October 29, 2018

Women’s Legacies and Women’s Philanthropy

Community Foundation of Bartholomew County

Monday, October 29, 2018

Introduction

Thank you so much for the warm welcome. I am just delighted to be back in Columbus and here at the beautiful Republic Building, now home to the J. Irwin Miller Architecture Program at Indiana University’s School of Art, Architecture + Design. In fact, the last time I was here, I stood almost in this very spot to participate in the dedication of this wonderfully repurposed building and the inauguration of the architecture program, named for one of the towering figures in the city of Columbus and indeed in the world of modern design and manufacturing. That was a great day for Indiana University and the city of Columbus, the culmination of a long-held vision of many people, and one that is sure to serve the state and the nation for generations to come.

I’m very grateful to Tracy Souza for inviting me to speak tonight, because it means I get to come back to Columbus and see many friends but more importantly, because I get to engage with you on topics about which I’m passionate: women’s philanthropy, women’s legacies, architecture, and Indiana University.

As a founding member of the Women’s Philanthropy program at IU and the Women’s Philanthropy Leadership Council that guides it, I’m sure we have common ground in our dedication to the role of philanthropy in improving communities and the quality of life for all.

 

 

The City of Columbus

That dedication is certainly on display here in Columbus. As you know well, Columbus is not a large city, and not located in the hotbeds of architecture and design on the east and west coasts. Yet here it is, with 7 buildings on the National Register of Historic Places and a mecca for architecture students and buffs from all over the world.


The City of Columbus

That dedication is certainly on display here in Columbus. As you know well, Columbus is not a large city, and not located in the hotbeds of architecture and design on the east and west coasts. Yet here it is, with 7 buildings on the National Register of Historic Places and a mecca for architecture students and buffs from all over the world.

Architecture is so multidisciplinary, with regard to not only math, engineering, and physics, but to culture, history, community, and art. Columbus reflects so many important elements of what defines greatness in an American city—in any city.

Significantly, most of the buildings that earned Columbus its designation and acclaim are public buildings – an elementary school, the city hall, the civic center, two extraordinary churches. And even more significant to my mind is that these buildings are not so much protected by local historic districts or city statutes; they are protected by the coming together of the people of Columbus who have created a culture of pride in their community and its ability to sustain a vision of the good society, over many years. People like you. Philanthropy is part of your civic heritage, deeply rooted in what it means to be a part of this city. The act of giving, preserving, and growing is something that Columbus is truly built upon.

Architecture is so multidisciplinary, with regard to not only math, engineering, and physics, but to culture, history, community, and art. Columbus reflects so many important elements of what defines greatness in an American city—in any city.

Significantly, most of the buildings that earned Columbus its designation and acclaim are public buildings – an elementary school, the city hall, the civic center, two extraordinary churches. And even more significant to my mind is that these buildings are not so much protected by local historic districts or city statutes; they are protected by the coming together of the people of Columbus who have created a culture of pride in their community and its ability to sustain a vision of the good society, over many years. People like you. Philanthropy is part of your civic heritage, deeply rooted in what it means to be a part of this city. The act of giving, preserving, and growing is something that Columbus is truly built upon.

 

Philanthropy is at the Heart of Civic Life

Philanthropy, which Robert Payton defined as “voluntary giving for the public good”, is integral to the quality of our lives and our societies. And it is integral to how the public sector functions and thrives. It takes a combination of selflessness and grit to truly bring about change in a meaningful way.

Of course, giving and volunteering are part of being human, something we likely all grew up with and that we can often take for granted. But I believe it is at the heart of what it means to be a citizen. In a world that feels increasingly transactional, voluntarily choosing to do something without a quid pro quo can be a profound act, certainly of generosity but it is also in a sense, an act of faith in the public order. And these profound acts take place at all levels, in sometimes the smallest of ways.

Many of our most significant social improvements have been driven not only through big grants and gifts of the very wealthy, but through the everyday acts of regular citizens engaged in helping neighbors; organizing fundraisers, campaigns, and marches; going on mission trips through faith organizations; dropping a dime in a can at the grocery store; and working to preserve historic buildings.

All of you engage in these activities and many more, and you are also choosing to combine your civic pride and your philanthropic passions by being part of the women’s Giving Circle of the Heritage Fund.

I think this is really noble work and I admire you all for committing to it.

Women's Legacies and Women's Philanthropy

 

I want to focus my remarks on how women’s philanthropy is continuing to change the world, and on the importance of women’s legacies.

Let me start with legacies, with the importance of telling women’s stories from the past as well as the present, not just because doing so fills out the historical narrative or even sometimes corrects the historical narrative, but because it changes how we think about our own roles in the here and now. And it prepares us for a future where we are increasingly in the forefront.

We don’t have to look far to see examples of women moving into leadership roles, running for office, starting and expanding businesses, and a host of other occupations that would have been unthinkable in the not too distant past. In 1960, a little more than 10% of women were the chief breadwinner in their families; that number is now 42%.[1] Women currently hold 51% of personal wealth in the US, a percentage that is projected to grow over the next decade.[2] This has huge implications not only for philanthropy but for how the economy and government work.

Faced with these implications and trends, it may seem counter-intuitive to advocate for paying more attention to history, but I think it is crucial if we want to fully grasp the nature of leadership and how we can help the generations coming behind us feel a sense of ownership for our collective future.

I can’t count the number of times I’ve learned about a woman from the past who has done something utterly remarkable – an invention, a whole field of study, a work of creative genius – but who we (or perhaps just I) have never heard of. And when I learn about the extent of her legacy, I’m not only inspired and impressed, it deepens my sense of belonging, of ownership, of value. It gives me shoulders to stand on.

As you know, my career background is in technology, a field not exactly known for gender parity, but of course it turns out that many of the geniuses and pioneers of computing were women, often women we’ve never heard of, or if we have, not in the context of their extraordinary contributions.

I’ll give you two quick examples: Elizebeth Friedman, whose life spanned nearly the whole of the 20th century and who, along with her husband, essentially invented the field of cryptography, starting during World War I. She was actually born in Huntington, Indiana, just outside of Fort Wayne.

As a woman in her early twenties, she became one of the greatest codebreakers in the country, devising completely new conceptual approaches to breaking the most difficult ciphers. She was self-taught, and used her talents to catch smugglers during Prohibition; exposed Nazi spy rings across South America; and became a driving force in the creation of the NSA and modern intelligence, which has become a crucial discipline within computing.

Her husband William was equally influential, cracking the Japanese equivalent of the German Enigma machine that helped make Alan Turing famous. And of course, it is he who has been immortalized. Until very recently, Elizebeth, his equal and in some people’s minds, even the superior intellect, was invisible to those who followed in her footsteps.