Witnessing the Second Wave – Gladys Beckwith Reflects on Progress of Women
By Lynne R. Zacharias
March 1, 2008
In 2005 Governor Jennifer Granholm declared that Gladys Beckwith, executive director of the Michigan Women’s Historical Center and Hall of Fame, single-handedly made sure that the contributions of Michigan women are known to all and that because of her, young women growing up in the state will know that all things are possible in their lifetime.
Corp!: Throughout your life you have seen incredible progress made by women. What do you feel were the most significant for Michigan women?
Beckwith: All of the gains from the second wave of the women’s movement. Women being able to obtain credit in their own name has allowed them to start their own businesses. The move toward more educational opportunities for women has been significant. When I started teaching at Michigan State University, very few women where studying veterinary medicine, business, academic administration, or other fields. Now those programs are almost half women.
Corp!: What does the term second wave of the women’s movement mean?
Beckwith: The first wave was the 75-year struggle for women to get the vote. The second wave grew out of the civil rights movement. It was a very exciting time in our history and I was glad to be a part of it.
Corp!: The current presidential campaign has been interesting to watch. What are your thoughts about Hillary Clinton’s run for president?
Beckwith: I applaud her. Hillary Clinton is an impressive candidate and it is a great step forward for a woman to be running. America is the longest standing democracy in the world and we have not had a woman leader. Look at England and even Pakistan. It seems to be so controversial in the U.S.
Corp!: What is your perspective about Michigan women’s role in our state and government?
Beckwith: We have made some progress in that we have Jennifer Granholm as governor. But fewer women seem to be getting involved in the legislative progress. I would like to see more women get involved on school boards or city councils. I am afraid that a lot of gains that have been made with women participating in government are declining.
Corp!: What is your perspective about Mich-igan women’s role in our economy, business and education?
Beckwith: The Mich-igan economy is suffering greatly. Women need to take every opportunity to educate themselves in new technology, so that they can participate in the trend toward more technology based businesses and away from manufacturing. A lot of progress has been made with women owning their own businesses, which is a great way for them to showcase their talents.
Corp!: What is the best advice you can offer to others?
Beckwith: If you have a vision, set a goal and work toward it and don’t get discouraged if it doesn’t work out right away.
Corp!: What was your first job and what did you learn from it?
Beckwith: I sold stockings at Arbaugh’s Department Store and I learned how challenging it was to be a clerk and work the long hours. Being a store clerk was one of a few career paths for women when I grew up.
Corp!: Besides women’s issues, what is your favorite cause?
Beckwith: I am an animal lover and would love to someday volunteer with some animal organizations.