Judges celebrate International Women’s Day with lunch recognizing ‘firsts’ for Hoosier women

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Pamela Whitten, the first female president of Indiana University, speaks at a judicial celebration of International Women's Day on March 8, 2023. (IL photo/Alexa Shrake)

Indiana’s appellate judges came together  with special guests on Wednesday to celebrate International Women’s Day at the Indiana Statehouse.

First observed in the United States in 1909, International Women’s Day began in the U.S. with a garment factory strike. The United Nations later adopted International Women’s Day in 1975.

“The purpose of International Women’s Day is to advocate for gender parity and to celebrate the accomplishments of women, all of which we as the judiciary are proud to be able to do today,” COA Judge Leanna Weissmann said at the Wednesday lunch. “We have a lot to celebrate. We are very proud as a judiciary to celebrate all the accomplishments of all of the amazing women in this room.”

There have been many firsts for women in the Indiana judiciary, including the new female-judge majority on the Court of Appeals of Indiana, created with the appointment of Judge Dana Kenworthy. Kenworthy was in attendance, as were judges Margret Robb and Nancy Vaidik — the first and second female chief judges of the Court of Appeals, respectively — Myra Selby, the first woman and first African American on the Indiana Supreme Court, and Chief Justice Loretta Rush, the Supreme Court’s first female chief.

Rush shared a few inspiring quotes from women including Mary Winston, Amy Poehler, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and even one she come up with herself.

“Work hard to make sure you’re not the only woman in the room or at the table,” Rush said.

Emily Crisler, general counsel for the Department of Local Government Finance, spoke on the behalf of Gov. Eric Holcomb at the event.

“This day addresses the social, economic and political barriers that are still facing women and girls while celebrating their many achievements and the progress that has been made in support of women’s equality,” Crisler said, reading remarks from the governor. “In Indiana, many of our leaders are women who continue to work hard to bring Indiana to the next level.”

The lunch was keynoted by Pamela Whitten, the first woman to serve as president of Indiana University.

Whitten discussed how more women are becoming university presidents. Currently, half of the schools in the Big Ten Conference are led by women, many of whom who have been appointed in the last few years — including Whitten, who began her current role in 2021.

“It’s really a reflection of how far women have come,” Whitten said. “It’s simply overnight.”

Whitten’s speech discussed examples of IU’s three pillars: students, research and service to the state.

“All the examples are women,” she said. “The compelling part of that story is, what will happen after these women? Will there be other women that serve as president? That is something I hope we all kind of lean into, figuring out how we work with young women and women in school and women in the workforce, whatever it is we do to mentor them or help them network before the opportunities so that there are more in the room and more at the table.”

Whitten closed by saying women should be supporting other women, and those holding “first” positions shouldn’t stop there.

“It doesn’t benefit us if we don’t keep the cycle going,” she said.

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