Monthly Archives: March 2012

Ayanna Pressley: Boston’s Voice for Women’s Issues

As Women’s History Month draws to a close, Big Sister would like to conclude the month’s celebration by highlighting a contemporary woman of influence and purpose who is making her mark on the Boston landscape. City Councilor At-Large Ayanna Pressley immediately comes to mind, not only for her political triumph but also for her advocacy for women’s issues.

City Councilor At-Large Pressley is the first woman of color to be elected (in 2009) to serve on the governing board in the council’s 100-year history. In addition, she was the only woman in a field of 15 candidates to have earned one of four “At-Large” spots on the city’s 13- member council, garnering nearly 42,000 votes.

In keeping with her historic win, Councilor At-Large Pressley set out to support those whom she saw as undeserved and thus formed and chaired a new committee, the Committee on Women & Healthy Communities. The committee is dedicated to the causes that are close to her heart: stabilizing families and communities, reducing and preventing violence and trauma, and combating poverty. With a particular emphasis on girls and women, the committee focuses on adequate delivery of city services and programming for youth, families, seniors, and new Bostonians. The committee does not shy away from tackling the tougher issues ranging from domestic and sexual violence, child abuse and neglect, bullying, substance abuse to mentoring, poverty, and homelessness.

Councilor At-Large Pressley goes beyond government work to hold leadership positions with community organizations such as the Massachusetts Women’s Political Caucus and the Young Professionals Preventing Child Abuse of the Children’s Trust Fund. She also serves on the Boards of UMass Boston Community Development, Inc., and the Young Black Women’s Society.

What makes Big Sister most proud of City Councilor Pressley’s advocacy for women is the special role she plays with our organization. Despite her busy schedule, she has found the time to join Big Sister Association of Greater Boston by becoming an active Big Sister mentor. Not only is she proud of her mentoring role, but she is just as proud to be considered a part of her Little Sister’s family. As an advocate for mentoring, Councilor At-Large Pressley recently spoke at Big Sister’s Rise & Inspire event in which she concluded, “I’m a Big Sister who happens to be a City Councilor.” Councilor At-Large Pressley launched a personal campaign, which she called ABC – Ayanna’s BIG Challenge – a yearlong initiative to recruit mentors for children living in the Boston neighborhoods with the longest waiting for Big Sisters. Now, that’s walking the talk.

Big Sister Reads!

Each year, many people make a New Year’s resolution to read more books. In 2012, Big Sister took that idea to heart and launched a virtual book club, called Big Sister Reads, on March 1. The club is open to all members of the Big Sister community, including staff, volunteers, and board members. Each month, with the help of member suggestions, Big Sister Reads chooses one book with the goal of inspiring dialogue around women’s and girls’ issues. Genres can range from nonfiction to memoir to novels, but always with a focus on topics that are relevant to our community.  The first book we selected was Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn. This nonfiction work describes the oppression of women in the developing world and what can be done to encourage change.

In our first month, more than 50 people joined our group on Goodreads, a social media site that focuses on books. Goodreads has so far been a great venue, providing a virtual space where book club members can express their opinions about the book, share links to further research, and recommend books for future months. On our Half the Sky discussion board, Big Sister staff member Linda wrote that “the same social constructs of gender discrimination, power differentiation, poverty, and abuse lead to the same sort of exploitation among children and teens in our own communities.” Bridgit, a Big Sister, shared this thought: “It’s so much more meaningful to recognize such tragic occurrences as opportunities for positive change (and how to go about creating change), versus simply documenting the terrible things that happen around the world.”

For the month of April, we are calling upon the Big Sister community to help us decide which book to explore. After narrowing the choices down to two (She’s Come Undone by Wally Lamb and The Liars’ Club by Mary Karr), we posted a poll on our Goodreads page to allow group members to make the final decision. The poll ends on Friday, March 23—stop by soon and let us know which book you think Big Sister Reads should choose next.

Celebrate Women’s History Month!

Women’s History Month traces its origins back to the first International Women’s Day in 1911 when women were celebrated around the world. It wasn’t until 1987 that the United States declared the month of March “Women’s History Month.” This year’s theme is “Women’s Education – Women’s Empowerment.” Check out events happening around Boston that embrace the impact women have made throughout history.


Simmons College

300 The Fenway, Boston

Tuesday, March 20


LUNAFEST is a national touring film festival featuring “short films by, for, and about women.” The Simmons Institute for Leadership and Change and the Sexuality, Women, and Gender Center will host the event. Donations are accepted at the door. Proceeds will benefit the Breast Cancer Fund. For more information

Monday Night Film Series: Women’s History Month

Boston Public Library

700 Boylston St., Boston

Mondays in March


Every Monday throughout the month of March, Boston Public Library will show films about inspirational women. To learn about the upcoming movies, check out the calendar events page: Calendar

Ladies Tea Honoring Local Women Leaders

Annabelle’s Restaurant

1300 Hyde Park Ave., Boston

Saturday, March 24


The Main Streets organization, which hosts this annual event, will honor Angela Menino, wife of Mayor Thomas M. Menino; Kathy Kottaridis, executive director of HistoricBostonInc.; and Maria Farrell, leader for the Hyde Park Girl Scout troop. A donation of $20 is suggested. More info and to RSVP.

Girls Summit 2012: Let’s Keep it Movin

BCYF’s Recreation Center

55 Malcolm X Blvd., Boston

Saturday, March 31


In celebration of Women’s History Month, Mayor Thomas M. Menino invites middle and high school age Boston girls to spend the day participating in interactive workshops and activities focused on health and fitness. There will be lunch, discussions, sports, a free t-shirt and more. More info and to RSVP.

Neighborhood Highlights: Jamaica Plain

Jamaica Plain, founded by Boston Puritans, has a rich history. It holds the oldest community theater in the United States and was one of the first towns to become a streetcar community in the 19th century. Below are highlights of the many diverse activities Jamaica Plain has to offer for you and your Little Sister!

Arnold Arboretum

125 Arborway
Jamaica Plain, MA 02130

Visitor Center:
Mon-Fri 9am-4pm
Sat. 10am-4pm
Sun. 12pm-4pm

Now is the perfect time to visit this 265-acre park. View the budding spring foliage, take guided tours to learn about the history of the arboretum or go on a self-guided bird watch. If you are interested in environmental sustainability, check out the Weld Hill Science Building to learn about green research. For more information and for tour times, visit

JP Community Center

Yearly Membership: $5 Youth; $10 Teen; $25 Adult
Visitor Pass: $5

With four different locations around Jamaica Plain, these community centers have a bit of everything. Swim, take a dance class, or just shoot hoops in the gym. You can spend an entire day here with so many different activities. For community center locations and schedules, visit .

MSPCA – Angell

350 S. Huntington Ave.
Jamaica Plain, MA 02130

This is a great place to volunteer if your Little Sister likes animals and is 16 years old or older. The Massachusetts Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals serves over 6,000 animals and is always looking for extra help to feed, walk, or photograph the animals. Check out their calendar of events for one time volunteer opportunities with no age limit: MSPCA Calendar.

Forest Hills Cemetery

95 Forest Hills Ave.
Jamaica Plain,MA 02130

Daily 8:30am-Dusk

This cemetery is not just for those looking for a good spook, but for history buffs as well. Famous authors, such as e.e. cummings, Eugene O’Neill, and Anne Sexton,  are buried at the Forest Hills Cemetery  as well as the abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison. There is also a stunning mile long contemporary sculpture path. Check out the website for walking tour schedules this fall:

Axiom Center for New and Experimental Media

141 Green St.
Jamaica Plain,MA 02130

Tues. & Sat. 2pm-5pm
Wed. 6pm-9pm
Thurs. 2pm-9pm

Right next to the Green Street T station, this gallery encourages experimental art through a diverse group of exhibitions, events, and educational programs. If you enjoy innovative, contemporary art, come to see technology-based sculpture, installations, and live performances.  To view the fall exhibition schedule, visit

Will the First Woman Presidential Candidate Please Step Forward?

Victoria Woodhull

Forty-eight years before women won the right to vote, Victoria Woodhull was the first woman to run for president of the United States. The year was 1872. Woodhull was nominated by a party she herself formed called the Equal Rights Party. The party was also the first to select a black man as her running mate, none other than Frederick Douglass.  Their mission was to defeat President Ulysses S. Grant.

To think that a 19th century woman would even dare to imagine that she had a shot at the presidency was outrageous, but to actually launch a bid for the presidency was inconceivable. Yet, that’s exactly what Woodhull did:  she took to the campaign trail, raised money, and delivered powerful speeches about social justice issues to a growing following. Although Woodhull never made it to the White House, she was an indomitable force of nature who was a woman of many firsts.

She was the first female stockbroker who amassed a personal fortune that she estimated at $700,000 (more than $6 million in today’s dollars). She was the first woman to testify before Congress on suffrage. As a pioneering and shrewd businesswoman, she founded a widely read daily newspaper, Woodhull & Claflin’s Weekly, which cleverly served as an outlet for her to publically express her opinions that challenged the status quo. In short, Woodhull defied the prescribed social and gender restrictions of her time and became the master of her own destiny. A woman of humble beginnings and low socio-economic status, she broke into high society, hobnobbing with powerful and influential people, including Cornelius Vanderbilt, then the richest man in America.

In the spirit of Women’s History Month, Big Sister searched the archives of strong and powerful women who have slipped into obscurity  because we think it’s important to rediscover and sing the praises of forgotten pioneers who did so much to further women’s rights. Woodhull also fits one of Big Sister’s mottoes, “every girl, a masterpiece.” In looking for positive role models whom we can share with our Little Sisters, Woodhull is someone we can hold up as an example of a woman who dared to reach her full potential against all odds.

Do you have a forgotten or unsung woman leader whom you like to share with us?

Suggested Reading: The Woman Who Ran for President: The Many Lives of Victoria  Woodhull, by Lois Beachy Underhill