By Jacqueline LeekerMarch 5, 2009
"If the first woman God ever made was strong enough to turn the world upside down all alone, these women together ought to be able to turn it back, and get it right side up again! And now they is asking to do it, the men better let them."
- Sojourner Truth
Fort Belvoir, Va. -- While snow covered the ground, the Belvoir community gathered at the Officer's Club to observe Women's History Month Tuesday.
This year's theme is "Women Taking the Lead to Save Our Planet."
First Sgt. Cynthia Moody presented Sojourner Truth's speech, "Ain't I a Woman'" with passion. Truth mesmerized her audience with her speech in 1851 at the Women's Convention in Akron, Ohio.
After Moody's presentation, Marypat Begin-Ortiz delivered a powerful message of her own. Begin-Ortiz is the chief of Belvoir Plans, Analysis and Integration Office.
Begin-Ortiz asked anyone in the room who had heart disease to stand. A few rose from their chairs. She then asked those who have breast cancer to stand. A few more in the audience rose to their feet.
Begin-Ortiz then asked the room to stand if they had been affected by heart disease or breast cancer. Almost all in the room rose to their feet.
"Let's take the pledge to take care of ourselves," Begin-Ortiz said. "The key to prevention is education and awareness. Just as women are taking the lead to save our planet, we must take the lead to save our lives," she said.
The keynote speaker, Kate Campbell Stevenson, a woman with more than 25 years of professional theater and music experience, followed Begin-Ortiz.
Stevenson brought to life three historical women with "can-do" attitudes, changing her outfit, shoes and persona to represent each. She sang and performed their messages.
The first was Bessie Coleman. In Chicago 1922, Coleman was the first woman to fly; she preceded Amelia Earhart by two years.
No American aviator would train her, so Coleman went abroad to France. She was the first American of any race or gender to hold an international pilot's license. No matter how many times she was told 'no,' Coleman never lost sight of her childhood vow to one-day amount to something.
Stevenson stood in a dark green pilot's uniform, brown leather hat, and white aviator goggles on her head. She sang and danced around the room, bringing Coleman to life asking the audience if they would attend her air show.
The next performance brought the crowd to Hyde Park, New York 1922. Stevenson portrayed Eleanor Roosevelt. While changing into black buckle shoes, a dark blue dress with white lace shawl, and dentures, Stevenson portrayed Roosevelt's fear of public speaking. She quoted Eleanor, "no one can make you feel inferior without your permission."
Roosevelt became the first female ambassador in the United Nations. "Stories say men would go through two to three pairs of shoes just trying to keep up with Eleanor," Stevenson said.
Stevenson sat at a table putting on makeup to introduce the room to her next performance, Rachel Carson. Carson wrote the book "Silent Spring" on environmental pollution and the dangers of 11 different chemicals in the environment.
The chemical companies attacked Carson's reputation, so she was asked to testify before Congress on the validity of her research. Carson did so in pain, as she was dying from breast cancer. She hid the disease to prevent being accused of having a weak body and mind.
Carson testified that chemicals were invisibly contaminating our world and there would be an irrevocable loss of species. "She did not have a dynamic personality, but she was a dynamic woman," Stevenson said.
At the conclusion of the performance, the audience was reminded why we study important women in history. "We can learn how not to give up, how to persevere, and how to use our talent to contribute to making this world a better place," Stevenson said.
Command Sgt. Maj. Allison Smith told the audience, "Don't let anyone allow you to feel inferior. I know about being a woman. I know about being a Solider. Just know anything is possible for you. If you make good choices, you can do anything."
Special guest, retired Brig. Gen. Evelyn Foote, concluded the ceremony by giving a glimpse into women's history in the Army.
"When I was commander of the Women's Army Corps, it was the only company I could command. It was all women," Foote said. "The highest permanent rank a woman officer could receive was lieutenant colonel. The highest rank an NCO could receive was sergeant first class.
"Times have changed," Foote continued. "No matter what obstacles are in front of you today, they may go away tomorrow. Barriers are falling, opportunities are arising, and new laws are being put into place," she said.