Throughout history, countless women have made significant contributions to society that transcended their historical context to leave a lasting impact. Recently, I was privileged to take part in a ceremony honoring women in Wickford who were generations ahead of their time as business owners and community leaders.

Historic Wickford, a non-profit dedicated to the preservation and promotion of this unique village, invited me to speak at the unveiling of their multi-year historic placemaking project. This effort features, among other things, several historic markers that highlight areas of interest and importance in our community.

The “Women in Wickford” marker, directly across from Updike Park on the corner of West Main and Brown Street, denotes the importance of women in local businesses throughout the years.

In fishing communities in the 18th and 19th centuries, most of the men were either at sea or working in maritime trades. That meant women had to step beyond the roles of wives and mothers and into roles that were usually reserved for men. The community in Wickford thrived — not despite the women who took on leadership roles, but because of them.

The Historic Wickford project also features a marker dedicated to black mariners from the 18th and 19th centuries; both slaves and freemen who worked on fishing and transportation ships. I applaud Historic Wickford for recognizing that people of all backgrounds have helped create the community we know and love today, and I encourage residents to take time to appreciate the historic marker project and embrace its message.

The importance of women’s voices, and the voices of people of all backgrounds, is vital to our success today. As the first Latina to win statewide office in New England, I know firsthand that a diversity of leadership and representation in elected office is a win for everyone. It enhances our collective ability to think outside of the box, generate solutions and improve people’s quality of life.

We are seeing progress both in the political and business realms. In the entire history of our country, there have been 56 female U.S. Senators; 25 of them are serving right now. There are 102 women currently in the U.S. House of Representatives, again an all-time high. Here in Rhode Island, there are 27 women State Representatives and 16 women State Senators, more than ever before.

More women are leading in the business world as well. A recent Pew Research study that shows the share of women sitting on the boards of Fortune 500 companies has more than doubled from just 9% in 1995 to 22% in 2017. Meanwhile, in Rhode Island, we have an impressive group of women business leaders in fields as diverse as media and biomedical science. We’ve certainly come a long way from the days when the trailblazing women of Wickford were breaking down barriers to become successful entrepreneurs.

There’s no doubt that women have played an often-overlooked yet critical role in developing and strengthening our community, our state and our nation. To the female leaders today who are part of that progress, and who carry on the tradition of the trailblazing women from Wickford’s past, I say “thank you.” I remain steadfast in my commitment to ensure that Rhode Island government is working to enable and support you so that we can build a future full of opportunity for all Rhode Islanders.

Nellie M. Gorbea is Rhode Island’s Secretary of State

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