we help women
succeed every day. We do this by offering programs and seminars on
everything from how to negotiate for salary to caring for elderly
parents. We have helped hundreds of women start their own
businesses and this year alone we have directly reached over 6000
women in our community. We create a network for women to come
together and address the issues in their lives and one thing we
know for sure is that women
deserve equal pay and equal rights.
election day I stood in line as so many others did for hours.
I waited to vote I couldn’t help but think of the history that
brought me to that line. A history of struggle that began with the
writing of the Constitution...
the 1840s, the first organized movement for women’s suffrage
began, and it didn’t end until 1920 when the 19th Amendment
passed both Congress
and 36 states giving women the right to vote.
a few blocks from my polling place is the home of Anita Pollitzer,
whose efforts with the National Women’s Party sealed the deal
successfully lobbied a reluctant Tennessee legislator whose vote
ultimately proved to be the one that broke down this barrier for
was a hard-fought battle and I think of those women who bucked the
conventional wisdom on my behalf. While women have the vote in
America, there are millions of women on This planet who don’t:
The women of Afghanistan who have been so degraded by their culture
and for whom the right to vote is the greatest of privileges but a
fleeting privilege that will disappear overnight if the Taliban
takes power again. The women of Saudi Arabia who not only can’t
vote but aren’t allowed to drive a car or leave the country
without a man’s permission. The women of Swaziland who live in a
country where 26 percent of the population has HIV/AIDS. I voted on
their behalf with the hope that the new administration will support
efforts to bring respect and human rights to women worldwide.
also voted for the women in my own country who don’t have access
to affordable child care, whose pay is a third less than their male colleagues
and for whom health care is a luxury and care giving is not a
valued commodity. In a year when Hillary Clinton and Sarah Palin
broke through the glass ceiling of politics, when the women's vote
ended up being the deciding factor, it is only right to recognize
that we have a long way still to go. Women's rights are limited to
laws and amendments to laws that can be overturned in a legislative
session or by executive order. Women's rights are tentative at best
and can turn on the dime of public opinion or a state legislature
dominated by one ideology. So this is my charge to you…here's
what you can do…use your connectivity and over the next decade
demand equal pay for equal work…and support the passage of the
Equal Rights Amendment which was first introduced In Congress in
1920 and has never passed…I will leave you with words of Abigail
Adams who was the wife to a president, and the mother of a
president. When John Adams was away in Philadelphia writing the
Constitution…she wrote to him…
the ladies…if particular care and attention is not paid to the
ladies we are determined to foment a revolution and we will not
hold ourselves bound by any laws in which we have no voice or
It’s time to listen to the message…
time and you the class of twenty oh eight can make it happen.