A Night with ‘Our Foremothers’ at the Freedom Center


Written by Sandra Okot-Kotber. Photography by Heather Willins.

“No race can afford to neglect the enlightenment of its mothers.” –Frances Ellen Watkins Harper

This quote was perfectly fitting on the cover of the program for the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center’s “Our Foremothers” history presentation. On March 15, the midpoint of Women’s History Month, we gathered inside the museum for an evening of celebration and to honor women in our history who are often overlooked.

The night was dedicated to the late Jackie Wallace, a monumental educator at the Freedom Center for years, who also portrayed author Harriet Ann Jacobs at the inaugural Our Foremothers presentation.

Mrs. Wallace would have been proud.

The first hour was reserved for mingling and scrumptious hors d'oeuvres. By 7 p.m., the smooth jazz accompanying the networking segment had come to a halt and the main event began. Eleven women – sheroes – were highlighted. It wasn’t just a slideshow or a lecture on how incredible these women were. Each woman was represented by a model who dressed like their shero to a T.

Alice Coachman, the first black woman to ever win an Olympic gold medal, was played by Mary Wineberg, a 2008 Olympic gold medalist. Wineberg sported Team USA gear and of course, a shiny medallion. Cathay Williams, the badass who was the first black woman to enlist in the U.S. Army, was embodied by Tara Riley, the interim director of museum experiences at the Freedom Center. The military garb Riley donned placed every guest in a time machine back to the mid-1800s. The models glided down a catwalk one by one in their sheroes’ notable apparel.

Woman of Cincy Morgan Owens, emceed the ceremony with charm and humor, describing the achievements of each trailblazer’s story. Woman of Cincy Dr. Ashley Jordan was in the building, too, playing Caroline Still Wiley Anderson. Anderson was a social activist and one of the very first black women to become a doctor in America.

We believe it’s safe to say not a single chair in the audience held a person who didn’t feel inspired. The visual portrayals of these exceptional women livened their already fascinating stories. It’s not just heartening to experience events like this in the Queen City; it’s imperative to commemorate such influential women. In the face of discrimination when society, and likely even some of the people closest to them, discouraged these women from challenging existing conditions or the status quo, they persisted. They persisted and paved the way for women like me.

The crowd drawn to Our Foremothers consisted of a variety of genders, races, and ages. The presence of children was especially encouraging to see. I hope it sparked a fire in their tiny hearts. Representation truly matters and the future is female after all.