Calendar celebrates women’s triumphs

The culmination of two events in women’s history at Florida A&M University led Merle Dawson to bring something to FAMU that has never been recognized before. On Jan. 1, Castell V. Bryant was the first female president at FAMU to began work, and renown activist Shirley Chisholm died later on that week. These events moved Dawson to do something in celebration of the past and future of black women. Weeks later, the first calendar commemorating women who played a key role in building this university was born.

The calendar includes “women who lead the way in the fields of education, government, spirituality, and athletics; women who worked or graduated from FAMU,” said Yanela Gordon, an adjunct professor in the School of Journalism who served as assistant researcher and editor for the calendar.

The calendar begins with the first female instructor Laura Clark. Clark began working for the University three years after its founding, and played a key role in the development and lives of the female students who made up the majority of the student body.

Following Clark, are Ellen Paige and Mary Melvin. Paige, whom the Perry Paige building is named after, established some of the first male and female athletic programs for FAMU.

Nurse N.V. Hilyer is also recognized in the calendar. Hilyer arrived at the University in 1911 and started the nursing program, which is nationally recognized today.

Others commemorated in the calendar are tennis legend Althea Gibson; politician Carrie Meek and Gertrude Simmons, the first female provost and vice president of academic affairs.

The calendar concludes with the present day history maker, Interim President Bryant.

Dawson, who is curator, archivist and historian here at the University expressed why she thought it was important to acknowledge Bryant on the calendar.

“Lets not waste it, we don’t’ know when we will ever have another female leader,” Dawson said.

Dawson expressed her thoughts on what she wanted the calendar to do for the University and others.

Dawson said she hopes that sticking with the mission of the University, this informational publication will spark research among the students and other people in the community.

Gordon explained how she believed that the calendar will do a lot for students on the campus.

“Anytime we can get a grasp or hold on our history, it will benefit the jewels we have on campus,” Gordon said.

This project served to be an educational experience for the publication team who learned a lot.

“It was rewarding to learn about a part of our history that was so close to me and from the University,” Gordon said.

Dawson does have future plans for the calendar. She said that she is hoping that the publication team gets some kind of positive response from the public that will have the University support and second an annual production of the calendar.

The burden of another calendar may have some supporters because there were others who helped with the first one.

Glyndell Presley, director of publications and LaNedra Carroll, director of public affairs, also helped with the production and editing of the calendar.

Dawson explained why she thought woman’s history month was important.

“Women’s History Month is a time to celebrate all women, but because of sexism and racism it is vital that we as African-American women take the opportunity to celebrate ourselves.”

Contact Tenikca D. Morning at