I was seven years old when my mother showed me her most treasured jewels. Taking my hand in hers, she walked me through the giant oak doors of our town library where she showed me the Orange Books, biographies of historical men and women of achievement. Certainly, there were far fewer books of women than men, but there they were—women of achievement on the library shelves, books of the same size, same covers, different stories. My mother's most treasured gift for me was the library card that allowed these stories to be mine—stories which I continue to hold in my memory to this day—Amelia Earhart, Clara Barton, Marie Curie and Jane Addams, to name just a few.
I’ve been fortunate to have learned from a host of women leaders: teachers, primarily, but also advisors, colleagues, peers, caretakers, authors, friends, and relatives. A few women have inspired me even though I have never met them or have only “met” them through e-mail.
As an adult, I was directed by a friend to the powerful stories of twenty-five women of achievement in Written By Herself: Autobiographies of American Women: An Anthology by Jill Ker Conway. I still recall the story of the woman who told her brother, a medical school student, to return home each night and teach her everything he learned each day because women were neither accepted in medical school nor certified as doctors.
A woman corporate director pointed me to the stories in another book, The Door in the Dream: Conversations with Eminent Women in Science by Dr. Elga Wasserman, consisting of interviews with eighty-six women who had been elected to the National Academy of Sciences (five percent of the total membership by 2000).
The common thread, guiding my own career and experience, is that there are many women leaders who inspire us, many women of achievement whom we might follow, many women into whose “tall heels” we might step.