20th and 21st Century Activism
For two centuries, Rochester women have answered the call to action. Addressing issues around social, political, racial, gender, and health and economic injustice, they have not stayed silent. Women in our community have been the leading voices in the struggle for social justice - activists fighting and campaigning for civil and human rights.
Rochester, like many cities across the United States, has grappled with discrimination against African and Latin Americans. In the 1960s, women like Mildred Johnson, Loma Allen (1913-2010), and Constance Mitchell (1928-2018) were at the helm of this activism, involved in initiatives like Freedom, Integration, God, Honor, Today (FIGHT), Action For a Better Community, and Baden Street Settlement. They demanded the end to redlining, an under-resourced education system, police brutality, and unjust employment practices. The current president of the 19th Ward Community Association, Zola Brown (1965 - ), has been actively working towards social and economic justice in her neighborhood. Founded in 1965, the association organized in response to segregation policies in this predominantly black neighborhood. Isabella Passero and Nancy Padilla (1950 - ), leaders in the Ibero American Action League, were involved in supporting and advocating on behalf of the Latin American community in Rochester.
Constance Mitchell became a major figure in Rochester Civil Rights activism in the 1960s, and her home became a gathering place for people such as Malcolm X, Robert Kennedy, leaders of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), and the Congress of Racial Equality.
Rochester has also been active in advocating for rights and legal protection in the LGBTQ community. In the early 1970s, the Gay Liberation Front (GLF) formed at the University of Rochester. Modeled after the Black Power and Women's Liberation movements, the group advocated for legislative reform, sponsored social events, speaker series, and created safe spaces on campus. Yet, at times, the voices from the lesbian community on and off campus were overshadowed. Women involved with the organization responded by putting out their issue of the Empty Closet, one of the oldest LGBTQ focused publications in the United States. Evelyn Bailey (1947 - ), a political activist and historian, produced the Shoulders To Stand On documentary, which represents many women who have been pivotal in the struggle for marriage equality, acceptance in the church, HIV/AIDS activism, and much more.
We recognize the invisibility of the selfless labor behind social justice and human rights work, and acknowledge and appreciate all the women activists in Rochester who have pushed boundaries - forcing our society to do better by all of its citizens.