Chisholm biographer Curwood will be part of Martha Swain Speaker Series
Mississippi University for Women and the Martha Swain Speaker Series are excited to welcome author Anastasia C. Curwood to campus for a talk about the life and experiences of Shirley Chisholm from 7-8 p.m. Thursday, March 30, in Nissan Auditorium, Parkinson Hall.
The Mississippi Humanities Council, the Center for Women’s Research and Public Policy and the Department of History, Political Science & Geography are co-sponsors of the event, which is part of The W’s Women’s History month programming and part of Homecoming.
There also will be a book signing with Curwood from 3-4 p.m. Thursday at Friendly City Books in downtown Columbus. Both events are free and open to the public.
Chisholm’s 1972 bid for the presidential nomination of the Democratic Party made history and helped pave the way for women’s political activism. Curwood’s forthcoming biography “Shirley Chisholm: Champion of Black Feminist Power Politics” highlights the important role Chisholm played in American politics and women’s leadership.
“Few women figure so large in women’s political history than Shirley Chisholm,” said Dr. Erin Kempker, professor of History at The W. “As the first black woman to serve in Congress and the second woman to run for president with a major political party, she is really important to opening up the possibilities of women in political leadership. Her Democratic run in 1972 was significant, not because the party supported her or because she gained large numbers of electors — she did not win a single primary — but she finished the entire primary process. In her words, she gutted it out. As she explained in her autobiography, her life in politics was meant to be ‘a catalyst for change’, and she was.”
Kempker said Chisholm also had a real gift for plain and direct speaking. For example, Chisholm once said, “Our representative democracy is not working because the Congress that is supposed to represent the voters does not respond to their needs. I believe the chief reason for this is that it is ruled by a small group of old men.”
Said Kempker, “Sadly, Chisholm’s thoughts are as relevant today as when she said that in 1970, especially in Mississippi, which has some of the lowest levels of women’s representation in elected office in the country.”
It is precisely because of Chisholm’s continued relevance that The W’s Women’s Leadership Master’s Program and the NEW Leadership Mississippi initiative boast courses and internship opportunities that focus on highlighting powerful women in politics, academia, entertainment, healthcare and other fields, as well as provide a platform to educate and train the next women leaders in Mississippi, domestically and internationally.
Dr. Chanley Rainey, who directs the Center for Women’s Research and Public Policy at The W, said women’s representation in the United States continues to lag behind that of its peers, with Mississippi women ranking among the least represented.
According to the most recent data from the Inter-Parliamentary Union, the U.S. is tied for 71st place globally, with women representing a mere 28.6% of members in the House of Representatives. Mississippi’s numbers are lower still: only 14.4% of our state legislators are women. If Mississippi were a country, it would rank 148th. It is precisely this gap that programs like NEW Leadership MS seek to fill. The annual summer institute gathers a diverse group of ambitious college students each June with the goal of providing mentorship, networking, training and empowerment that will enable the next generation of women to enter politics with confidence.
In addition to its programs, The W supports community initiatives, such as the newly founded League of Women Voters of the Golden Triangle Area. The group will conduct a voter registration table before Curwood’s talk to encourage voter registration and provide information to anyone interested in joining the League.
“This program and this initiative are examples that underscore The W’s commitment to women’s advancement as part of its core mission,” said Dr. Shahara’Tova Dente, assistant professor of English & Women’s Studies and graduate director of Women’s Leadership. “Learning about powerful figures like Chisholm and encouraging more women of all backgrounds to participate in the electoral process is a core component of that mission.”