Five individuals were honored at the third annual National Women’s History Museum (NWHM) de Pizan Honors ceremony on October 9 at the Mead Center for American Theater in Washington, DC.
The audience was treated to an evening of eloquence capped off by presentations of the Living Legacy Awards to individuals recognized for their exceptional contributions to women’s history.
In one of her rare moments in front of a microphone where she was not expected to sing, renowned mezzo-soprano Denyce Graves was eloquent and reverential about why she sings as she accepted the Marian Anderson Living Legacy Award
“I sing because it inspires and moves me. I sing because it brings me closer to God,” Graves said as she thanked her husband and daughter and drew a standing ovation as she received the award named for legendary Black singer Marion Anderson.
Tony Award-winning actress Phylicia Rashad was as eloquent as the opera superstar Graves, as she accepted the NWHM’s Lena Horne Living Legacy Award.
“Where the women go, the culture goes,” she said accepting the award named after entertainment industry icon Lena Horne. “We must memorialize the achievements and contributions that women make in society every day. The world will be much different when …women are held in high regard.”
In addition to Graves and Rashad, an award was given to Dr. Etta Pisano, North Carolina radiologist who helped engineer a breakthrough in breast cancer detection. Her award was named after the famous Johns Hopkins cardiologist Dr. Helen Taussig.
Dr. Pisano shared with the audience how, after her mother was taken at the age of 44 by breast cancer, she dedicated herself to helping women detect breast cancer in its early stage.
The other honorees included Interior Secretary Sally Jewell, whose Living Legend award was named for environmentalist Rachel Carson and Ken Burns, Emmy award-winning documentary filmmaker.
“History is empowering,” said NWHM president Joan Bradley Wages. “We need to make sure that these women’s stories are passed down to other women.”
Wages spoke of the NWHM’s ongoing legislative mission to pass a bill in Congress which would allow for an actual museum of women’s history to be built on the National Mall. “We want a museum and we know it will take time… Over thirty countries have a women’s museum and the U.S. needs one.”