Rhode Island Civic Leaders Celebrate Women’s History Month at JWU


Johnson & Wales University’s Providence Campus recently played host to a very special panel discussion convened by United States Senator Jack Reed (RI) and the Women’s Fund of Rhode Island.

The theme, “Working to Form a More Perfect Union: Honoring Women in Public Service and Government,” was a celebration of Women’s History Month.

The distinguished panelists included:

  • The Honorable Nellie M. Gorbea, Secretary of State, Rhode Island Department of State
  • The Honorable Lisa Baldelli-Hunt, mayor of Woonsocket
  • Nicole Alexander-Scott, MD, MPH, director, RI Department of Health

Senator Reed noted, “Today’s speakers embody the spirit of hard work and dedication of Rhode Island’s women, both past and present.” The larger goal? To inspire, encourage and empower “the next generation to build upon the strong foundation of achievements,” said Reed.

Marie Bernardo-Sousa, JWU Providence’s senior vice president of administration, introduced the panel with a tribute to the university’s founders, Miss Gertrude Johnson and Miss Mary T. Wales. An excerpt of her remarks:

“The Women’s History Month theme, ‘Working to Form a More Perfect Union,’ has great meaning to us.

“At the turn of the 20th century, men played prominent roles in public service and government; however, there were two women in our state who were way ahead of their time: our founders, Miss Gertrude Johnson and Miss Mary T. Wales.

“Miss Johnson and Miss Wales were teachers; in fact Gertrude Johnson earned her master’s degree in 1897 — at a time when advanced degrees earned by women were rare.

“Back then most women did not work. At age 40, they started their own school in 1914 to meet the growing demand for well-trained business people.

“Last November, Miss Johnson and Miss Wales were inducted into the Rhode Island Heritage Hall of Fame. It is truly remarkable what they were able to accomplish, especially when you consider the time —1914 — and that 6 more years had to pass before women were granted the right to vote.

“We are here today because of Senator Jack Reed and his work with the Women’s Fund to advance equality and opportunity for women. ... Today, he is here with us to recognize women who have made a difference through public service and their work in government.”

Enjoy an event overview in tweets and photos.

Celebrating Women’s History Month, l-r (at top): Nicole Alexander-Scott, MD, MPH (RI Department of Health); Woonsocket Mayor Lisa Baldelli-Hunt; RI Secretary of State Nellie Gorbea; JWU Providence Senior VP of Administration Marie Bernardo-Sousa, LPD, '92; US Senator Jack Reed; Daria Kreher + Jenn Steinfeld of the Women’s Fund of RI. All photos: Mike Cohea