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Women’s Hall of Fame Inducts Seven New Members

Aug. 5, 2007 — The lives, contributions and legacies of seven V.I. women were enshrined in territorial history when they were inducted into the Women’s Hall of Fame Saturday.
“Their contributions merit recognition not only for this time, not only at this place — it merits recognition for generations,” said attorney Wilma A. Lewis, keynote speaker at the event.
Organized by the V.I. Commission on the Status of Women, the second bi-annual Women’s Hall of Fame induction was an elegant affair held at the St. Peter Mountain Greathouse on St. Thomas. The event honored women from St. Thomas and St. John. Seven women will be inducted into the Women’s Hall of Fame this coming Saturday on St. Croix.
The St. Thomas-St. John inductees included Lorraine L. Berry, Edith L. Bornn, Mavis H. Brady and Ulla F. Muller, with posthumous inductions awarded to Gwendolyn U. Neadle-Knight, Blanche Sasso and Elaine Ione Sprauve.
The women spent their lifetimes teaching, serving, advocating and developing policy for which all Virgin Islanders have reaped untold benefits, said Lewis, a native Virgin Islander who is a faculty member at the George Washington University National Law Center.
Young women must use the lives of the honorees to understand their own unlimited potential, Lewis said. Young people’s belief in themselves will be strengthened when they look at the inductees’ accomplishments, she said. Sprauve was the first kindergarten teacher on St. John. Sasso taught four generations of students, while Muller taught for 45 years. Neadle-Knight was the V.I.'s own Florence Nightingale. Bornn was a founder of the League of Women Voters. Brady worked as an educator for 35 years and provided decades of community service. Berry was the territory’s longest-serving senator.
“The power of the positive example is an integral part of the legacies they leave, and should not be overlooked or understated,” said Lewis, who herself was the first female U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia. “Each honoree has delivered the message of the positive and powerful impact one woman can have on the lives of others.”
It is up to individuals to commit themselves to ensuring that generations of young girls reap the benefits of the inductees by keeping their legacies alive, visible and in the forefronts of their minds, she said.
“This inspirational and motivational testimony cannot be lost on the generations of women to come,” Lewis said, because such testimony creates “belief in ourselves and our possibilities.”
In accepting their awards, each of the living inductees thanked God, their families and friends. They each received a “Women of Distinction” figurine created by Jan Mitchell, who will be inducted into the Women’s Hall of Fame on St. Croix. They were also given a certificate of special legislative recognition by Sen. Shawn Malone.
Lorraine Berry
Berry likened herself to the Biblical Esther, who, as a young woman, defended her people. Berry noted the challenges she faced because of her gender and French heritage. She explained why she first decided to run for public office in 1982.
“We needed a voice of reason,” she said. Berry served as a V.I. senator for 24 years — many of them as the only female senator in the Legislature — until her unsuccessful bid for lieutenant governor in 2006.
At the Legislature, her capacities included majority leader, finance committee chair and two terms as senate president. In 24 years she never missed a session. While she was responsible for many policies and legislations those she are most proud of include the government financial accountability act of 1999, EDC reform, the enterprise zone program, the HOVENSA merger, the child protection act of 2002 and the comprehensive omnibus justice act of 2005.
Berry said she became the “new feminine mystique for the modern Caribbean woman.” She is currently writing her memoirs. “I have no doubt it will be a hit,” she said.
Edith L. Bornn
Bornn was the territory’s first female lawyer in private practice. A graduate of Columbia Law School, she practiced law for 51 years. Bornn was a staunch supporter of women’s rights, serving on the Women’s League, V.I. League of Women Voters, League of Women Voters of the United States, Women’s Resource Center, Women’s Conference in USSR on Representative Government, National Women’s Conference Committee, V.I. Commission on the Status of Women, V.I. International Women’s Year and Decade Committee, International Relations Department of League of Women Voters of the United States and many more organizations.
“I have worked so hard and long for women,” Bornn said. She is happy about the many things she has helped to achieve in the way of women’s rights, and proud that she has helped to “change the attitude of the community towards women,” she said.
Mavis H. Brady
Communication in her close-knit family helped Brady develop a concern for social welfare and social justice, she said. So even though she earned a master’s degree from Columbia University and spent 35 years as an educator, she also left a mark in public service.
Working her way up the ranks of the V.I. educational system, Brady advanced from teacher to principal to director of curriculum and instruction to deputy commissioner. Highlights of her career as an educator include establishing the first two curriculum centers in the territory, developing the first two educational diagnostic centers, the establishment of computer labs in V.I. schools, and Project Introspect, a multidisciplinary approach to teaching V.I. history and culture.
“My career was not a job,” Brady said. “I really enjoyed what I was doing.” But her impact did not end in the schools. Brady has been a part of dozens of community organization, councils and boards since she was in high school. She was a delegate to the Third Constitutional Convention and won the Gov. Juan Luis outstanding citizen award in 1984. Even following her retirement from the Department of Education, she still serves on many organizations.
“Because you have a career in a certain field, you don’t just limit it there,” Brady said. “That’s something I would like to see more of our professionals doing, and not just staying a box.”
Brady pledged to continue the people’s work: “As long as I live, I will continue to make myself useful, because my mother told me ‘hard work never killed a soul.’”
Ulla F. Muller
At 92, Muller is the oldest living inductee. An educator for 45 years, the former Nisky Demonstration School was renamed in her honor. She looks back with satisfaction on her years as an educator.
Today, Muller said, she is proud to be part of the early struggles for women’s rights in the territory. Women in those days were the “educators of children, caretakers of the family and the adhesive unity of the community,” she said. Muller was one of the early advocates of women’s suffrage and became one of the first women in the territory to vote. She has served on many organizations, boards and commissions, including the Carnival Committee, the United Way and the American Red Cross.
Muller continues to serve on organizations. She encouraged adults to extend their spirit of giving to the young people of the community. A family member asked Muller what she was most proud of. Not only what she taught students from the books, Muller replied, but also what she taught about life: “I educated for the whole child. I educated for life.”
Now for a look at the women honored posthumously:
Gwendolyn U. Neadle-Knight
Neadle-Knight worked as a nurse for 47 years, but ultimately served the community for more than 76 years. She was the top graduate in her class from the St. Thomas Municipal Hospital Training School. She worked as an operating nurse,
a school nurse, supervisor of the Queen Louise Home for the Aged, project coordinator of the Meals on Wheels program and project coordinator of aging and special programs. She served as the president of the V.I. Nursing Association and successfully lobbied the Legislature for nursing scholarships. An avid gardener, she won a Pride and Bloom award for gardening in 2001 at the age of 89.
Blanche Sasso
A centenarian, Sasso’s teaching career spanned 45 years. She opened her own private school, then joined the teaching staff of Sts. Peter and Paul school a few years later. She witnessed the transfer of the Virgin Islands from Danish rule to U.S. rule. She and her sister hand embroidered the first V.I. flag.
Sasso has received numerous recognitions, including the papal blessing of Pope John Paul II and commendations from U.S. presidents Bill Clinton, George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush and the Mohawk Tribe of the Iroquois Nation. On her 100th birthday, she was named an elder by the Caribbean Indian Federation of Tainos Indians because of her maternal ancestry.
Elaine Ione Sprauve
Sprauve was the first kindergarten teacher on St. John. After teaching for many years, she joined the administrator’s office when all government functions on St. John were concentrated in one office. Her work there would lead her to serve as acting administrator of St. John on several occasions.
She also did the people’s work outside of the administrator’s office, as many people felt comfortable seeking counsel at her home. Sprauve was a member, president secretary and treasurer of the first parent-teacher association in the territory. A founding member of the board of the Animal Care Center of St. John, she was active in many organizations and commissions.
The V.I. Commission on the Status of Women was established by law in 1968. After some early activity, it became dormant for several years until its revival in 2004. The commission has since launched a website, hosted roundtable events and leadership forums and celebrated national women’s activities.
At Saturday’s ceremony, Sonia Boyce, the commission’s chair, said it will continue to advocate on behalf of people who don’t feel like they have a voice, need a helping hand or who need mentoring.
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