Honoring the Contributions of Women

(l to r:) Jen Bejo, RN and Anne Bové, RN

Women are an indomitable force. They have not only changed history, but improved the labor movement. From Francis Perkins, who was the first woman to serve in a cabinet level position and a fierce advocate for workers, to Rosina Corrothers Tucker, who was a civil rights and labor activist, to Emma Tenayuca, a Mexican American labor organizer, the world of work would look drastically different without women. For Women’s History Month, I caught up with several NYSNA members to learn who inspires them and who they’re seeking to inspire. Below are lightly edited interviews from conversations with Jen Bejo, RN, who works in the ICU at Albany Medical Center, and Anne Bové, a college professor and retired nurse who worked at Bellevue Medical Center, a part of NYC Health and Hospitals. Bove is also fulltime faculty at BMCC part of CUNY, and an intermittent at Manhattan VA once per week.

Jen Bejo, RN

JRF: What Does Women’s History Month Mean to You?

JB: Women’s History Month is an opportunity to affirm that women matter. Taking time to honor women, suggests we matter. This month is about looking back on the past female figures in history, acknowledging all the sacrifices women made, and finding inspiration from their boldness to help continue the movements that they’ve started. This will help empower future generations of women.

JRF: In What Ways Do Women Make History, In Ways Big and Small?

JB: Women make history by paving the way for a better future. Women make also history everyday by raising responsible and accountable future generations with deep regard to the dignity and worth of another human being. We have also seen throughout history, that when you give women the same opportunities, support and resources as men —  families and societies thrive. Every investment in a woman sparks a ripple effect that influences not only her life, but the lives of her family and community, too.

JRF: Which Women Inspire You?

JB: I’m inspired by strong brave women. Rosa Parks inspires me because she didn’t give up her seat and she invigorated the struggle for racial equality. Emma Tenayuca inspires me for organizing Mexican workers in Texas during the 1930s. Josefa Madamba Llanes Escoda, also known as the “Florence Nightingale of the Philippines,” inspires me. She was also a World War II heroine and suffragist who amplified the political voice of all Filipinas. I’m inspired by Kate Mullany because she organized the first all — female labor union in the country.

The women in my life inspire me every day. From my mother, friends, family, and work family, etc. Women who work and fight every day in hopes of creating a better future for the next generation of women and girls inspire me.

JRF: What Are You Teaching Your Friends and Family About the Contributions of Women In Nursing?

JB: Nurses are magnificent. I want my friends and family to understand the role women have played in nursing. As such, I’m teaching my friends and family that as a predominantly female-dominated population, we will have forces that will try to break us and make us feel less than what we are worth. However, just like the many historical movements in history led by women, unity and being organized with a common goal to advocate for better standards within our profession is the key. Most importantly, to take a moment to recognize all the hard work we have done so far to change the nursing practice and profession — like securing Safe Staffing Ratios legislation, first with our colleagues in California in 1999, fast forward to present day in our own great state of New York! Nurses make history, at the bedside and beyond.

Anne Bové, RN

JRF: What Does Women’s History Month Mean to You?

AB: Women’s History Month means a lot to me. For years, women have not been counted as citizens because we couldn’t vote until 1920. I think about my grandmother who was born in this country and she was 30 when she voted for the first time. Her mother died in childbirth when she was 14, but her father saw the importance of my mother completing her high school education and having a trade. My mother had a brother of age. My great grandfather left my sister in charge. He recognized her intelligence and invested in her. He saw the role she played in the family and in the community. I was brought up in a framework where women and our role was as an equal partner. I was part of a lawsuit that took 14 years to come to fruition — the city of NY didn’t recognize in the pension that nurses was physically taxing and arduous. Finally, in 2018 we settled the lawsuit. It recognized that nursing was physically taxing profession and a financial stipend was awarded to nurses that fit a certain component of pension language. Nurses are exposed to infectious diseases and so many other things that can complicate our life.

JRF: Which Women Inspire You?

AB: My mother, grandmother, and nurses inspire me. I was brought up by the Bellevue School of Nursing community and they prioritized advocacy. You got in trouble if you saw something and didn’t speak about it. A number of these individuals — mostly women — were dedicated to the community. It was commonly understood that nurses dedicated their lives to the community. One woman — Ms. McDonald, who was actually in management — was a strong advocate. I went to visit her once and she said ‘are you ever going to call me by my first name and not Ms. McDonald,’ and I said, ‘well, Ms. McDonald…’ I couldn’t bring myself to call her Anne, which was her first name.’ She worked at the Henry Street Settlement. They didn’t boast about what they did, they just did what needed to be done. They treated people fairly but most importantly, they cared for the patients. I can’t say I see that level of service, concern and care for the community now. I don’t see it anywhere. But these nurses were focused on the mission and vision; it was all about the community. They lived nursing. I don’t see that in this generation. When I was in first grade, President Kennedy said ‘ask not what your country can do for you but what you can do for your country.’ I’m not telling people they’re joining a convent; but the answer cant be to quit in the face of trouble. The bouncing around happens in the private and the public sector. If there’s something wrong, you fix it. In a sense, I feel my generation is failing the younger generation because we haven’t held them to the standard we were raised with.

JRF: Who are you seeking to inspire?

AB: I want to reach current and future generations of nurses, as well as young people in general.

JRF: What Are You Teaching Your Friends and Family About the Contributions of Women In Nursing?

AB: I worry about the nursing profession. When I got out of nursing school — and I attended Hunter College — I didn’t know about unions. But I knew it was important to help others. Looking for guidance, I called the National Organization for Women, NOW, and they helped point me in the right direction. I want people to understand the importance of community and dedication to community. Nursing is a service profession. It’s not about me or you; it’s about the community.

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