Veteran Feminists of America


An only child, I was not born a feminist on September 29, 1935, although as I look at my 76-year-old life I keep wondering where I got the instincts to become the lifelong feminist I have become. It came through exposure to injustice and contact with outstanding women like Gloria Steinem, Bella Abzug, Millie Jeffries.

I was born in the beautiful island of Puerto Rico in a small town on the southeastern coast, Yabucoa, among sugar cane fields, lovely rivers and streams, gentle mountains and a seductive sea. Hurricanes, which accost the island often, traditionally hit land along that coast and my parents used to say that my volatile, frisky personality derives from the influences of those hurricanes.

After I graduated from elementary school with high honors in a school system where my mother, Candida Paz, was my third and fifth grade teacher and my father, Luis Oscar Delgado, was about to become my seventh grade teacher, I went to junior and high school in San Juan, our capital city, old in history and charm and modern in its cultural manifestations and splendor. There I acquired leadership skills through the Girl Scouts, the Juvenile Red Cross and continued to excel educationally, writing poetry and essays and developing my English reading skills through comic books and Mickey Spillane detective stories.

Two years at the University of Puerto Rico in 1952-54 launched my working career at the Government Development Bank of Puerto Rico in 1955, then the hub of the rapid industrialization effort to lift up the island by its own bootstraps. In 1960 I married a "mainlander," Gregory Votaw, who worked for the Economic Development Administration; shortly thereafter we embarked on a life of international dimensions by going to live in Tehran, Iran for two years. While Greg worked on the development plan for Iran, I learned about Muslim culture, visited orphanages, organized women to have play days at their homes for the orphans in their homes and petitioned the Government and the Mullahs for authorization of adoptions of Iranian kids by foreign persons.

That was my initial "advocacy" effort that launched my second career in lobbying for worthy causes as a professional and volunteer advocate. Returning to the United States in 1962, my husband was employed by the World Bank and I started my half a century checkered journey into advocacy for causes related to civil and human rights and continued my engagement and fascination with the international affairs field. The Martin Luther King March on Washington in 1963 sealed my commitment to justice issues.

By 1972 I was heavily involved with the League of Women Voters Overseas Education Fund under whose banner we helped organize and strengthen women's organizations in Latin America. As its Vice President, I traveled wide and far in the hemisphere to help women organize to protect their rights and institute practices similar to those the League promoted in the U.S. I was a member of the first committee, under the aegis of the League, who organized and oversaw the first presidential debates in the United States.

So naturally, in 1972 I also joined and soon led the National Conference of Puerto Rican Women to advance Latina women's rights. Pretty soon thereafter President Jimmy Carter appointed me a member of the International Women's Year Commission (IWY) and then later as Co-Chair (with Bella Abzug) of the National Advisory Committee for Women. His Administration also appointed me to represent the United States in the Inter-American Commission of Women of the Organization of American States and eventually I was elected unanimously by the countries of the hemisphere as President of that Commission for 1978-80, exactly 50 years after it had been initially presided by another U.S. citizen, Doris Stevens.

Needless to say, this heady and fruitful engagement with women's rights allowed me to play key roles during the Decade for Women, starting in 1975 with the first United Nations World Conference on Women in Mexico City and all the ensuing U.N. Conferences (1980 Copenhagen, Denmark; 1985 Nairobi, Kenya; 1990 Beijing, China). Always straddling the "official" and NGO (non-governmental) Forums, I was entranced with the progress women united had been able to forge. Also our U.S. Commission was instrumental in organizing the 1977 Houston, Texas national conference and the energizing state conferences that had preceded it.

My concern with women's rights also led me to gravitate toward action on human rights, serving for more than a decade on the Board of the Inter American Institute of Human Rights located in Costa Rica.

Professionally, I became the first Hispanic female Chief of Staff for a Member of Congress, Representative Jaime Fuster, serving the Resident Commissioner of Puerto Rico for seven years and being his staffer for international affairs in the House Foreign Affairs Committee. During these years I attended The American University, getting a B.A. in International Studies. My career in government relations culminated with service as director of government relations for the Girl Scouts of the USA (after serving 9 years on its national board of directors, as Chair of the Western Hemisphere Organization and chairing the triennial conference of the World Organization of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts in Kenya, United Way of America, and the Alliance for Children and Families. My retirement at the end of 2006 kicked me back to my never-abandoned field of citizen advocacy which keeps me busy doing political, gender and religious advocacy for the same causes that have engaged my attention for five decades: women's rights, civil and human rights, and all issues of inequity .

The between years found me listed in the leadership or the ranks of the National Women's Political Caucus, the National Coalition for Women and Girls in Education, the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute, the Independent Sector Government Relations Committee, the Human Services Forum, the Maryland Women's Heritage Center, the Pan American Liaison of Women's Organizations (PALCO), the National Urban Institute. As a long-time member of the Veteran Feminists of America, I was honored with the VFA Medal of Honor on May 6, 1999 at a Sewall Belmont House celebratory event.

Currently I preside the Public Members Association of the Foreign Service (PMA). I have also helped, as George Santayana advised, to recapture "herstory" by writing a bilingual book in English and Spanish, "Puerto Rican Women" (now in its third edition), with biographies of women we should all emulate, and by writing chapters in books such as Notable American Women, To Ourselves Be True, and other publications.

My personal life has been full with two outstanding sons, Stephen and Michael, and an equally outstanding daughter, Lisa, as well as six grandchildren. The four girls, Alexandra, Anna, Taylor and Abby, have benefitted from my advocacy on Title IX of the Education Amendments (the Equity Act) with their excellent academic records and sports achievements in soccer, basketball and softball; the two males, Daniel and Michael Todd, are doing exceptionally well in science. Michael, the younger one, on lacrosse and Daniel, the eldest, on soccer and softball.

Oh, the memories my life as a mother, professional and feminist has given me.

Carmen Delgado Votaw has received many awards and recognition for her work, including the Hispanic Heritage Award for Education, Las Primeras Awards from the Mexican American Women's National Association, (MANA). She was inducted into Maryland Women's Hall of Fame and received an Honorary Doctorate in the Humanities from Hood College in Maryland.

Comments: Carmen Delgado Votaw

Jacqui Ceballos -

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