Hear My Voice

Hear My Voice is a program of advocacy training for adolescent girls.  Working together girls define the issues that are important to them, hear from experts in each issue area and learn how they can make positive change happen. 

An initial core group of students identified the issues that were of paramount importance to them: reproductive health, rape and sexual violence and socio-economic issues such as the wage gap.

Designed to build character and self-esteem in girls, interaction with adults will reinforce advocacy skills and help develop a new generation of leaders.

Following expert-led sessions on reproductive rights, sexual violence and pay equity, Lift Louisiana's Michelle Erenberg led the final session in this pilot series discussing strategies for active advocacy   We look forward to hearing these voices advocating for change.


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Come hear historian Janet Allured discuss the history of Second Wave Feminism as practiced in colleges and universities, 1965-1990.

April 28, Anna Many Lounge, Caroline Richardson Building, Tulane University, 11:55, a.m, arrive for a free lunch followed by lecture.

For more information: https://www.facebook.com/events/1442785839129908/


The New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Foundation Archive and Nola4Women are collaborating to present two events, March 24 and 25, honoring the many contributions of the late Allison Miner, who was one of the original founders of the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival presented by Shell.

Allison Miner: Musician’s Advocate and Jazz Fest Founder

Allison Miner, the musicians’ advocate, crusader for cultural preservation, event producer, artist manager and Jazz Fest co-founder, will be the subject of a pair of events honoring her legacy March 24 and March 25 at the George and Joyce Wein Jazz & Heritage Center. Admission is free to both events.

On Friday, March 24, we’ll screen “Reverence,” the 1997 documentary about Allison that was directed by Amy Nesbitt. The screening will start at 7 p.m., and will be followed by a Q&A with the director.

On Saturday, March 25, we will present a panel discussion about Allison’s life and legacy. Participating will be:  Stafford Agee, a member of the Rebirth Brass Band, a group that Allison managed, Mary Len Costa, who was a close friend of Allison’s, documentarian Amy Nesbitt and one of Allison’s sons, Jonathan Kaslow. Longtime New Orleans Anthropologist and Oral Historian Helen A. Regis will moderate the discussion, which begins at 7 p.m.

The events are co-presented by the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Foundation Archive and Nola4Women. The Archive is an educational resource that identifies, collects, preserves and protects materials of cultural and historical significance to New Orleans and Louisiana, as well as the records of the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Foundation and its assets and programs. Nola4Women celebrates women and girls and provides forums to address the challenges they face and promote a future where they have the opportunity to reach their full potential.

“Reverence” is a close look at the life and work of a woman who spent her life “struggling to unite people of different races, classes, and genders through the healing power of music.” It first premiered in New Orleans in 1997.

The March 25 panel discussion will be an opportunity to hear from those who knew Allison well and worked with her closely. It also will be an opportunity for audience members to share their own remembrances.

Stafford Agee is a trombonist, entrepreneur, philanthropist, and educator.  Born in Biloxi and raised in New Orleans, Stafford studied music with Herman Jones at Charles J. Colton Elementary School.  He went on to play with the Rebirth Brass Band for 27 years, travelling internationally and appearing in David Simon’s “Treme” series, in which he played the music for the Antoine Batiste character, played onscreen by Wendell Pierce.  Rebirth was awarded the Grammy in 2012 for the Best Regional Roots Album.  Mr. Agee now runs Rebirth Instrument Repair, while continuing his work as a musician, volunteer and educator at Landry-Walker High School.

Mary Len Costa is an artist, an avid chef and a preservationist, and one of Allison’s best friends and confidants. She has worked with the Arts Council of New Orleans for 16 years, where she served in many capacities, including director of public art, chief fundraiser and as Interim Executive Director.  A native of Memphis, she was a textile designer, and worked as a sculptor and ceramicist.  After moving to New Orleans she worked with the Audubon Institute and Coliseum Square Association, and became centrally involved in the revitalization of the Lower Garden District.

Amy Nesbitt is the artistic director of the Ann Arbor Summer Festival, presenting more than 175 music, film, cirque, comedy, wellness and culinary events each season. Previously, she was a documentary filmmaker based in New Orleans, where she founded the nonprofit production company V. Veracity, which continues to support the work of independent filmmakers with connections to Louisiana.

Jonathan Kaslow is one of Allison’s two sons. He has worked in the music industry since graduating from Hofstra University with a BA in Anthropology.  He attributes his mother’s work with musicians as a big influence on his life. He said, “I’m doing a lot of the same work my Mom used to do.” He has worked at the record labels Island Deaf Jam music and Concord Music Group, and currently works at TRK Artist Management.

Helen A. Regis has been writing about the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival presented by Shell, following parades, listening to musicians at the Allison Miner Music Heritage Stage, and doing research at the Foundation Archive for more than a decade.

Allison Miner was born Elizabeth Allison Crowther in Baltimore, Maryland and grew up in Daytona Beach, Florida, where she attended Seabreeze High School. During high school she performed as a vocalist with her friend and classmate Duane Allman and his brother Gregg in their fledgling band at local venues under the billing A. Miner & The Allman Joys. The brothers would go on to form the legendary Allman Brothers Band.

She moved to New Orleans when she was 17, after hearing Danny Barker on TV say New Orleans was a city that cries when you’re born and celebrates when you die.

She came to New Orleans with hopes of becoming a singer, but it was at her job as an administrative assistant at Tulane University’s William Ransom Hogan Jazz Archive where she developed a passion for New Orleans music.

When George Wein, the founder of the Newport Jazz Festival and Newport Folk Festival, asked the Tulane University Jazz archive’s then director Richard Allen to recommend people who could help him launch a New Orleans music festival in Congo Square, he suggested his employee Miner. She was then seeing Quint Davis, who is today the festival’s producer-director. The two began rounding up interested musicians. The festival grew into what is today the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival presented by Shell.

Allison helped to run the festival for its first five years. She is also credited with founding the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Foundation Archive, which contains recordings from musicians interviewed at the festival as well as other documents, photographs, recordings and artifacts related to the Festival and Louisiana culture.

She also went on to guide the career of Professor Longhair, aka Henry Roeland Byrd, from the mid-1970s until his death in 1980. During those years, he toured overseas, produced popular recordings and gained critical acclaim. Her husband at the time, Andrew Kaslow, led Professor Longhair’s back-up band. “Her devotion to Professor Longhair gave him the best years of his life,” Wein was quoted as saying in an obituary that ran in The Times-Picayune.

Miner and Kaslow moved to Cleveland in the mid-1980s, where she produced a Cajun and zydeco radio show at Case Western Reserve University on WRUW 91.1, led the National Folk Festival at the Cuyahoga Valley National Park and was development director at the Cleveland Music School Settlement.

Miner returned to New Orleans in 1988, creating the Jazz Fest’s Music Heritage Stage, which features interviews with performers. “This is my way of bringing the Jazz Fest back to the way it was in the old days, like sitting around the living room floor and getting to know these people,” she said in a 1990 interview. “It was our way of having a more intimate involvement with the musicians…. We talk and they perform and answer questions from the audience. People say it’s like the Oprah Winfrey part of the festival.” Miner said that Jazz Fest “is a reflection of what the world needs to know about New Orleans music.”

It was during her second stint in New Orleans that Allison began managing the Rebirth Brass Band, helping to grow the group from local phenomenon to mainstays of the international touring circuit.

In the tribute film “Reverence,” Allison is quoted as saying, “I want a little more reverence for what we’re doing, and I want to hear what these people have to say about themselves and give them a chance to feel important like they’re worth something.  We’re not just slapping them up on the stage and slapping them off.”

In December 1995, Miner succumbed to complications from Multiple Myeloma. Her memorial service and traditional New Orleans jazz funeral were held at City Park and attended by many musicians from the city such as Kermit Ruffins and the Zion Harmonizers. The Heritage Stage was renamed in her memory as the Allison Miner Music Heritage Stage. In 1997, her book “Jazz Fest Memories” was published posthumously by Pelican Publishing Company. The book contains photographs by Michael Smith and descriptions and stories of the early days of the festival.

The New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Foundation is the nonprofit that owns the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival presented by Shell. The Foundation uses the proceeds from Jazz Fest, and other raised funds, for year-round programs in education, economic development and cultural enrichment. For more on what we do, please visit www.jazzandheritage.org.


Publisher and writer Mary Gehman, pictured here, is one of the women featured in the upcoming exhibition The Personal Is Political: Portraits of Louisiana Second-Wave Feminists, which opens at the Newcomb Archives on March 3. The show is the work of documentary photographer Carrie Chrisco and historian Janet Allured.

Gehman’s thoughtful look in the photograph was something that both photographer and historian wanted to capture. Gehman’s arc of activism extends across decades: from a Pennsylvanian Mennonite community, to studies in Germany, to protest movements in New York city and the legendary Miss America Pageant in Atlantic City in 1968, to leadership in the New Orleans community. In the 1970s, she was part of a group who ran an exchange to help women find clothing for work long before Dress for Success. Notably, she and African American Donna Swanson produced the longest running feminist newspaper in the Deep South, “Distaff.”

Allured’s book, “Remapping Second-Wave Feminism: The Long Women’s Rights Movement in Louisiana, 1950-1997,” provided the research and the impetus for finding Gehman, Clay Latimer, Mary Frances Gardner, Vera Warren, Sue Laporte, Sibal Taylor Holt, and others. Many of these women were most active in their twenties and early thirties but the exhibition shows them in 2016, meeting figuratively on the walls of the Newcomb Archives. Allured’s work is filled with their stories and achievements. These women worked across racial and class lines within church, consciousness-raising, and many other endeavors to change the social and economic landscape of the state.

In returning to the women for the photograph exhibition, Allured considered her own reasons for beginning such enquiries. When she entered college in the late 1970s, studying the lives of women was still considered revolutionary. For her dissertation on rural women, Allured relied on sources that almost no other historian at the time used such as oral histories, folklore, and cookbooks.

Allured continued to become a builder of the canon on the history of women, especially in co-editing a book called Louisiana Women. That book proved so popular that a second volume was produced just last year. In addition, work within women’s history convinced Allured to think how she herself benefitted from second-wave feminism. In the Remapping book, she set out to write the stories of others who had allowed her to do so.

She found materials at Louisiana Research Collection at Tulane, at the Earl K. Long library at UNO, and LSU-Shreveport, but the richest materials were located at Newcomb Archives. Situated within Tulane, the Archives held the papers of Gehman, Mindy Milam, and oral histories with other activists from the 1940s through the 1990s. Yet Allured also found that the South in general still did not have as much documentation on the women’s movement as did other parts of the US. Thus she consulted Chrisco to document the present even as she still searches for materials from the past. Newcomb’s archivists and librarians welcomed their interests, especially since many Louisiana feminists lost papers in the floods and hurricanes of 2005.

Chrisco and Allured chose to photograph women admired because of their pasts, those considered “crusaders for justice.” Allured found once again that the women were generous “participants in history” sharing “their stories, or in some cases, their mothers’ stories and what documents they could locate.”

Chrisco noted her own appreciation of photographing the women activists: “As the project progressed I quickly realized these women still have a special knowing smile and determination to keep the movement alive. They look directly at you and smile because they are pleased with the fight and their part in it.” Both photographer Chrisco and historian Allured also noted that the very arrangements for the project afforded an unexpected surprise in learning how much the women activists liked and admired one another.

Allured and Chrisco hope that others will build on their work, saving their documents and photos, and sending them to archives.


Here witness the gathering of a small group of African American children celebrating Carnival in 1949. They did so as part of one of the city’s most cherished kindergartens. This was the Martinez Kindergarten School, founded in 1934, then the first and only pre-kindergarten school for African Americans in Louisiana.

Mildred Bernard Martinez (1905-1991) was its founder and longtime leader. She is remembered today for organizing a rigorous but also fun curriculum where children did not realize they were learning the basic concepts of phonics and math. She used her own teaching materials as well as others such one by the publishing firm Allyn and Bacon to teach reading. She also became beloved by her students who liked learning dancing at the school. This activity, she believed, taught self-control, muscular coordination, and self-assurance. Mayor Sidney Barthelemy and jazz musician Wynton Marsalis were among some of the notable individuals educated at the Martinez School.

Martinez’s collection at the Amistad Research Center, and a blog article that is part of the Nola4Women partnership, show something of her dedication and the wealth of information about her work as a teacher in the city. By extension the Amistad Research Center’s history of Martinez encourages others to think about the role of women in educating young children of the city.

In connection with honoring her as part of Nola4Women, we can also see that she was part of a wide network of women, and also honored by women in the city. She attended, for example, many predominantly women’s classes at the normal school for teachers in New Orleans, and at Hunter College and Columbia University, both in New York City. She was also president of Les Dames de Sept Douleurs (The Women of the Seven Sorrows), a 7th Ward women’s society. In terms of the many awards she received, all documented at the Amistad Research Center, one stands out: In 1986, she was named one of 100 “Women at the Forefront” of civic endeavor.

For more information on Martinez and other women, see the blog posts from the Amistad at http://www.amistadresearchcenter.org/blog. The newest of their remarkable insights into so many New Orleans women features another educator, Fannie C. Williams.


Image, Courtesy of the Louisiana State Museum. 

Kathryn Dyer (1904-1983) had a career change in the mid-1940s that brought us today to the colorful flamingoes pictured here from 1956. A civil servant for the state, Dyer decided that her heart and her true talents belonged in art. She began designing costumes. She did so especially for Venus, the first of the women’s Carnival organizations to parade.

A new exhibition celebrates all of the women who once rode in Venus from 1941 to 1992, as well as those involved with the fun and work of many other women’s krewes. Their chronology begins in 1896 when a group called Les Mysterieuses held its premier ball where women called on men to dance, and women, rather than men, masked.

Les Mysterieuses and others did not have a long existence, but in 1917 the Krewe of Iris was founded and it has continued until the present. The Louisiana State Museum exhibition, part of Nola4Women, especially honors this 100 year-old history.

Iris began parading in 1959, joining Venus on the streets of the city. Following this event came others, notably Shangri-La, Rhea, Cleopatra, and Isis; the latter two still parade today. The exhibition also takes us through the recent past with the founding of Muses, Nyx, and Femme Fatale.

Curator of Costumes and Textiles Wayne Phillips and Historian Karen Leathem worked with Exhibition Designer Maria Burns to shape the magnificent display of costumes, memorabilia, and photographs. The State Museum is one among only some one hundred collections of costumes in the world. Both Phillips and Leathem have worked on the history of Carnival for over thirty years. Phillips felt most enlivened by the dedication of the women Carnival krewe leaders and the designers who worked with them. Iris has had longevity among its ranks with only four captains during its one hundred years. Three of them came from the same family. Iris also has had the same Carnival designer, Carter Church, for over fifty years.

Leathem noted that women’s krewes were often Carnival changemakers beyond breaking rules across the genders. In 1949, for example, Iris’s ball was the first to be televised. Today the women’s Carnival krewes support one another, often having communal gatherings where glitter, glue, and feathers are shared in the decorating of shoes, purses, and other throws. These events break down some of the secrecy that has long characterized Mardi Gras.

At the same time, most women Carnival krewes also have been determined to keep their membership solely women. As one sign carried for a 1992 City Council discussion of race and gender in Carnival, “No penis in Venus.” The krewe of Muses has encouraged the creation of other women groups within the whole structure of parading. Many new marching groups have emerged. And in 2014, Muses featured the first female torch carriers, the Glambeaux.

The flamingo costumes here suggest some of the ways that Carnival enabled artists like Dyer to make a living. Most designs are drawn on heavy papers and are executed in watercolor, so one has a sense of both the permanence and ephemerality of the processions on the streets and the dancing at the balls. The watercolor medium also shows how artists followed in the traditions of those who designed for theaters, operas and dance performances around the world.

Today, Kathryn Dyer would be glad to see her vibrant colors and her fanciful imagination on display. And we think she would be glad to see the exhibition itself revealing so many wonders of the city’s women clothed and cloaked in glitter, feathers, satin, and beads.



Mahalia Jackson with Lauraine Goreau. Jazz Fest, N.O., photograph, 8 × 10 in., 1970. Courtesy of the New Orleans Jazz Club Collections of the Louisiana State Museum. 1978.118(B).04053

The Louisiana State Museum and the National Park Service honored Hero of New Orleans Mahalia Jackson (1911-1972) on her birthday on October 26, in a performance that was part of the Nola4Women Women of New Orleans: Builders and Rebuilders initiative. Jackson, of course, remains one of New Orleans’ most famous women.  She was born in an area of uptown called Black Pearl, and she came of age singing in churches. She always acknowledged the influence of this Crescent City religious home and church life.

This image from the Jazz Club Collection of the Louisiana State Museum shows her at the first New Orleans Jazz Fest, held then in what was called Beauregard Square (now Armstrong Park). Jackson didn’t like coming home to New Orleans too often, feeling intensely the legacy of segregation and prejudice towards African Americans. Her second home was Chicago. In truth, she was an international figure but she always retained friends from her birthplace, and perhaps that is why, in 1970, she came to this event.

She is pictured here with another New Orleans native, Lauraine Goreau (1918-1985). From the 1960s on, Goreau and Jackson had been friends, traveling together, for example, in 1970 to India, Japan and Israel. Goreau was a journalist for the New Orleans States-Item and had many honors for her work. In 1975, she published a biography of Mahalia Jackson called Just Mahalia, Baby. Interestingly, in terms of parallels to the present efforts of Nola4Women to focus on notable women, Goreau was chosen as one of fifteen notable women of the city in 1969. The newspaper article heralding this award was entitled “Minds of Women Called Huge Untapped Resource.”  Goreau was also a playwright and a songwriter. One of her songs, showed both her love of her hometown and others, her own interests in religion. The first was entitled ”Show Me A City LikeNew Orleans,” and the second, ”Is Baby Jesus Warm in the Manger?” and ”Voodoo Candles.”

The photograph here is part of the LSM New Orleans Jazz Club Collection, whose efforts to document music in the city date to 1948. Lauraine Goreau’s photographs and other research materials about Mahalia Jackson are housed at the Hogan Jazz Archives, Tulane University, another Nola4Women partner.


The Sisters of the Holy Family, ca. 1899. Photographic print. Courtesy of the Library of Congress, American Memory.

The photograph shows the Sisters of the Holy Family in 1899, grouped on the porch of an unidentified building.  On the bottom row, fifth from the left, is Mother Austin Jones, who served as Mother Superior from 1891 until her death in 1909.  Many early archival records date from her tenure, especially since, in 1906, she oversaw the purchase of 123 acres in Gentilly. Here would grow St. Mary’s Academy’s new school, St. Paul the Apostle Church and School, the House of the Holy Family, Delille Inn, Lafon Day Care Center, Lafon Nursing Facility, and the current Motherhouse.

The Sisters had an international reputation early in their work, one that we can discern when discussing the photograph itself. It was first viewed by people outside the small circle of the New Orleans community when the great sociologist W. E. B. Dubois had the idea of showing a broad overview about the lives of African Americans in the United States. He would do so, for the Paris Exposition of 1900, by amassing photographs.  These images would reveal how the descendants of slaves were not so different than other Americans. They wore the same types of clothes, posed for the same types of photographs, and worked at some of the same jobs. On the other hand, he thought the photograph would also reveal something of segregation and of the harsher realities of their lives. They would remind viewers of multiple interpretations that could be made about any society.

Dubois and others displayed 363 photographs under the title the “American Negro” and organized them into albums, called Types of American Negroes, Georgia, U.S.A. and Negro Life in Georgia, U.S.A. Yet, many other photographs from other states were also collected. One of these was the photograph here, which is also used on theNola4Women website to introduce the current exhibition, One Heart, One Soul, The Life and Legacy of Henriette Delille.

There is no extant record, no letter asking for the photograph or such, that tells of Dubois’s interest in the order Delille founded in 1842. Yet, archival records show that the Sisters knew of the photograph and its display in Paris at least by the 1920s. Dubois and others were said to have written directly to people and institutions known to them to gather materials. The only other photograph displayed from New Orleans is that called “Corner in the home of African American teachers, New Orleans, Louisiana.”

The Archives of the Sisters was not founded until the 1970s but documents were always carefully guarded.  At the location of the Mother House on Orleans Street, there were two or three trunks that were always included in a list of assignments for the nuns. Here were copies of bills and receipts to the city, as well as photographs. These trunks were moved to the Chef Menteur Motherhouse in 1955 to become the beginning of the collection. Today images of the sisters displayed in the current exhibition as well as on countless websites show the archival record of their work beginning in the 1840s and 1850s.

The religious order itself is one of only three such groups of African American nuns.  In addition, the now Venerable Henriette Delille is the first United States native-born African American whose cause for canonization has been officially opened by the Catholic Church.

The group photo here allows us to look into the faces of the sisters in 1899, as well as view the house on whose steps they stood. Visit the exhibition at the Old Ursuline Convent to see if you can identify this building.


On October 17 sixty participants gathered to hear Councilmember LaToya Cantrell connect the positive impact of community-driven collaborations on issues affecting women and girls to the positive outcomes of policy legislation regarding those issues at the local and state level.   The agenda we are all helping to shape for the Tricentennial will play a significant role in charting the future for the women and girls of New Orleans. We also heard moving testimony from an LSU medical student and from a young woman in Ghana illustrating how they have achieved goals once thought impossible due to supportive female role models and services.

Participants in the break-out sessions discussed organizations providing programs that address health, gender-based violence, education and economic opportunity.  We ask you to please review the notes from the break-out and email other organizations you know about or others ideas you may have to info@nola4women.org.

We will reconvene the Pillar groups in late November/early December to discuss what the most successful programs are achieving, how their success is measured and to understand where there are overlaps in preparation for our third community meeting in early 2017 when we will hear from international representatives about women-focused programs and policies that have successfully overcome challenges in health, education, economic opportunity and gender-based violence in their countries.


In the garden of the Old Ursuline Convent Museum in New Orleans are six stone statues—five women and one man on bended knees. The statues flank—three on each side—a brick path that leads to a gold statue of the Virgin Mary and baby Jesus. They are St. Katharine Drexel, St. Frances Xavier Cabrini, St. Rose Philippine Duchesne, Blessed Francis Xavier Seelos, Venerable Henriette Delille and Venerable Cornelia Peacock Connelly. Each came into contact with the convent during her/his lifetime. In fact, Venerable Henriette Delille took her vows at the convent and Venerable Cornelia Peacock Connelly took first communion on the premises (experts say the communion took place either at the convent or the cathedral).

It is these statues, says New Orleans Archdiocese archivist Emilie Gagnet Leumas, PhD, that inspired the “Ordinary People, Extraordinary Gifts: The Road to Sainthood” Nola4Women Women of New Orleans: Builders and Rebuilders exhibit. “People didn’t know who these statues were and why they are important,” says Gagnet Leumas.

The New Orleans Archdiocese decided to add one more important woman to the mix, Margaret Gaffney Haughery. Born in Ireland, Margaret set sail to the United States with her parents at five years old. The ship entered the Chesapeake and landed in Baltimore where yellow fever took her parents’ lives just four years later, leaving nine-year-old Margaret an orphan. This loss foreshadowed what was to come. In adulthood Margaret became known as the “Mother of Orphans” in New Orleans where she opened orphanages and shelters dedicated to serving the poor and hungry.

Margaret lost her world twice—at 5 when her parents died and again at 23 when her husband and daughter died. Barely into adulthood, Margaret experienced immeasurable loss. “She turned her pain into empathy and dedication to those who suffered similar loss as well as other vulnerable populations,” says Gagnet Leumas. Margaret worked hard and put money aside so that she could purchase two cows and sell milk, butter and cream in the French Quarter. It turned out she had a knack for developing successful businesses, which eventually included Klotz Cracker Factory and Margaret’s Steam and Mechanical Bakery. Margaret used her businesses to help feed those in need, both supplying food and funds to orphanages and also going house-to-house with a cart to give milk and then bread to all in need—regardless of race or religion.

What’s astonishing, says Gagnet Leumas, is that Margaret worked her way from destitution to becoming a heroic businesswoman and philanthropist in a male dominated world. “She is part of the fabric of New Orleans,” says Gagnet Leumas. “We all have trials and tribulations in life, but Margaret shows us that we have choice. She went through despair with the loss of her parents, husband and child, but she persevered and spent her life doing good for others.”


Nola4Women honors International Women’s Day

Mary Ann Travis mtravis@tulane.edu

The goal of Nola4Women is to “change the narrative of women’s place in New Orleans history and be a catalyst for change.”— Sylvia Frey, emerita professor of history

Ashé Cultural Arts Center executive director Carol Bebelle, left, sets the stage for conversations about education and economic opportunity, health and violence against women on Tuesday (March 8). The discussions were part of the official launch of Nola4Women, whose mission is to improve the lives of women and girls while celebrating the tricentennial of New Orleans. (Photo by Ryan Rivet)

Nola4Women has ambitious plans to celebrate the tricentennial of New Orleans in 2018 with a global summit on women and girls. But first, the group saluted International Women’s Day this year on Tuesday (March 8) at a gathering of more than 80 community leaders at the Ashé Cultural Arts Center on Oretha Castle Haley Blvd.

“We are absolutely delighted by the response,” said Kathy Seligman, a founding member of Nola4Women, “because we have been talking about it for two and a half years. And it’s heartening and wonderful to see so many people interested in the future of women and girls in this city.”

Nola4Women is the brainchild of Seligman, Florence Andre, Martha Sullivan and Sylvia Frey. (Seligman, Andre and Sullivan are Tulane University graduates and former administrators. Frey is professor emerita of history.) The goal of Nola4Women is to “change the narrative of women’s place in New Orleans history — and be a catalyst for change,” said Frey.

Participants — representing organizations like the National Council of Jewish Women, the Urban League and Junior League — at the International Women’s Day event divided into breakout sessions on education and economic opportunity, health and violence against women. “It’s the beginning of the two-year journey to the global summit on women and girls,” said Carol Bebelle, co-founder and executive director of Ashé. “We are part of an international network of people working on behalf of women.”

Other Nola4Women initiatives are Heroes of New Orleans, a middle school and high school curriculum to build awareness of local women and their impact on the city; and Women of New Orleans: Builders and Rebuilders, a series of exhibitions “celebrating generations of women who have built and rebuilt the city.” Nola4Women already has more than 50 community partners, including nine of Tulane’s libraries, museums and archives.


Community-driven initiative launches a global conversation to leverage change for women and girls

NEW ORLEANS (March 3, 2016) – A new local organization focused on New Orleans women – celebrating their contributions as well as drawing attention to the need for better outcomes – plans to launch on International Women’s Day, March 8.

The kick-off for Nola4Women will include a facilitated workshop beginning at 2 p.m. at the Ashé Cultural Arts Center, tackling topics affecting women in the city, such as gender-based violence, health, and education and economic empowerment. The groups will be answering two questions: 1) what are the most pressing issues in these areas for New Orleans; and 2) what are the most innovative solutions currently? Facilitating the workshop of community leaders, will include Linda Usdin, Pam Jenkins and Lisa Richardson. Ashé’s Executive Director Carol Bebelle will open the session.

“What better time than International Women’s Day to publically launch Nola4Women,” said Florence André, who founded the organization along with Sylvia Frey, Kathy Epstein Seligman and Martha Sullivan. “We are here to not only raise awareness of women’s issues in New Orleans, but also to celebrate contributions and to chart a path for the future.”

“In a city that is a laboratory for both resilience and failure, Nola4Women sees an opportunity to position New Orleans as an international thought leader around one of the most important issues of our time – the challenges still faced by women and girls,” added Seligman, of the kick-off event. “The goals of International Women’s Day mirror the ambitions of Nola4Women.”

The organization has been quietly working for some time, organizing itself around three programs, recruiting partners and establishing its 501c3 not-for-profit designation. General partners include the Mayor’s Office, City of New Orleans, New Orleans Tourism Marketing Corporation and Tulane University.

Women of New Orleans: Builders and Rebuilders includes a three-year series of citywide exhibits that celebrates generations of women who have built – and rebuilt – the city. More than 40 area organizations have signed on as partners, with three exhibits already open at the Xavier University Library, Archdiocese of New Orleans and the Supreme Court Library;

Heroes of New Orleans, which focuses on students who will learn about the barriers women of New Orleans faced and how they overcame them. Launched as a pilot program in 2014-2015 at the New Orleans Charter Science and Mathematics High School and at Lusher Charter School, the Heroes program gives students role models to look up to and refer to when faced with obstacles. It encourages students to identify, research and write about local women heroes who have made the city a better place.

Mirror on the World: Global Summit on Women and Girls, is a planned global summit to take place during New Orleans’ tricentennial in 2018, as a tool to spotlight the challenges women and girls of New Orleans still face, even 300 years after the city’s founding. Initial partners for the global summit include: Mama Maji; Junior League of New Orleans; Louisiana Women’s Forum; National Council of Jewish Women New Orleans; and Urban League of Greater New Orleans.

About Nola4Women
Through innovative initiatives Nola4Women celebrates women and girls, provides a forum to address the challenges they face, and creates a future where they have the opportunity to reach their full potential. Nola4Women is a community driven initiative founded by Florence André, Sylvia Frey, Kathy Epstein Seligman and Martha Sullivan. For further information, please contact: info@nola4women.org

About International Women’s Day
International Women’s Day (March 8) is a global day celebrating the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women. Increasingly, International Women’s Day is a time to reflect on progress made, to call for change and to celebrate acts of courage and determination by ordinary women who have played an extraordinary role in the history of their countries and communities.



Students at New Orleans Charter Science and Mathematics High School were quite definitive about what hero they wanted to research and discuss. The Nola4Women Heroes of New Orleans students, says teacher Melanie Boulet, overwhelmingly voted for local Civil Rights activist, Rosa Freeman Keller. “She won by a lot,” says Boulet.

The process, says Boulet, first started by working with the word hero. Students discussed characteristics that define a hero and soon discovered that they had rather diverse opinions on what that meant. Together, after much debate, students came up with a consensus and developed a working definition that fit the characteristics they found most essential. Next they examined a list of 15 heroes with short (picture-less) biographies. Each student was given 10 tally-mark votes, she says, which he/she could spread among different candidates or put them all in the same basket. “There were 250 votes cast, which made it exciting,” says Boulet.

What drew students to Keller, says Boulet, is that she was a “White woman taking on the cause of Blacks” in the 1950s. Her commitment to Civil Rights wasn’t superficial, she says, and that made an impression on students. Keller helped found Save Our Schools, which shuttled Black children to and from newly integrated schools and fought the Orleans Parish School Board and the Louisiana Legislature’s threats to shutdown public schools. Students examined the creative ways Keller, as a woman in the 50s, navigated behind the scenes to successfully create change.

One exciting find, says Boulet, is a resignation letter students uncovered in their research. “It was like finding the big rabbit at an Easter egg hunt,” she says. Students read about Keller’s threat to resign from the library board as a way to push for integration, says Boulet, but to witness the methodology in her own words was exhilarating for students. “The letter is a piece of history and students found it invaluable,” she says.

The class was also able to meet with Keller’s daughter, Mary Zervigon, who told students stories about threats to Keller’s life for the work she did to desegregate institutions in New Orleans such as public schools, medical school libraries and Tulane University. “The students were amazed that she fought on, despite push back from her family and threats to her life,” says Boulet.

“They learned that resistance just made her fight harder for equality.”


Selecting a hero from a long list of outstanding candidates isn’t easy, say Nola4Women Heroes of New Orleans students at Lusher Middle School. After listing out thirty women who have made outstanding contributions to the city of New Orleans, students used a process of straws in cups to select their hero. The woman who received the most straws was Charin Richard, a residential counselor at Raintree House, a 10-bed group home for abused and neglected girls. Richard provides advice, structure, love and friendship to Raintree’s young residents and maintains her role as friend long after they graduate.

Heroes students were eager to learn more but quickly discovered that there was a dearth of information on Richard. In fact, much to their astonishment, students were only able to find a single article that talked about her work. Students discussed various methods of investigation and decided the best option was to conduct primary interviews of Richard and Ashley Dewey, a Richard mentee and former resident of Raintree House. Dewey, now a student at Southern University, and Richard came to the Heroes sixth grade classroom and were met with a celebratory cake from the students and a multitude of questions.

Students’ questions ranged from asking what friends shaped the lives of Richard and Dewey to what role racial inequity played. Dewey spoke of the abuse she experienced throughout her childhood. She filed for emancipation at 16 years old and was assigned to Raintree House. The moment she arrived at Raintree House and met Richard, she says, is when her childhood began. The process wasn’t easy. Dewey didn’t trust anyone, she says, and initially tried to isolate herself from the counselors and other residents. Richard was strict but loving and soon Dewey began to turn to her for guidance and support. Raintree House provided Dewey with access to resources such as an in-house library and a family style sit down dinner each night. The support and structure from Richard allowed Dewey to focus on school and her future instead of worrying about where she was going to sleep or how she was going to eat. During her remaining years of high school, she says, Dewey became student body president, homecoming queen and a member of Big Brothers Big Sisters. Today, Dewey is a senior in college and majors in accounting. She makes multiple trips each month to Raintree House to see Richard and offer support to kids similarly situated. In the end, Heroes students learned that the guidance of one hero created another.


Sylvia Frey’s blog on the Huffington Post takes up the issue of female poverty in  New Orleans and the Gulf South and the response of the unique community partnerships created by nola4women to address the problem in a global context.

“Why couldn’t my mother keep me?” The power of that question put by a six-year old boy to his adoptive mother struck me because the life history of the boy and his birth mother is the painfully familiar story of a disproportionate share of the Gulf-South’s population of women and children. Her life story began in Gary, Indiana, where she was born to a drug addict. Raised in a foster home, she had her first child at 15. Illiterate and unskilled, she raised two children on public welfare. Her third child was born while his father served time in prison for drugs. “She never had a chance,” the boy’s adoptive mother told her son, not so much because of poverty of money, but because of what Sir Fazle Abed, the founder of BRAC, a Bangladeshi aid group, calls poverty of self-esteem, hope, opportunity.

This child ended up in a loving home in New Orleans but 39 percent of all children in the city live in poverty. Their mothers are frequently unmarried teenagers. Functionally illiterate, they often live in abusive relationships. A shockingly high percentage of them are murdered by men — black women at more than twice the rate of white women. Unable to conceive of something better, they continuously pursue a downward course, eventually becoming become part of the cycle of destitution. By no means unique to New Orleans or the Gulf South, female poverty exists here in exacerbated form.

International organizations have made headway in focusing the world’s attention on global poverty and increasingly on the oppression of women as the human rights issue of our day. Although the human rooftop landscape created by Katrina in 2005 made Americans aware as never before of the problems in our own backyard, the states of the Gulf South are still left out of the discourse. nola4women, the brainchild of four independent New Orleans women, mean to take matters into our own hands by taking advantage of the world’s attention on the tri-centennial in of the city’s birth in 2018. Our approach is deliberately double-sided, celebrating both the contributions of women to the city’s history while critically examining the health and educational inequities and the violence that traps poor women and children in grinding poverty.

Nola4women is drastically different from similar efforts. We start with the premise that local buy-ins are a sine qua non of success. We have created a new model of community engagement that depends above all on simplicity. Our programs rely almost entirely on volunteers and academic, cultural and civic community leaders who share our mission and bring to it decades of experience. A coalition of libraries, archives, museums and neighborhood cultural centers unlike any other in any American city is planning a series of exhibitions leading up to the tri-centennial. Based on new research they herald the contributions of women — rich and poor, black and white, enslaved and free, alone or in community, of every ethnicity and faith, who were the co-creators of New Orleans.

Motivated by a belief in the power of community to effect change, a city-wide coalition of civic organizations, each with a long and distinguished history of fighting poverty, is laying the groundwork for a global Summit on women and girls as the culminating event of the tri-centennial year. In conversation with global thought leaders, the Summit will focus on issues of education, health, poverty and violence relating to women and girls as a cultural ecosystem that results in the oppression and under-utilization of the female half of the global population. Committed to the notion that belief without action is meaningless, the Summit will conclude with a blueprint for change that is dynamic and adaptable, sets out sustainable and flexible goals, informs long-term policies to effect meaningful change in the lives of the most vulnerable populations of global societies

Skeptics will point to the difficulties underlying such an ambitious program but they reckon without the new energies unleashed by Katrina and the renewed sense of purpose and unity felt by our citizens. Change is possible, not overnight but one day at a time, one city at a time, one state at a time, one country at a time. NOW nola.