Make Space

Just as the U.S. celebrates the 100th anniversary of women getting the right to vote, Santa Clara honors two women of its own.

As the U.S. marked the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment, giving women the right to vote, SCU celebrated two women of its own by conferring honorary degrees upon Risë Jones Pichon ’73, J.D. ’76, former presiding judge of Santa Clara Count Superior Court, and Joanne Hayes-White ’86, San Francisco’s retired fire chief and first woman to hold that job in a major American city.

In 2015, Pichon was the first woman of color to swear in Santa Clara County judges. As presiding judge, Pichon also handled judicial assignments, grand jury selection, and the budget. That it took so long for a woman of color to hold that job is a reflection of America’s struggle.

It wasn’t until the Civil Rights Act of 1968 that all women in the country could truly vote freely, Semi Williams ’20 noted at the ceremony, held virtually on June 4.

[Read Williams’ full speech]

“I am only the second generation of Black women in my family who was born with the full rights of the Constitution afforded to me,” she says. In her speech, Williams quoted Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley: “I’m not here just to occupy space, I’m here to create it.”

As firsts in their fields, Hayes-White and Pichon made room for the many women who will follow.

Suffragette poster, 19th amendment
A pro 19th amendment poster from an equal suffrage league in Northern California. / Image courtesy SCU Archives.
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