Charlotte B Nelson

Iowa Women's Hall of Fame Acceptance - Aug. 27, 2011

Charlotte B Nelson
August 27, 2011— Des Moines, Iowa
Iowa Women's Hall of Fame ceremony
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Governor Branstad, Lt. Governor Reynolds, Chairperson Olsen, Committee Chair Peters, Honorees seated in front, and Honorees on the stage.

A little Commission history: Pat Geadelmann was chair when I began; she and subsequent chairs, and commission members, have been great to work with. On the committee that proposed my name to the Governor in 1985 was Eunice Kuyper Folkerts. Eunie envisioned the Friends of the Commission, and Michelle Durand-Adams built on that vision. All are here today.

Also on that committee was Mary Wiberg, now Executive Director of the California Commission on the Status of Women. Mary knows I am greatly indebted to her. And I only wish that Sue Follon, my predecessor, were here -she made a tremendous difference for women in Iowa, and she inspired and informed me and so many others. She is sorely missed.

My sincerest thanks to the Iowa Commission on the Status of Women., and to those who contributed their thoughts to the committee.

To say I am moved beyond words is an understatement.

But I do have words to make a few introductions!

Please stand - and wave?

My husband Gus Nelson.

Our daughter Ruth Bendig, from Acton, MA.

Our son David Nelson, and his son Jack, from Chicago.

Our son Tom Nelson, from Windsor Heights, and his son Josh from Fontanelle.

Four nieces are here from Minneapolis (Karen, Kay, Darla, and Kristen), and a nephew and his wife, Karl and Marilyn.

Stephanie from New Jersey - what a delightful surprise - and Betty Miller, also a surprise from MN, , and Atlantic friends, and even the Boones gave up their golf tournament…

Heartfelt thanks to all.

A word of recognition for the person who succeeded me at the Commission, Rachel Scott. Her leadership is being missed.

A few words of personal history.

Forget stereotypes! Growing up in East Tennessee, hillbilly country, I actually learned from my family, and from my Southern Presbyterian Church, that I had to commit to social justice. (Admittedly, I may have taken it further than they envisioned!)

Family and schools challenged me academically. Mother and Daddy gave me amazing opportunities and support - including care when I was bedridden with TB for two years right after high school. They taught me to be positive. And they taught me to nurture good relationships. (I had visitors every day but one that first year in bed.)

It was no small thing that Gus and I had not married someone else before we met in 1956 in New York City. He and I have three marvelous children and seven marvelous grandchildren. And he has made me hear the words: "The past is over and gone. The future is open. " Recently, we have tried to remember the words of Eleanor Roosevelt: "The past is history. The future is mystery. Today is a gift."

Indeed, today is a gift!

I want to emphasize to you all that no effort I have made has been effective without collaboration. This was key in the League of Women Voters, especially in the housing task force in Des Moines and the national sex equity in vocational education project.

This was key in the interdisciplinary women's studies class at Drake.

This was key at DHS.

This was key with the ICSW. The study projects were collaborative (direct care workers, statewide wage disparity, salary surveys for victim advocates, and contingency workers).

You may not have seen a national tabloid at the grocery years ago: "Women's libber attacks men working sign." Krystal said, Oh, Grandma!" The sign was changed when the head of Iowa's Department of General Services responded to my call, and acted immediately!

Legislative and public advocacy were collaborative (violence against women, sexual harassment - with a compelling video on harassment in the schools - gender balance on state boards and commissions - and equal pay for equal work). Program development included endorsing the work of the Iowa Task Force for Young Women.

Agency representatives together crafted a state welfare reform program that sought to make women's lives truly better.

Joint conferences were held on health, higher education, and job-seeking skills. Hundreds came together to celebrate the 75th anniversary of woman suffrage. And many have helped the ICSW inspire young people to "write women back into history." Legislation was enacted to name the Jesse M Parker and the Ola Babcock Miller Buildings.

These are among the accomplishments that have been possible through joint efforts.

The sobering reality now is that support for the Commission and in turn for equity issues for women has been eroding. The state's commitment to equality is not clear. A strong state agency to advocate for women is vital. The Commission is the central permanent agency for equality for women, and must have visibility and support. Too many inequities remain for us to be silent.

You say my feeble efforts do no good;

They never will prevail,

To tip the hovering scale

Where justice hangs in balance.

I do not think

I ever thought they would.

But I am prejudiced beyond debate

In favor of my right to choose

Which side shall feel the stubborn ounces of my weight.

I firmly believe that it is through working together that many positive changes regarding equity have been made, AND that positive changes will be made in the years to come. But our voices must be heard to regain the momentum.

Again, my heartfelt thanks to everyone - all of you here and all with whom I have worked and will continue to work. Together, we can make this world a better place.