On Women’s Equality Day, Southwest Florida women look back

Reporter: Amanda Hall
Published: Updated:

Amelia Earhart flew solo. Rosa Parks refused to get up and Sally Ride went way, way up. Those women are pioneers of their time. They are some of the famous women in history, but not the only ones.

Ruth Anderson uses a laptop and an iPhone, both are technologies she helped develop decades ago.

“There are quite a few books written about women programmers in World War II to help in the war,” Ruth said, “and I was one of them.”

Ruth, 101 years old, was born in Boston. She is a rarity as she went to college in the 1930s during the Great Depression while most women were expected to get married and tend to the house.

Ruth told WINK News, when she went to college, the primary profession for a woman was to be a teacher, a nurse or a secretary. She graduated from Boston Teachers College, which is now part of the University of Massachusetts.

During World War II, many new opportunities opened up to women. American men, who went off foreign continents to serve their country, left open jobs that women filled.

“I was lucky I majored in math and that’s how I got a job at MIT with a bunch of scientists,” said Ruth, referring to Massachusetts Institute of Technology, a historic school in Boston.

Ruth was part of a research team developing radar technology. It is a team that may have been all men, were it not for the war.

“Everything fell into place for me,” Ruth said.

Higher education and the job force look a lot different than in Ruth’s day. Women now make up 51% of the workforce, but a significant pay gap still exists. Women earn 79 cents to each dollar a man makes.

Now, women outnumber men at colleges in the United States. More women are going into STEM fields – a curriculum based on the idea of educating students in science, technology, engineering and mathematics disciplines – than any other industry.

Ruth charted a path years before the west coast of the country became a tech and innovation hub. After the second war, she moved to California to work for the Navy to develop drones.

“Very few people had gone to the west coast then,” Ruth said, “so I was sort of a pioneer in that respect.”

Ruth has witnessed a constantly changing history in our country. She remembers a lot, including the civil rights, feminist and Me Too movements, along with the woman’s reproductive and equal pay rights.

Ruth said that woman working in the government is the most significant change in the last century.

“We’ve had our first women, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi; the first Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor,” Ruth said. “We almost had a female president, but we didn’t make it. So lots of changes.”

Our progress is the result of many women, like Ruth, whose names are not written in history books. However, through hard work and determination, these women have collectively moved our society on a forward path to greater women’s equality.

While she acknowledges things are different nowadays, there is still more work to do.

“Women have to do things twice as well as men in order to get half as much credit”

It has been 99 years since women got the right to vote. Women now have the choice of any job they can achieve through hard work, rather than solely focusing on the household.

Catherine Turner watched it all. Catherine, 79 years old, told us that there are ample opportunities for women now.

“I’m grateful that my daughter’s taken advantage of that,” Catherine said. “Mostly in my lifetime, it was make sure you get married and have children.”

Over the years, presidents have proclaimed Aug 26 as Women’s Equality Day. It is a time to celebrate progress while acknowledging the work left to be completed.

“Together, we can make America a place where women can pursue careers, raise families, or both,” Ronald Reagan, the 40th president of the U.S., said in a speech. “Women not only succeed but do it with style.”

Recently, women have used style to make a point on women’s issues, such as wearing black gowns to the Golden Globes and telling a national audience that “time’s up.”

The phrase, “time’s up,” references to staying silent to sexual assault in both Hollywood and around the country. It followed the lead of the ‘Me Too’ movement, encouraging survivors to share their traumatic personal stories.

During the 2019 State of the Union address, white suits and dresses paid tribute to the woman suffragists of the 1800s. For the first time in U.S. history, more than 100 women are serving in the House of Representatives.

Margaret Turner, 94 years old, never thought she would see the day.

“More women are getting into politics and it was strange that they would do that,” Margaret said. “But they are now more than ever.”

For all the achievements and gains, there is still inequality, which a previous president has pointed out.

“It’s been my observation over the years in politics,” said Gerald Ford, the 38th president of the U.S., “that women have to do things twice as well as men in order to get half as much credit.”

The pay gap had narrowed since the 1970s when a woman made 58% what a man did. It is now closer to 79%. It is a big increase, but many believe there needs to be less of a monetary disparity between the two sexes.

“I believe they aren’t paid as well as they should be for the same job and I really believe that,” Margaret said.

So if history has taught us anything, Margaret said, you have to work hard to get there.

“Nobody’s going to give it to you,” she added. “You’ve got to work for it and set your mind on what you’re going to do and stick with it.”

Copyright ©2023 Fort Myers Broadcasting. All rights reserved.

This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without prior written consent.