Thank you, Craig, for introducing me, and for your more than15 years of work at the Portland Business Journal. And thank you also to The Journal for hosting this annual event.
Every March, designated Women’s History Month, we pause briefly to note, share and celebrate the achievements of the women of our state and nation.
Today, we recognize some of the trail blazers, change agents, and dream-chasers breaking down barriers and leaving their mark on Oregon’s history. These women continually strive to make a positive difference – to the benefit of our daughters and sons and future generations of Oregonians yet to come.
In the words of Marissa Mayer, CEO of Yahoo!, “I always did something I was a little not ready to do. I think that’s how you grow. When there’s that moment of ‘Wow, I’m not really sure I can do this,’ and you push through those moments, that’s when you have a breakthrough.”
Historically, Oregon has distinguished itself as a state where, to paraphrase Ralph Waldo Emerson, women go where there is no trail and make their own.
And when I think of trailblazer’s from Oregon’s history, I think of Charlie Parkhurst.
Charlie was a tough-as-nails stage coach driver from the mid-19th Century, working throughout the Willamette Valley. A kick from a horse cost Charlie an eye, and after that, he was well-known among stage coach drivers by his buffalo coat and black eye patch.
Yes, he could chew, cuss, and gamble with the best of them – a real man’s man.
Charlie was also a registered voter, expressing a preference for Ulysses S. Grant in the 1968 election. Charlie died a few years after the election, and with his death came a pretty big surprise:
He was not a he. Charlie was actually a woman.
Her name was Charlotte, and she had lived as a man her entire life. You can imagine the shock to the other stage coach drivers when they found out.
Of course, when Charlie cast her vote in 1868, she became the first woman to vote in a presidential election, that we know of, on the west coast – a full forty-four years before women got the right to vote nationally.
So when I think of trailblazing women, I also think of Charlie – or Charlotte – Parkhurst who lived her life the way she wanted to.
Oregon women fought successfully for the right to vote years before the rest of the nation, and our state has been blazing the trail for cutting-edge public policies every since.
In addition to being the state’s second woman governor – one of just six women governors nationwide – I’m proud to serve with Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum; Secretary of State Jeanne Atkins; Erika Hadlock, Chief Judge of the Oregon Court of Appeals; House Speaker Tina Kotek; and a legislature that is 31 percent women – 7 percent higher than the national average.
I’m thrilled that, in Oregon, women lead. Women create, represent and advocate. They head companies large and small. They are scientists, artists, and entrepreneurs.
But gaining footholds in the ladder of corporate or civic leadership hasn’t necessarily narrowed the pay gap. Compared to their male counterparts, Oregon women still make 77 cents on the dollar – 51 cents on the dollar if she is a Latina.
Women continue to be their families’ primary caregivers, simultaneously raising children while caring for aging parents. Many are single heads of households, the ones sitting at the kitchen table at 10 o’clock at night, paying the bills, making the grocery lists, packing the kids’ lunchboxes for school the next day.
Women still have to make tough decisions every day, no matter what line of work they’re in. And they should expect nothing less from their elected leaders.
Consider that, in Salem, for example, 59 percent of the kids in the Salem-Keizer School District are living in poverty, and statewide, more than 20,000 kids in the K-12 system are currently homeless. As awful as that number is, it’s consistent with the fact that 70 percent of minimum wage earners in Oregon are women, and there are 90,000 single-parent families headed by women trying to raise kids on about $1800 dollars a month.
Moreover, in Oregon and nationwide, women are still victimized by sexual and domestic violence at an alarming rate.
In 2014*, Oregon agencies serving survivors of domestic violence answered more than one hundred and thirty-one thousand calls for help. Shelter was provided to more than twenty-five hundred adults, three hundred teens, and more than eighteen hundred children.
But there were more than twelve thousand requests for shelter that could not be met – a 1.5% increase over the previous year.
How sad that there is no state or nation on the planet whose leader can claim, “This doesn’t happen in my backyard.”
Today, we should not only celebrate the movers and shakers among Oregon women, those among us who have found their path and achieved excellence. I ask that we join together across our respective communities and pledge to take better care of Oregon women and girls. Together, we must make sure each and every one of them has opportunities to reach their full potential – no matter who they are, or where in Oregon they live.
I am pleased to share that, over the past year, Oregon adopted new laws and policies that will make a positive difference in the lives of many women and their families. We took action to ensure more workers can earn sick days and establish their own retirement accounts; we expanded access to affordable, high-quality child care. We invested in public education, made higher education more affordable, and raised the minimum wage to help families make ends meet.
I am convinced that this progress was due at least in part to the leadership of women legislators, many of whom have had first-hand experience with these issues and understand on a very personal level how they impact people’s lives – and set goals accordingly.
Women in leadership people to thank – those who raised them, nurtured and mentored them, supported them. Oregon’s motto, “She flies with her own wings,” speaks to that characteristic independent Oregon spirit. But even the strongest and most independent fliers among us could use a little help with lift-off.
Every woman, every girl in Oregon needs and deserves that support. Each of us has an obligation to reach out to the next generation, to help build strong leadership for our future. Now, it is our turn to plant the trees. We must become the mentors and teachers that instill in young women and girls the confidence to do what, as Yahoo!’s Marissa Mayer says, they are a little not ready to do; to grow, and have breakthroughs of their own.
It’s on us: to secure the future we want and deserve, we must continue to go where no one has gone before.
After all, we are Oregonians – the blazers of new trails. We are the ones who get things done.
My sincere congratulations to today’s honorees, and many thanks for all you do in support of Oregon women.