Lower School Celebrates Women’s History Month

Lower School Women's History Month Assembly 2021

Pura Belpré was the first Puerto Rican librarian in the New York Public Library, and is responsible for bringing Spanish language stories and books to the New York Public Library.  Belpré was one of the women celebrated in Lower School’s Women’s History Month live-streamed assembly on March 26.

Women Who Inspired Lower School Faculty and Staff
Assistant Head of Lower School Alison Flannery P’31, ’33
Alison Flannery P’31, ’33

Assistant Head of Lower School Alison Flannery P’31, ’33 introduced a website feature on Lower School’s Google site that Director of LS Technology Stacy Hunter P’15 created. It highlights women, like Belpré, who have inspired our Lower School faculty and staff. “The choices are wonderful,” said Hunter, “and the reasons why people were inspired by them so varied and wonderful!” On the Google site, 34 members of Lower School faculty and staff shared a wide variety of women who inspire them including trailblazers in science, music, education, writers, activists, artists, architects, athletes, and more.

Stacy Hunter
Stacy Hunter P’15

Other women celebrated were well-known such as Nobel and Pulitzer Prize winning novelist Toni Morrison, astronaut Dr. Sally Ride, environmental activist Greta Thunberg, civil rights activist Fannie Lou Hamer, or Princess Diana, while others were a mom who inspired a teaching career, a beloved aunt whose Alzheimer’s diagnosis led to the story of  Dr. Lisa Mosconi’s research into women’s brain health, a high school art teacher, or architect Zaha Hadid, whose designs “combined seemingly impossible combinations of curving façades.”

Flannery said she had chosen basketball player Rebecca Lobo because she “inspired me as a female athlete. She was one of the first women basketball players in the WNBA and as a girl who loved basketball and had no professional athletes to look up to, Rebecca inspired me to keep up my hard work and make my dreams become a reality. If she could push boundaries for women so could I.”

Read Aloud About Mathematician Katherine Johnson
Alison Flannery A Computer Called Katherine

Next, Flannery read aloud A Computer Called Katherine, the story of an African-American woman mathematician for NASA, who was vital to the success of the early U.S. spaceflight and the journey to the moon. From the time she was a young child, Katherine loved to count everything from her steps to the stars in the sky. She loved math and after graduating from West Virginia State College earned a place at the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics’ (NACA’s) Langley laboratory in 1953. She and the other women who did the mathematical work there were called “computers.” “Katherine asked lots of questions,” Flannery said. They were great questions and soon her colleagues included her in meetings and she was asked to join the team to send men into space. Her geometry skills and calculations helped to determine when the first space flight should blast off. Astronaut John Glenn famously said he wanted Katherine Johnson to confirm computer calculations before he felt safe for his Friendship 7 flight as the first American to orbit the earth in 1962.

Aretha Franklin and “RESPECT”
Jennifer Nelson
Jennifer Nelson P’12, ’14, ’19
Respect Aretha Franklin Jennifer Nelson

Finally, music teacher Jennifer Nelson P’12, ’14, ’19 shared a brief biography of singer Aretha Franklin, who was known as the Queen of Soul, noting that Franklin had been inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame in 2020. Franklin started as a gospel singer in her father’s church and throughout her career her music had a power and honesty, Nelson said. Franklin also used her talent as a force for social change during the civil rights movement. She was posthumously awarded a Pulitzer Prize Special Citation for her contribution to American music and culture.

One of Franklin’s best known recordings was “RESPECT” in 1967.  Nelson shared a brief biographical video of Franklin and played her classic song “RESPECT” and then shared the children’s picture book, RESPECT, with illustrations for Otis Redding’s lyrics through the eyes of a little girl.

Flannery thanked everyone for coming to the Women’s History Month Assembly and asked them to check out the pictures and biographies that Pre K Head Teacher Olugbala Williams has posted on the second floor.

Families can see the complete list of women who have inspired Poly’s Lower School faculty staff by visiting the Lower School Google Site. Enjoy!