In honor of Women’s History Month (March) and International Women’s Day (March 8), Bay Path University presented the 2nd Annual On the Move Forum in partnership with the Professional Women’s Chamber, The Women’s Fund of Western Massachusetts, the Pan African Historical Museum USA (PAHMUSA), and Enchanted Circle Theater at Springfield’s CityStage. This program was funded in part by Mass Humanities, which receives support from the Massachusetts Cultural Council and is an affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities.
On the Move explored the inclusive timeline of women’s history and the women’s rights movement through an interactive presentation, sparking community conversations about gaps and gains in that history. The forum’s theme, “Know the Past, Chart the Future,” engaged the audience in exploring the status of women regarding race, ethnicity, culture, age, sexual orientation, and the progress made since the first federally-funded women’s conference in 1977, the first and only national women's conference to be sponsored by the federal government.
But On the Move is more than an annual event-- it’s a movement that is reviving the work done at that historic Houston, Texas conference in celebration of International Women's Year.
A few years ago, assistant professor and chair of the communications department Janine Fondon met Diana Mara Henry, the photographer for the ‘77 Houston conference. Fondon learned Henry’s story and was inspired to bring her to Bay Path as the keynote speaker for the first On the Move Forum, held in 2017 in commemoration of the conference’s 40th anniversary.
“In my conversations with Diana [Henry] and through observations as an educator, it became clear to me that many women don’t have a strong sense of the history of the women’s movement, and I thought that it was of value to all of us interested in advancing women to learn. To measure progress, it’s crucial to understand what’s come before,” Fondon said.
The first On the Move Forum mirrored the format of the 1977 conference, engaging participants in discussions about how to advance women in the workplace and communities, concerning topics including education, business, finance, and health and wellness.
Melina Rudman, Bay Path University’s director of WELL (Women as Empowered Learners and Leaders) and community life, worked closely with Fondon on developing On the Move.
“I was delighted to work with Janine [Fondon] and discover her vision and passion as we collaborated on the creation of On the Move. We saw it as an exciting opportunity for our students, faculty, staff and community partners to engage with each other about this important milestone in women’s history in the United States, and reignite some of that energy.” Rudman said.
“Janine is a connector and reached out to everyone in her network to share this concept. Her enthusiasm was contagious. We’d hoped for 30 participants, but over 200 attended,” Rudman added. “This year, the event grew even more, with over 300 people filling the theatre at CityStage.”
Fondon believes it’s the collaboration across disciplines internally at Bay Path and externally with other leading organizations including The Women’s Fund and PAHMUSA, that makes this movement a success.
“At the core of this, we share a mission of inspiring women and girls,” Fondon said. “We’re in the midst of a time when women’s issues are coming to the forefront of conversation, and it’s important to discuss and understand what’s going on and where we have a role to play. There’s room for everyone at the table.”
This year’s On the Move Forum featured portrayals of essential historical figures from the timeline of the women’s movement, and attendees were able to engage with them in “historic conversations.”
“Our foremothers are an inspiration and the shoulders we stand on. Their energy is alive in us if we’re aware of them,” Rudman said.
Leanna James Blackwell, Director, MFA in Creative Nonfiction, Assistant Professor of Creative Writing, Bay Path University, portrayed Gloria Steinem and Priscilla Kane Hellweg, Executive Artistic Director, Enchanted Circle Theater presented as Eleanor Roosevelt. Remarks were also given by young women leaders from Bay Path University and other community organizations engaged in work supporting women and girls as well.
“The timeline is a marker for progress and aims to highlight the work done before in shaping the women’s movement, including previously untold stories,” Fondon said. “It started from the beginning of humanity in Africa, then moved to the USA with remarks from Sojourner Truth, information on the International Bill of Rights from Eleanor Roosevelt, and a speech reading from Gloria Steinem. Finally, Bay Path students and representatives from community organizations shared their sentiments on the current status and future of women’s issues, and the actions they're taking to continue to further progress for women,” Fondon said.
As for the future of the movement, Rudman and Fondon agree that current events locally, nationally and beyond will inspire how On the Move continues to take shape.
“I imagine what happens in future years will be timely, conceived by what’s happening and what women would want to see happen in the world,” Rudman said.