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Accomplished women honored in Hillsborough spoke up, acted as needed

The induction ceremony for the inaugural Hillsborough County Women's Hall of Fame on Thursday promised to be a parade of platitudes, accomplishments and gracious acceptance speeches.

Honoree Helen Gordon Davis added another element: outspoken criticism.

"I feel kind of sick to my stomach when I think of the past legislative session," Davis said. "It's really a good occasion to remember what has happened to women. The abrogation of the right to privacy for women by our Legislature and our governor has been unbelievable.

"They've made it harder for all working people, women and men, to vote, and they've repealed the wonderful constitutional separation of church and state. I think this is no better occasion to remember, but we should also remember next November."

Another honoree, Hillsborough Clerk of the Circuit Court Pat Frank, lamented the Legislature's recent decision to wipe out the growth management laws she worked hard to implement as a state senator in the 1980s.

As I sat and listened to Davis and Frank excoriate our state leaders, it reminded me of a saying: Well-behaved women rarely make history.

Davis, Frank and the eight other inductees reflect an indomitable spirit not only to advance the cause of women, but also to make the community better for all. And if achieving that goal required misbehaving, they didn't hesitate.

Davis, the first woman elected from Hillsborough County to the Florida House of Representatives, once participated in a sit-in at a Tampa Woolworth's counter. Betty Castor, the first woman elected to the Hillsborough County Commission, successfully challenged the "no women" status of the exclusive University Club.

Firsts highlighted many of the bios: Mary T. Cash, first Florida registered nurse of African-American descent; Cecile Essrig, first woman elected to the Hillsborough County School Board; Sandy Freedman, first female mayor of Tampa; Clara C. Frye, founder of Tampa's first hospital for black residents; Sylvia Rodriguez Kimbell, first African-American woman elected to the Hillsborough County Commission; and Sadye Gibbs Martin, the first female mayor of Plant City.

All of the honorees knocked down barriers or endured in a world that forced women to deal with a double standard.

Consider Columbia Restaurant matriarch Adela Gonzmart. She attended the prestigious Juilliard School of Music in 1939, but her mother lived with her because, back then, a young woman couldn't live alone.

The county's Commission on the Status of Women crafted the idea of a Hall of Fame and implemented it with county commissioners' approval.

Cash, Gonzmart, Kimbell and Martin received the honor posthumously, but all 10 women will have their accomplishments included in a new display at the Tampa Convention Center, site of Thursday's gathering.

It's a fitting tribute for a group that not only inspired the county, but the state. Rudy Rogers, accepting for Martin, noted that one of her favorite expressions was, "Baby, we'll get it done."

Well, baby, they got it done. They stood up, spoke out, refused to accept "no" and made history. And I'm so glad they didn't behave well.

That's all I'm saying.

To learn more about the 10 women inducted into the Hillsborough County Women's Hall of Fame, go to

To learn more about the 10 women inducted into the Hillsborough County Women's Hall of Fame, go to

Accomplished women honored in Hillsborough spoke up, acted as needed 05/26/11 [Last modified: Friday, May 27, 2011 12:44pm]
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