Paving the way for the women of tomorrow

The United States has been blessed with a strong history, full of courageous individuals who have changed the landscape of this country for generations to come. In fact, many of these individuals are women. March is Women’s History Month which is a time to celebrate the many women throughout our great nation who left their mark and have changed the United States for the better.

While there is still plenty of work to be done, just take a second to think about how far we have come. Today, many take for granted the fact that women have the right to vote and run for elected office. Incredibly and unfortunately, it hasn’t always been this way.

Year round — but especially this month — we recognize the significant contributions that women across the United States have made and the opportunities they have created not only for women today but for the women of tomorrow.

In order to give this month the full recognition that it deserves, I want to highlight a couple inspiring women from my home state of Minnesota.

Sandra Best recently made history when she was named the first Brigadier General in the Minnesota National Guard. After joining the National Guard as a college sophomore, Sandra spent an incredible thirty-two years dedicating her life to serve this nation and Minnesota.

Brigadier General Best visiting Washington, D.C.

Starting out as a personnel specialist, Sandra worked her way up the ranks by becoming a technical sergeant and then a commissioned officer in 1991. In February of this year, Sandra Best earned the high honor of being named the first female Brigadier General in our great state.

Celebrating women like Brigadier General Sandra Best is by extension celebrating progress. A hundred years ago the idea of a woman being in the armed forces, let alone earning the position of general would have been unimaginable. Sandra is a real trailblazer — she has broken down barriers and forged a path for other women to follow.

Another woman from the North Star State whom I greatly admire is Elizabeth “Betty” Wall Strohfus — who after the devastating attacks on Pearl Harbor, quit her job to become a Woman Airforce Service Pilot, also known as a WASP. During her service, Betty test flew planes and even taught some of her male colleagues how to fly in combat.

According to Betty, “The planes…never asked if you were a man or a woman.”
Betty Wall Strohfus. Photo Credit: Star Tribune

Even though the WASPs played an invaluable role in the war effort, they were deactivated by the Army on December 20, 1944. Unfortunately their dedicated service was not always met with the respect or recognition that they deserved. When Betty returned home to Minnesota after the war, she tried to get a job with Northwest Airlines only to be told that they didn’t hire women.

Not only was Betty unable to continue flying after serving her country, but along with other WASPs, she was not given the title of a veteran. Instead of accepting this unjust treatment, she played a large role in lobbying Congress for the recognition of WASPs as veterans which was eventually passed and signed in 1977. Additionally, she was a staunch advocate for legislation — which I am proud to cosponsor — which would allow WASPs to be laid to rest at Arlington Cemetery.

Betty Wall Stohfus chatting with Chief of Staff Gen. Norton Schwartz before receiving her Congressional Gold Medal. Photo Credit: Faribault Daily News

Betty Wall Strofhus passed away several weeks ago, and like all men and women who serve in our armed forces, we must not forget her. She was a pioneer, veteran and American hero who was dedicated to this country and her fellow women pilots. During her amazing life, Betty refused to accept the status quo and reminded us that while we have come a long way in women’s rights, there is still much room for improvement.

I am incredibly proud that both Brigadier General Sandra Best and the late Elizabeth “Betty” Wall Strofhus hail from Minnesota, and I am so thankful for everything they have done to promote women’s rights in the United States.

While this month is often about remembering the women of the past, Women’s History Month also needs to be about how work we do in Washington can honor those who paved the way for those who follow, allowing for future generations of women to have the opportunities they deserve.

We must acknowledge the work that women are doing today, for the women of tomorrow.

Just look at some of the women trailblazers here in Congress:

Republican Conference Chair Cathy McMorris Rodgers is the highest ranking Republican women in Congress; Elise Stefanik is the youngest woman to ever be elected to Congress; Martha McSally is the first woman to fly in combat; Ileana Ros-Lehtinen is the first Hispanic Congresswoman and Mia Love who is the first African American Republican ever elected to the United States House of Representatives.

And we cannot forget our fellow Minnesotan, Amy Klobuchar who is the first woman to be elected to the United States Senate from our great state.

These women and many others are creating policies that shape our nation, leaving their mark, not only on Women’s history but American history as a whole. I am proud to know these women and to thank them and all women in elected office for paving the way for the next generation of women leaders.

In a time where many of these women’s achievements are recognized as the first of their kind, these outstanding individuals have laid the groundwork to ensure they will not be the last.
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