Politics/Community Involvement

In addition to a traditional focus on the public realm of governance and power structures, this theme should also reflect a feminist understanding of “the personal as political.” We are interested in women’s opinions, values, and activities as they relate to a broad sphere of social relations.

Robin Kennedy

State house emplyee and political activist

I would say get involved and speak up. I think even as far as society has come, society still teaches us to take a back seat, to sit on the outsides of a meeting table. You’ll see the men all come sit at the table and you’ll often still see women sit around the outsides.  So I would say sit at the table. It’s still going to be very rare that somebody invites you in, so sometimes as uncomfortable as it may be you have to invite yourself in. And then I would say something certainly that I have tried to do is pay it forward.  You’re given an opportunity,  pay it forward to someone behind you because we’re our best allies and our best advocates so it’s our responsibility to bring other women along with us.

Robyn Kennedy, a state house employee and political activist, spent her childhood in Worcester, Massachusetts and still resides in Worcester today. Robyn was born in 1980, and at 32 years of age has found herself in many leadership positions including the Board of Directors of the YWCA, the National Board of the YWCA, and a political adviser to many campaigns including Lt. Governor U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren.

Interview Date: 
Tue, 10/22/2013
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Katherine Abbott

Executive Director Tower Hill Botanical Garden
Interview Date: 
Sun, 11/10/2013
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Anh Vu Sawyer

Executive Director of the Southeast Asian Coalition of Central Massachusetts; Author

You know, America spoils me with freedom. Because even when I was in Vietnam, I always hungered for freedom…You see America gave me the freedom to be who I am and also gave me the resources so that I can get what I want. Also, American people gave me an amazing example of giving themselves to others.

Co (Mrs.) Anh Vu Sawyer was born Vu Thi Ngoc Anh in 1953 and raised in Saigon, South Vietnam. Upon entering medical school in the early ‘70s, the Vietnam War would be the catalyst for her journey to the West. A dreamer at heart, upon arriving in the United States, Co Anh set her sights on achieving those dreams and goals. Graduating from Calvin College with a B.S. in Mathematics & Economics, her extensive work resume ranges from marketing, business ventures, to being a motivational speaker for ambitious achievers.

Interview Date: 
Thu, 03/28/2013
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Barbara Kohin

Physicist, Professor, Worcester Councilwoman

When I first came to Worcester it was [challenging]. The colleges didn’t hire women. I sent my resume to WPI, Holy Cross, Assumption. I mean Clark was accepting women, but my husband already worked there so that didn’t work. I sent my resumes around and they didn’t even answer. They didn’t respond or acknowledge. I remember, I thought I’d call up WPI and talk to the Physics guy and he said, “Well, we do have an opening for a Molecular Physicist” and I said ‘I am a molecular physicist!’ And he said, “Really?” I never got an interview. So I did get a job finally, at Worcester State.

Barbara Kohin, a former councilwoman in Worcester Massachusetts, was born in 1932 in Providence, Rhode Island. She attended the College of William and Mary, in which she graduated in 1953. After getting married to her husband Roger, she had three children, and now has two grandchildren. Barbara tells about her experiences growing up as a woman in America and the struggles she faced. She discusses these events such as not getting a job as a physicist at General Electric or as a professor at local colleges in Worcester.

Interview Date: 
Wed, 03/20/2013
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Annette Rafferty

Founder, Abby's House

Well the first one was Wearing Smooth the Path: The First 25 Years at Abby’s and the second title is Still Wearing Smooth the Path: The Last Ten Years. When we inherited this building for 55 additional units of housing and it was a leap of faith because… we raise our own money, we don’t take state or federal funding for any of our programs, so this would mean increased fundraising, increased grant writing, and yet we knew that if we didn’t take this building it would probably be torn down and there would be 55 more women without housing. So we got the house and the Sisters of Mercy, the St. Joseph’s home for low-income women, and their mission and our mission blended together so besides homeless women with or without women, women who were abused in any shape or fashion, we extended it to low-income women so now that two missions are together, and the wording of the book “Wearing Smooth the Path” comes from a speech that Abby gave at the second National Women’s Conference of Brinley Hall in Worcester in which she got up to give a speech, and she was a fiery woman, and she stood up and she said something like this: “bloody feet, sisters, have worn smooth the path by which you have come hither.” In other words, it’s been no easy journey to get from where I started to where I am now, and when the, what was her name, Margaret LaRue, was the editor, the proofreader and editor of the first book saw the phrase “have worn smooth the path” she said, “Well isn’t Abby’s House wearing smooth the path for women and children?” And hence, was born the title, and it came right out of that second National Woman’s Conference here [Worcester]. So we’re still wearing smooth the path and it’s—and bloody feet, yes I said that, and bloody feet – it’s been a hard journey to get from there to where we are now, but it’s been even harder for the women who come through, but we have made it smoother for them to get from A to B and then from B to C. It’s not a dead-end place; we encourage them to get educated, to find jobs, to get out, to put their names into Worcester housing so that eventually they can have their own place.

Annette Rafferty was born in 1930 in Worcester MA. She attended school at Midland Street School, May Street School, Oxford Public Schools and high school, Our Lady of the Elms College and received two master’s degrees from Assumption College and did graduate work at Boston College, St. John’s University in New York, and Notre Dame in Indiana. After teaching as a nun for many years, she founded Abby’s House, a shelter for homeless, abused and low-income women and children, in 1973. She reflects on her childhood, education, and career path.

Interview Date: 
Thu, 11/15/2012
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Konstantina Lukes

Lawyer; First elected female mayor of Worcester

Being a candidate and being a public servant are two different jobs, a candidate has to be a public relations person and the product you’re selling is yourself....... public service means another thing other than promoting yourself, you have to know how to solve problems and meet the needs of your constituents.

Konstantina Lukes realized at about the age of eight or nine she wanted to go into politics after being introduced to the mayor by her father. Her Albanian background caused her to want to be a part of politics because of her knowledge of the oppressive dictatorship in Albania. Konstantina Lukes ran for school committee in 1979, and has been in politics ever since -- about 30 years. She served January 13, 2007 – January 4, 2010 as the first elected female mayor of Worcester. Currently, she works as an attorney in Worcester.

Interview Date: 
Wed, 11/14/2012
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Regina Edmonds

Professor of Psychology and Gender Studies at Assumption College

When I was in high school they were trying to track me into, you know, all the lower tracks and track me to –what do you call that—vocational training ‘cause I really didn’t—I always got really, really, really high grades but that was just ‘cause I worked so hard. I didn’t want to go to college. I thought I had enough of this [laughter] aggravation and enough of this kind of, not feeling particularly confident. But my parents said that wasn’t an option, that I was going to college whether I liked it or not, so that was probably a very good decision. So I went to college. I graduated in the top five and with Phi, Phi Beta Kappa so I guess I wasn’t as dumb as everybody thought [laughter] and then I went to the University of Pittsburgh and got my PhD. I would say that my challenges are also something I really in many ways value because I think that when you sort of struggle to understand something you can really explain it better to other people and I feel like I’m really good at that, you know, that I’m a good teacher, that I have a tremendous amount of respect for other individuals who struggle because I did. And I really do think it’s about hard work in large measure [laughs] and, and really, someone who will support you, people who believe in you, and my family believed in me even though, they thought I was kind of stupid [laughs]. And no one, no one ever thought that I would be the one in the family who wound up with a PhD but somehow I did.

Regina Margaret Edmonds was born in 1946 in Bayonne, New Jersey. Jeana was one of three children to the late Richard and Rose McBride Edmonds. As a child, Jeana and her family moved regularly due to her father’s job. In the fifth grade, she moved from Bayonne New, Jersey to Glens Falls, New York and she stayed there until the ninth grade. Her family then moved to Long Island where she graduated as valedictorian of her high school class. Her family moved to a new part of Long Island while she received her undergraduate education from Elmira College.

Interview Date: 
Sun, 10/28/2012
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Barbara MacPhee

Realtor, Master Gardener, Beekeeper

Growing up I felt really limited actually in what we could do and in high school. Actually I wanted to take mechanical drawing and the school committee wouldn’t allow it. They said only boys take mechanical drawing, so they wouldn’t allow me to do that. So I went before the school committee and all and they would not allow me to take it. That was a boy’s—a man’s—or a boy’s course. And I really wanted to be a mechanical engineer. But all through my high school it was not accepted for a girl to do that. And I was really mad that I was a girl throughout my education cause boys had so many more opportunities. … Now, of course, I’m a realtor. And we own a lot of property and we manage a lot of property, so if I had it to do all over again, I would be either a plumber or an electrician. Absolutely. I love either one of these, especially electricity. That is fascinating to me…It takes time to know where your talents are and where your goals might be…but the Lord will guide you. If you know the Lord, the Lord will guide and direct you.

Barbara MacPhee is a resident of Holden who co-owns a real estate business with her husband. Her early years were spent in New Jersey, and she came to the Worcester area to attend Clark University where she majored in Psychology. Barbara was raised by a father who thought it was a woman’s role to marry and have children, and college was not in his plan for his daughter. Barbara was able to support herself during her undergraduate years, and she states that her father was the proudest person at graduation when she earned her degree.

Interview Date: 
Tue, 04/17/2012
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Judith Savageau

Associate Professor of Family Medicine and Community Health; Massachusetts Association for the Blind Board Member

Most important to me is community service—I'm an avid believer. The woman who founded, I believe it’s Save the Children, Marian Wright Edelman, has this great quote that “Service is the rent we pay for living here on this planet.” And I am an avid believer. I do five to ten hours a week of community service. A lot of it is related to vision.

Judith Savageau, an Associate Professor of Family Medicine and Community Health, was born and raised in Worcester, Massachusetts. Through her experiences in Community Health, Judy devotes her life to her research, teaching, and community service. In a world that is ever changing, where people, but especially women, are faced with a fast paced lifestyle, where work, or school can erode relationships and replace the time once spent with family, Judy has been able to find a balance. A balance where she is able to volunteer at least some of her time for her community.

Interview Date: 
Tue, 04/10/2012
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Olga López-Hill

Spanish Interview - Coordinator of General Operations for the Resource and Referral Center of the Worcester Community Action Council; Lugar de origen: Puerto Rico

Entiendo más mi etnicidad. Sé este cómo puedo ayudar a otras personas por lo que he aprendido. Les he tratado de—he tratado que mis hijos también entiendan la cultura, de donde vienen, la cultura latina, y que la mantengan.

Olga López-Hill es una mujer que nació en Puerto Rico el 24 de abril de 1955.  Hoy, trabaja como consejera familiar en el “Worcester Community Action Council, ” un centro de recursos para familias.

Interview Date: 
Wed, 04/06/2011
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