The November 2019 National Geographic magazine is a celebration of women of impact around the world who fearlessly push boundaries.   The issue is entitled “Women:  A Century of Change.”  Susan Goldberg—the magazine’s 10th and first female editor—writes about some of those changes by going back to the magazine’s founding moment.  “The first scene in the history of National Geographic doesn’t have a single woman in it.  It occurred on January 13, 1888, when 33 men of science and letters gathered in a wood-paneled club in Washington, D.C., and voted the National Geographic Society into existence.” 

by Cathy Salter

Goldberg reports that over the course of its 130-year history, the magazine’s collection of images has grown to more than 64 million physical and digital assets today—one that now forms a global chronicle of the lives of women up to today.  “These pictures, taken largely over the past century, are snapshots of their times, showing how women were perceived, how they were treated, how much power they had—or didn’t have.  The images illuminate what used to be called, quaintly, ‘a woman’s place’—a concept that’s changing before our eyes.”

This remarkable issue on women is the magazine’s first in which all of the contributing writers, photographers, artists, and its editor are female.  Goldberg sees the issue’s story of women as a “journey.”  An image from the archives captures a crowd of women gathered for a parade in 1913 in Washington, D. C., seeking the right to vote.  It took the passage of the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and its ratification in August 1920 for women to be granted the right to vote. 

In 1992, numerous publications declared 1992 to be the Year of the Woman.  It was the year, Goldberg says, “we saw the largest number of women voted into the U.S. House in a single election—24, of 435 total members—and the greatest number of women ever in the Senate: six members out of 100.  As naïve as it seems now, this was hailed as a harbinger of real change.”

As of November 2019, there are 101 women in the House of Representatives (not counting four female territorial delegates) making women 23.25 percent of the total of U.S. Representatives. In 2019, 25 (17D, 8R) women are currently serving in the U.S. Senate.  As of August 2019, 44 women have served or are serving as the governor of a U.S. state and two have served or are serving as mayors of the District of Columbia.  Currently, three strong women—Elizabeth Warren, Kamala Harris, and Amy Klobuchar—are among the leading Democratic candidates now running for U.S. President.  

During the recent impeachment hearings underway in the U.S. Congress., two women of impact were among the key witnesses called to testify before the House Intelligence Committee. Former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine, Marie Yovanovitch (unceremoniously recalled by the Trump administration), reminded Americans of the critical role of experienced career State Department personnel whose nonpartisan efforts in key posts around the world are critical in advancing U.S. foreign policy interests in countries like Ukraine.   Following hours of questioning, her steadfast sworn testimony and support of her State Department colleagues in the field earned her a standing ovation.

A few days later, the world was introduced to Fiona Hill, a former National Security Council official who grew up in a hardscrabble town in northeast England where her father was a coal miner.  After emigrating to America, Hill earned an A.M. degree in Soviet Studies and Ph.D. in history at Harvard.  A naturalized citizen since 2002, she has served three different Republican and Democratic presidents as an expert on Russia and the former Soviet republics, including Ukraine. She is an outspoken defender of American’s democratic institutions.

In her opening statement as a fact witness at the impeachment hearings, Hill pointedly cautioned Americans against tolerating those who “shamefully support fictional narratives” harmful to the United States and the threats it faces—internal as well as external.  “For decades,” she warned, “Republicans and Democrats alike have seen Ukraine as a valued partner of the United States, and that it plays an important role in our national security…. When we are consumed by partisan rancor, we cannot combat these external forces as they seek to divide us against each other, degrade our institutions, and destroy the faith of the American people in our democracy.”

This month as National Geographic celebrated the global impact of women over the past century, the courageous voices of Marie Yovanovitch and Fiona Hill could not have been more riveting.