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The Women Who Built Us

As we continue to reflect on the incredible role of women on society this #WomensHistoryMonth, we’ve discovered remarkable women making history a bit closer to home. Read on for the mothers and sisters that have changed the world and made our PSOT staff who they are today.

Bernice Anastasia Ximines Smith

Ms. Smith emigrated to the U.S. from Jamaica as a teenager in 1941, just weeks before the attacks on Pearl Harbor suspended such travel. She made a name for herself in Philadelphia as a singer and a beauty queen ("Miss Sepia Philadelphia" in 1944), landing herself a successful audition with the Duke Ellington Orchestra. However, her family insisted she stay in school and further her studies. So she did, and her studies lead her to become one of the few female chemists at General Electric.

This was a pioneering position for a woman of color at the time. Her critical work helped the U.S. make history by working on the fuel cell which powered the Mercury Rocket - taking John Glenn into space in 1962. Ms. Smith is very much a contemporary of the women featured in the major motion picture, Hidden Figures, where the work of these leading women made the first American man’s orbit around the Earth possible.

The men she supervised were all paid substantially more than her and she wound up stepping down from her position, raising a family and working as a substitute science teacher in suburban Philadelphia.

Among her children is our very own Clinical Director, Dr. Hawthorne Smith. An important message his mother always said was, "Never make your major life decisions based on fear."

Claire Smith

For the last 40 years, Claire Smith has been reporting on baseball. She started with local papers in her hometown of Philadelphia, and worked her way to The New York Times. By the early 80’s, she had climbed the ranks of this male dominated field of sports journalism to become the first woman to have a "beat" covering a major baseball franchise: daily reporting on a little team called the New York Yankees. It was through her incredible work, perseverance and courage that literally opened the doors to all accredited journalists - regardless of gender - to have access to locker rooms for interviews; paving the way for a thriving new generation of female sports journalists.

And it wasn’t easy. Along the way, Claire Smith endured slurs and hardships because of her race and gender. Yet, she persisted. She rose to become the first female Chair of the Baseball Writers Association of America. She worked with Spike Lee on the "Oral History of the Negro Leagues" project and was featured in the film, "Let Them Wear Towels." Claire has honorary degrees and a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Jackie Robinson Foundation. That’s not all. Claire became the first woman to win the prestigious "J.G. Taylor Spink Award" in it's 70 years of existence. She was honored with an induction into the hallowed halls of the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, NY.

Claire has been an inspiration to her little brother, PSOT’s Clinical Director Dr. Hawthorne Smith. Claire has said, "People who show up and do their jobs to the best of their ability every day- these are the true heroes."

Dr. Anne M. Butler

Dr. Butler was a historian who studied forgotten women in United States history, including Catholic nuns on the frontier West, women prisoners, and prostitutes and sex workers. She brought a strong sense of feminism to her rigorous research which lead to important writings and work mentoring students. She strongly believed that our work as women should in some way make the world better.

PSOT’s Dr. Kate Porterfield is Dr. Butler’s daughter and reflects, “I learned a lot from my Mom - about how to be a mom while also doing work that I love and believe in. It’s because of her that I always remember, ‘one door closes so that another can open.’”

To view the featured work in the photograph above (In The American West - Women Prisoners in Men's Penitentiaries) on Amazon, click here.

See more of the women who inspire us here.

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