Dr. Helen O. Dickens,
for whom the Penn
Women of Color named
its most prestigious award,
is shown here at the 1992
unveiling of her portrait
in the Medical School.
(An earlier portrait of
her can be seen partially
in the background, upper right.)
Beside her is Dean William
N. Kelley, and at right the
unusual painter who did the
portrait: her colleague Dr. Burnett
L. Johnson, professor and vice chair
of dermatology at PennMed.
Photo by Tommy Leonardi

Women of Color Day: How It All Began

Ten years ago the National Institute Women of Color proclaimed March 17 as the first National Women of Color Day, calling on all women and men to remember not only the deserving well-known achievers but also the "ordinary women who made extraordinary contributions to their families, communities and the world." In l988 Suzanne Brooks, then director of affirmative action at Penn State and a member of NIWC's Board of Directors, wrote several women at Penn, including her then-counterpart JoAnn Mitchell, to urge them to join.

A small group of women organized Penn's first annual celebration, held at the Penn Tower Hotel on March 1, 1988. There, 65 women decided to institutionalize the celebration and invite students. faculty and d staff members of the community to attend. As word spread about Penn's Women of Color Celebration, attendance grew. By 1991, attendance had reached 350. For this year's Women of Color Day, last Friday, there were 500 celebrants--the maximum that Penn Tower's ballroom can take-- and a waiting list of over 200, according to one of the coordinators, Winnie Smart-Mapp.

Since its inception Penn's Women of Color Day Celebration has included awards for deserving members of the Penn community who have made a difference in the lives of women of color. Marcia Rafig, former General Manager of the Penn Tower Hotel, was the first honoree. In 1990, a special category was established for student honorees. The first Certificates of Merit for students, faculty and staff were awarded in 1991.

In 1991, Dr. Helen O. Dickens was nominated for the faculty/staff award--and in the course of giving it, it became clear to the planners that "her lifetime achievement set a standard to which most of us could only hope to aspire. Therefore, it was with great pride that the Helen O. Dickens Lifetime Achievement Award was established and presented to its namesake at the luncheon in 1991. Subsequently, the Dr. Helen O. Dickens Lifetime Achievement Award has only been given to exemplary candidates whose long history of service to women of color in the Penn and Delaware Valley communities merited such an honor," said Sheila Horn, chairperson for 1997.

Dr. Dickens headed Ob/Gyn at Mercy Douglass Hospital, then joined Women's Hospital, which was later acquired by Penn. She pioneered the development of teen pregnancy and medical minority affairs programs. She maintains her practice, continues to teach, recruits students, and works tirelessly to increase the presence and permanence of women of color at Penn.

Next week: the 1997 winners.

Penn Women Who Made History

For Women's History Month, Penn's home page is featuring women of the University who have made history. Presently highlighted is Sadie T.M. Alexander (1898-1989), the first black woman in the U.S. to obtain a Ph.D. and the first admitted to the Pennsylvania bar. At Penn she took her B.S. in education in (1918) and her Ph.D. in economics (1921), returning later for a Penn Law degree.