Social, educational and environmental philanthropist Eva Haller was just 12 years old in 1942 when she joined her older brother, John, in the Hungarian resistance. At night they worked in a secret printing press hideout, making anti-Hitler leaflets and then distributing them throughout Budapest.
But just months before Hungary was liberated, Haller’s brother was killed as he was crossing the Yugoslavian border to join Tito and his partisans. "When I lost him, I didn’t think I would ever recover," she says. "And I didn’t."
In his memory, Haller helps those in trouble. "I work on behalf of the oppressed because we experienced oppression," she says. She focuses much of her work on helping women who are in dire need of assistance.
"We are the fountain from which the creation of all humanity springs," she says. "We are the universal womb. It is up to us to create loving, secure, caring human beings. That is our job."
Haller eventually made her way to the United States. She cleaned houses during the day, went to school at night and earned a master’s degree in social work from Hunter College. After graduation, she worked as a social worker in New York’s Lower East Side.
Haller left social work to start a marketing company with her husband. Haller’s company was among the first to advocate for women’s issues. By 1968 the team had earned an enormous sum for the time: $1 million. It was so much money, in fact, she thought it would last forever. The couple volunteered with UNICEF to work in Southeast Asia. Since that initial year abroad, she has been a philanthropist-activist.
After their return to the United States, they reopened their business and made a major commitment to women’s issues. The proceeds of their success have allowed Haller to pursue the philanthropic projects that she says are her life’s purpose. "My life has always been a response to perceived need," she says.
A dedicated activist, Haller is a member of the board of Women for Women International, a Washington-based agency that helps women in war-torn regions rebuild their lives. She chairs the American board of Free the Children U.S.A., an organization dedicated to ending child poverty, exploitation and the use of child soldiers. It is also committed to school building and education worldwide.
Haller is also an advocate to anyone who will listen about Video Volunteers, an organization that teaches women in developing countries how to document their lives and issues that affect them. She also serves on the board of the Jane Goodall Institute, which focuses on environmental issues worldwide. Through its "Roots and Shoots" program, the institute teaches children to protect our planet.
Haller and her spouse, Dr. Yoel Haller, live in California and New York City. They share their passion for philanthropy with their 14 grandchildren. The couple travels extensively, seeking first hand knowledge of issues they care about.
"When I travel, it’s always for a cause," Haller says. "It’s not a lifestyle; it’s our life."
— By Karen James.
While growing up in the Midwest during the 1960s, Esther B. Hewlett’s understanding of the world was limited. But when she went to Malaysia as an exchange student in high school, her life changed.
"The whole summer was a defining moment," says the Geneva, Ill., native and current resident of Palo Alto, Calif. "The experience opened my eyes and I got very interested in the world."
When she decided to unite her lifelong interest in women’s rights with philanthropy, she knew she wanted to focus on women in the developing world. "Women are one-half of the world’s population," she says. "How can we leave them out?"
Hewlett entered the world of international philanthropy in 1987 as a founding donor of the then-fledgling Global Fund for Women in San Francisco. She liked how the organization awarded small grants to grassroots organizations in the developing world that confront issues such as poverty, violence against women and gender inequity, and served on the board for eight years, beginning in 1990.
While visiting organizations in Kathmandu, Hewlett was jarred to learn more about the tremendous problem of sex trafficking in young Nepalese girls. In Uganda she was touched by the optimism and hopefulness of women living with HIV-AIDS despite their illness.
Between 1999 and 2001 Hewlett served on the board of the Flora Family Foundation in Menlo Park, Calif., a private foundation of her family that makes grants to worthy domestic and international organizations while also training the younger Hewlett generations to make philanthropy a way of life.
In 1999, Hewlett joined the Washington-based Center for Development and Population Activities, an organization which works toward gender equality by lending technical assistance to women around the world; she was a board member until 2005. She also co-founded Youth Philanthropy Worldwide in 2001 and remains chair. Its mission is to inspire young people in the United States to contribute to the global community.
"I would like to know I’m helping to leave the world a better place," she says. "I’d like to think I helped encourage the next generation in the women’s movement in global issues."
— By Karen James.
Cindy Hounsell first sought freedom via the route of many adventurous women in the 1970s–as a flight attendant.
But after 17 years in the sky, Pan Am froze all pensions. Hounsell was shocked to see how a company could just pull the rug out from under dedicated employees, mostly women. A Pan Am manager in his late 50s told the near 40-year-old Hounsell, "You’ve got your whole life ahead of you and you can start over. You should get a new career."
Hounsell took his advice and went to the still-new City University of New York Law School to study public interest law, determined to work on women’s issues. A fellowship to Georgetown Law School led to policy work on women’s retirement issues. Years of observing how difficult understanding pensions was to the uninitiated resulted in Hounsell becoming involved in a project assisting low-income older women. There, she saw the need to translate the string of confusing acronyms associated with retirement and finances–401(k), IRA, Keoghs–into a language the average woman could understand.
"When you explain the issues to people, they are all converted instantly," she says, referring to her experience educating women of all ages and economic backgrounds on preparing for retirement. "I don’t know that they make all of the behavior changes, but when you talk about the poverty rates among older women you can put the fear of God in them."
In 1996 she furthered this mission by starting the Washington-based Women’s Institute for a Secure Retirement, or WISER, with a seed grant from the Heinz Family Philanthropies of Washington and Pittsburgh. The institute has educated tens of thousands of women about their options for having a more secure financial future through consumer guides, workshops, seminars, newsletters, reports, fact sheets and its Web site. Hounsell, a self-described "Sex in the City" fan, tells young women, "Carrie Bradshaw has $40,000 in shoes that she could have put into a down payment on a house!"
Most recently, Hounsell has turned her attention to creating retirement plans for low-income women–a population often overlooked by the retirement industry–by creating a matching-grant retirement fund for women in the Lewisburg, W.V.-based Appalachian by Design program, which produces hand-knit crafts. Three years in, the model program is developing into a promising indication that poor women will save when given the education and the opportunity.
Hounsell is inspired by her own background growing up in a low-income Irish community in Boston. "It was the neighbor women who took care of me and did whatever they could to help my disabled mother," she says. "They were all the unsung heroes. Women are the caregivers in our society and they deserve all the help they can get to live out their lives in dignity."
— By Courtney Martin.
Art collector Helen Kornblum’s love of photography was not born in the echoing halls of a museum or the quiet hush of a gallery.
Kornblum, who is also a psychotherapist and women’s health advocate, fell in love with the power of images while hanging out at her parents’ photo supply company as a young child in St. Louis. It was there that she caught glimpses of the family’s primary customers–photojournalists–and their work. It was then, she says, that she first began to understand the visceral, demanding power of the visual arts to reach people.
Today, Kornblum provides health care to women through her own psychotherapy practice for over 30 years. She also, however, collects photography by women artists in an effort to give women artists more visibility. Her collection was organized by the St. Louis Art Museum into an exhibition and book: "Defining Eye, Women Photographers of the 20th Century." It traveled across the country between 1998 to 2000.
When she isn’t combing galleries in her hometown of St. Louis and beyond, she is advocating on behalf of women’s health issues. She is one of the founders of the St. Louis Breast Cancer Coalition. She served for 20 years on the Institutional Review Board at Washington University Medical School, where she advocated for women to be included in clinical trials.
She has continually sought creative ways to link art with women’s health activism. She spearheaded the exhibition "Inside Out Loud: Visualizing Women’s Health in Contemporary Art," an exhibition of major works exploring the theme of women’s health at Washington University’s Kemper Art Museum. The exhibit, which was on display from January through April of 2005, featured works by such female artists as Jenny Holzer, Barbara Kruger, Kiki Smith and Hannah Wilke.
Kornblum used the art to raise awareness, educate and advocate for a wide range of women’s health issues: breast cancer, chronic fatigue syndrome, eating disorders, domestic violence and healthy aging.
"An avid art collector and supporter came up to me," Kornblum remembers, "and said, ‘Helen, I’ve never been to an art opening where strangers are standing in front of the art and having deep conversations about women’s health–in some cases telling their own personal stories.’"
Kornblum enlisted the help of more than 30 St. Louis-area organizations to keep the conversations going at more than 70 follow-up events, including panels, theatrical performances, films, health screenings and even cooking classes.
She is currently organizing a women’s giving circle with the focus on women’s health. By pooling financial resources and studying the areas that don’t receive attention from the traditional sources of funding, Kornblum hopes to "fill in some cracks" in funding for women’s health in the St. Louis community.
"Well, I don’t sleep much," says Kornblum, when asked how she keeps up with her many endeavors. "But really, you just do what you love. And this is what I love."
— By Courtney Martin.
Washington-based EMILY’s List, the nation’s largest grassroots political network, "started out with a bang in 1986," remembers founder and president Ellen Malcolm. With EMILY’s List’s help, Maryland’s Barbara A. Mikulski was elected the first Democratic woman in the Senate. Mikulski recently told the Washington Post that Malcolm is still "changing the face of power in the United States of America."
The 20-year track record of EMILY’s List is testament to Mikulski’s claim. What began as a group of a dozen frustrated women in Malcolm’s basement flipping through their Rolodexes in 1985 is now the largest political action committee in the country with 100,000 members and over $40 million in funds raised for candidates and political programs during the 2004 election cycle. EMILY’s List was a force in the election of 61 women to the House and 11 to the Senate to date. Further, in 1985 there was only one woman of color in the House. Today there are 19, all elected with the help of EMILY’s List.
Through a process known in the political world as "bundling"–essentially taking checks from individual donors and sending them to promising female, pro-choice Democratic candidates–EMILY’s List has been able to contribute to the election not only to female members of Congress but also eight governors and hundreds of women to state and local offices.
EMILY stands for "Early Money Is Like Yeast," meaning early contributions send a signal to other donors that the candidate is viable and, thus, help raise the dough needed to run a campaign. Malcolm’s political experience as press secretary, first for the National Women’s Political Caucus during the waning days of the fight for the Equal Rights Amendment and then for the Carter Administration, taught her that early money pumped into a candidate’s campaign gave her the best shot at winning.
Malcolm’s passion for politics was born much earlier, however, while protesting the Vietnam War. She understands the disillusionment that young people feel today, but urges young people "to remember that social change is an evolutionary process. It doesn’t happen overnight."
Malcolm is, indeed, a patient woman. Just ask her own mother, who was a Republican up until two years ago when Malcolm finally won her over. When asked how they managed their political differences, Malcolm laughs and responds, "She would smile at me and scratch her head and say, ‘Go right ahead Ellen.’"
— By Courtney Martin.
S. Renee Mitchell laughs into her cell phone, kisses her twin sons goodbye as they head off to school, and says, "Yes, I certainly know how to multi-task."
There would be no other way to accomplish all that this winner of the Women’s eNews Ida B. Wells Award for Bravery in Journalism has. A Pulitzer Prize-nominated columnist, poet, playwright, teacher, small business owner and single mother, Mitchell does it all, with passion, brilliance and determination. She also serves on several boards of organizations that empower women and girls and teaches journalism courses at Washington State University’s Vancouver campus.
Like so many successful women, Mitchell’s model for multi-tasking is her mother. Widowed with eight children at age 38 back in 1973, her mother, Dr. O. Virginia Phillips, decided it was high time to get her doctorate.
"The library became our second home for a couple of years when I was about 11," Mitchell says. "My mom would tell us to write stories, read books or listen to music on the headphones while she studied."
Mitchell’s love of writing, she says, was born in these long Saturdays at the library.
Today, she has become the model, not only for her own 11-year-old daughter, who is already writing plays, but for the thousands of women who read her columns, watch her perform, attend her writing workshops and buy the books she publishes on her very own Nappy Roots Press.
Many of her columns are on public issues–local politics, the educational system, racial tension–but she isn’t afraid to explore personal issues as well, including two years ago her own struggle through a verbally abusive marriage. She explains, "I was suffering daily panic attacks, depression and a withdrawal from family and friends because of his manipulative, emotionally devastating and threatening behaviors."
Mitchell resisted the pressure to appear invincible. "I had to push past that," she says. "I knew it would be powerful if someone with my educational level and visibility in the community admitted that abuse happened to me. I wasn’t trying to be brave. I just felt it was necessary."
She had to write through that time in order to survive and spends much of her creative energy these days encouraging others to do the same through her writing workshops and performances at women’s conferences and benefits for local domestic violence shelters.
"Healing has to start with somebody’s shoulder," Mitchell says, "In whatever way possible, for as many women as possible, I want it to start with mine."
— By Courtney Martin.
Dr. Donna J. Nelson didn’t know what she was in for last January when she sat down to hear a lecture from Harvard University President Lawrence H. Summers at a conference on recruiting more women into math and science fields.
Nelson graduated from the University of Oklahoma with a bachelor’s degree in chemistry in 1974 and from the University of Texas with a doctorate in chemistry in 1980. She has won several awards, including the Guggenheim Award in 2003 and the National Organization for Women’s "Woman of Courage Award" in 2004.
Yet on that day, Nelson and about 50 others at the invitation-only event were essentially told not to bother trying to have a career in science.
Women’s innate inferiority in math and science, Summers said in now infamous remarks, might be one reason why there are so few women in the fields.
"I was shocked," recalls Nelson, an award-winning associate professor of chemistry. "It became so public and so many young girls who might have been thinking of going into science might have been discouraged. Remarks like that are not going to help us build a work force."
That is precisely what Nelson has spent the last few years trying to do.
Nelson, part Native American and the first tenure-track female professor hired into the University of Oklahoma’s chemistry department, saw that minority and female students in the white male-dominated world of math and science were deprived of role models and mentors. At the same time, the world of academia lost the kind of innovative thinking that often comes with a diverse faculty.
So she began to count the numbers of female and minority faculty members at the top 50 departments in 14 science and engineering disciplines and confirmed what many had guessed was true: that women and minorities are sorely lacking–and in some cases are invisible–on these faculties. The study provided the hard data necessary to make changes, she says.
"It’s hard to know what you can do or even what you want to do if you don’t know where you are," Nelson says.
— By Allison Stevens.
Karen James is a Women’s eNews intern; Courtney Martin is a writer, teacher and filmmaker in Brooklyn, N.Y.; and Allison Stevens is our Washington bureau chief.
Women’s eNews welcomes your comments. E-mail us at [email protected].
For more information:
Women for Women International:
Esther B. Hewlett
Global Fund for Women:
WISER: Women’s Institute for a Secure Retirement:
Dr. Donna J. Nelson
University of Oklahoma Department of Chemistry and Biology: