Friday, October 11, 2013

There Is No Glass Celing in Toastmasters

What follows is the text of the speech that I wrote and delivered to Word Weavers (My Toastmaster Club) on August 21st in a special evening we held honoring 40 years of Women in Toastmasters....

There Is No Glass Ceiling in Toastmasters!

Madame Toastmaster, fellow members, dear guests, and especially all of our Word Weavers women
members. In August 1973 Toastmasters officially opened its doors for female membership and we’re
celebrating this tonight.  With all of the problems that we have in the world today, I can wholeheartedly say that women in Toastmasters are a beacon of light to shine in the rest of our society.  Within Toastmasters, women are powerful and there is no glass ceiling.  Women are only limited by their own desires, wishes, and motivation.

40 years, that is great but why weren’t women allowed in sooner?  As an organization Toastmasters has pioneered a lot of things but we’re also very much effected by the society and times that we live in.  If you look at the role women played in the 20th century, it probably isn’t too surprising that women weren’t allowed to be members until 1973. The women’s movement really started to become active in the 60s and in the 70s there was a movement behind the Equal Rights Amendment in the U.S.  But Dr. Smedley and others supported the idea of women getting Toastmasters training and the Toastmistress organization was started.  The first of these clubs was charted in San Francisco in 1938. The Lions. Kiwanis, and Rotary clubs all didn’t allow women to join until nearly 15 years after Toastmasters officially opened our doors!

When Helen Blanchard joined Toastmasters, it was not has Helen Blanchard but as Homer Blanchard, because women were not allowed to join at the time.  When she initially got in contact with her local
Toastmasters club she was told that she could start a Toastmistress club if she wanted, but she couldn’t join Toastmasters.  She spoke to the up and coming women she knew but none of them were interested in starting up a Toastmistress club.  The person she had been in contact with talked to the club and they decided (un-unanimously) that the club was operating on government property so, they should accept women and they decided to help her join, this was in 1970. She became Toastmasters first official woman member, finally changing the "Homer" to Helen.  Because Toastmasters wouldn’t accept only “H” in her initial membership application, her club actually used a Table Topics at one meeting to come up with the name "Homer". 

Helen started her life growing up on a farm in a small town in Nebraska.  Her first job was teaching 20+ kids in a one room schoolhouse, just as you might have seen on “Little House On the Prairie”.  She was working at a U.S. Navy Research and Development Center in San Diego. Her job was to teach engineers how to collect and process the data from the testing they were conducting for the Nave and she felt uncomfortable having to make presentations to men that had far more technical training and education that she did, so she wanted what Toastmasters was offering.  As one of the early women in Toastmasters she had so many firsts it is hard to mention them all but she was the first woman to become a DTM, she was one of the first women to become a District Governor, she was the first women to be elected  as an International Director. She held leadership positions at the District and worked her way through the various leadership positions at Toastmasters, being elected as the first female president of Toastmasters International in the 1985-86 Toastmasters year.  Helen did not really fit the image that a lot of us have about women in the women’s movement, she was someone who always demonstrated that a woman could do something not that she was "entitled" to anything, and she worked for all her accomplishments; as a Toastmaster, as a professional woman, as a wife, mother, and grandmother.  She never intended to be a role model, but there are no doubt countless women that she has influenced to accept the challenges and break those barriers. Sadly she died on May 11, 2013. She wrote a book called “Breaking the Ice”, that I recently ready.  I think that every Toastmaster should read this book. There is an article in the August Toastmaster Magazine about Helen.

Helen is one of 5 women that has served as president of Toastmasters International. 4 women have won the World Championship of Public Speaking.  Evelyn Jane Burgay won in 1977, 4 years after women were officially allowed to become members. Why have so few women won the World Championship of Public Speaking?  David Brooks (1990 World Champion of Public Speaking) made the observation a few years ago that he has found a ratio of 4 to 5 men competing at the club contest level.  Put simply to see more women at the finish line, more need to be at the starting line. 

Looking around our area and District 59, our club has had a lot of women officers (Bryan, Martin and I are the only men this year).  Our Regina has been club president, area governor, and now division
governor.  D59 has had Morag Mathieson and Barbara Hörger serve as our District Governor. 
Leadership is one area that women are excelling in at Toastmasters. 

As a parent, I often wonder about the future that my daughters will have.  I can tell them that I’m proud of the progress that women have made in Toastmasters and I believe that within Toastmasters, there is no longer a glass ceiling that limits what they can do and who they can be.   I further challenge all of you to encourage more women to join us.  It might take the world around us a while to get there, but as Toastmasters, I believe that we will have the day where it doesn’t matter if you’re a man or a women, what your skin color is, what your religion is, or any other discriminating and limiting factor known to us today, but that we’ll be judged by who we are inside and our good deeds.  Let’s celebrate 40 years of women in Toastmasters!


Photo Credits:  The photo of Helen Blanchard is on her website.  It was taken officer installation at the Naval R & D Toastmasters Club

My thanks to Merv Olsen of the South Redlands Toastmaster Club for inspiring me to organize a special evening honoring 40 years of Women in Toatmasters and for providing some of the information that I used in my speech. You might also want to read the profile written about Helen Blanchard by Julie Bawden Davis at
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