"Women Change America" — National Women’s History Month

Remarks by Cassandra M. Chandler Assistant Director, Office of Public Affairs, Federal Bureau of Investigation

Program FBI’s Criminal Justice Information Services Division

Clarksburg, West Virginia

March 30, 2005

"Dare To Dream"

Good afternoon. The theme this year for National Women’s History Month is "Women Change America." When I first considered what could be said under such a significant topic I was a bit overwhelmed. Gosh, women have done so much to change America. Where do I begin? So, instead, I decided to focus not so much on how women have changed our great nation, but rather, what drives women to do so. And, the one common thread I found between those women who have reached greatness or whose lives have shaped the very fabric of the greatest nation in the world is that they were all dreamers.

Let’s talk a bit about dreamers. The word "dream" is defined as an aspiration, a goal, an aim. According to the dictionary, to dream is "to conceive of something–to imagine as possible, and devise an ideal." Poet Carl Sandburg says, "Nothing happens unless first a dream."

And of the dreamer? Let’s go back to the dictionary, which defines a dreamer as a person who "has bold or highly speculative ideas or plans…a visionary."

Indeed, all female pioneers have been visionaries, never willing to accept the status quo. She is the one who believes in her dreams and acts upon them. This is how women have changed America. This is how women have changed the world. This–is how women have even changed the FBI.

Wilma Rudolph, the first American woman runner to win three gold medals at a single Olympics, offered this advice, "Never underestimate the power of dreams and the influence of the human spirit. We are all the same in this notion: The potential for greatness lives within each of us."

And, indeed it does. The potential for greatness began with a dream in 1851 at the Women’s Rights Convention in Akron, Ohio, when former slave Sojourner Truth dismissed the idea that men were superior to women. She rose from her seat, stood straight and tall, and said, "Ain’t I a woman? I have plowed and I have planted. I can work as much and eat as much as a man and hear the lash as well. And ain’t I a woman?"

The potential for greatness began with a dream in 1869 when Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Stanton formed the National Woman Suffrage Association to lobby for the right of women to vote. Their dream was not realized until more than 50 years later with the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment.

The potential for greatness began with a dream in 1920, when against her family’s wishes, Amelia Earhart learned to fly a plane and 12 years later became the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean.

The potential for greatness began with a dream in 1933, when Eleanor Roosevelt transformed the role of the First Lady and became a respected human rights activist who was also actively involved in the day-to-day decisions which impacted this country. Mrs. Roosevelt once said that, "The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams." And, she transformed her dreams into programs to help those suffering in America.

The potential for greatness began with a dream in 1955 when a tired Rosa Parks refused to relinquish her seat on a public bus to a white man-a moment in history that sparked the Civil Rights Movement.

Women continue to achieve their potential for greatness around the globe, and this greatness begins with a dream.

African American poet Langston Hughes once wrote, "What happens to a dream deferred? Does it dry up like a raisin in the sun…and fester like a sore and then run? Does it stink like rotten meat…or crust and sugar over like a syrupy sweet? Maybe it just sags like a heavy load…or does it explode?

When a dream is deferred or delayed, it is usually because of some obstacle or hindrance. To defer is defined as "to put off until a particular time in the future–often to wait for new information or developments." What happens to a dream deferred? I believe in women we use the obstacles, the hindrances, the denials, rejections, and frustrations as the catalyst to let our dreams explode.

Langston Hughes wants to know what happens when a dream is deferred; well I can tell you what happens when a woman’s dream is deferred. It explodes, and there is change. It explodes, and there is success. It explodes, and there is power.

But first, we must be dreamers who are willing to chart new courses, to accept new challenges, to use the obstacles as a foundation for change.

As a child, I dreamed of becoming an attorney. My mother would smile and encourage me, saying "You’ll be a Supreme Court Justice some day, just like Thurgood Marshall? I dreamed about Thurgood Marshall arguing in the courtroom. I read every book I could find about his life, and the cases he argued. I dreamed, and I knew that I would make it through law school. And I did–first in my entire family. But, it started with a dream, a vision of what I could accomplish, of what I could become. And I haven’t stopped dreaming, yet.

The greatest success stories of women who have beaten the odds all have been preceded by dreams…dreams of change, dreams of progress, dreams of what could be. Feminist Gloria Steinem once said that "Without leaps of imagination, or dreams, we lose the excitement of possibilities. Dreaming, after all" she says, "is a form of planning." And she is right, because while not every woman has been able to make her dreams a reality in her lifetime, her dreams have not been deferred. They have exploded, not dried up like raisins in the sun. They have exploded and resulted in change in America.

Over the years, women have dreamed, fought for, and won the most basic human rights. Their deferred dreams exploded and they won the right to vote, the right to own property, the right to equal opportunities in education, representation, and employment. Women have knocked down the doors of corporate America, law enforcement, private business ownership, and every door in-between. And, women have used their talent, their intelligence, and their determination to shatter glass ceilings everywhere.

Every day is a new day for women. We are acting on our dreams, charting our own courses, letting our dreams explode! Toni Morrison and Patricia Cornwell routinely top the best seller lists. Journalist Oprah Winfrey not only informs but influences viewers around the world. Meg Whitman, the CEO of eBay, is ranked among Fortune’s Most Powerful American’s List. Melody Hobson oversees one of the largest and most profitable investment groups in the country. Radio pioneer Cathy Hughes is the first African American woman to head a firm publicly traded on the stock exchange. Shelly Lazarus runs one of the largest advertising agencies in the world, representing renowned corporations like IBM and Coca-Cola. Sherry Lansing is the former president of Paramount Motion Pictures. The company that brought you memorable dramas, like the Godfather, Terms of Endearment, and Indiana Jones. And the list of women who dared to dream goes on and on.

Today, women make up more than half of the student population at American universities. We are doctors, lawyers, physicists, and professors. We are running small businesses and major corporations, medical institutes, and sports franchises. We are sitting on the boards of schools, counties, and Fortune 500 companies. We are political power brokers, from the halls of Congress to city councils across the country. We’ve come a long way, baby!

Let’s take the history of the FBI, for example. The Bureau was created in 1908 as the Special Agent force. In 1924, J. Edgar Hoover became the Director of the Bureau of Investigation and what eventually became known as the Federal Bureau of Investigation in 1935. But, did you know prior to Director Hoover’s appointment there were two women pioneers in 1923 who were Special Agents? Jessie Duckstein and Alaska Davidson were dreamers and the first female trailblazers in the Bureau. They resigned in 1924. But, their dreams to see females among the ranks of agents in the FBI were not deferred. Shortly after they resigned, Lenore Houston became a Special Agent in the Philadelphia Field Office and served for four years.

And, although it was not until July 17, 1972, nearly 44 years later, when women began to truly enter the ranks of the FBI Special Agent, the obstacles of the previous years served as the catalysts which forced the dreams of women in federal law enforcement to explode. And today, women in the FBI are supervisors, program managers, Unit Chiefs, Section Chiefs, Special Agents in Charge, Assistant Directors, and Executive Assistant Directors. Women in the FBI are vocal, powerful, and invaluable contributors. And, who knows what dreamer today will be the first female Director of the FBI tomorrow. What happens to a dream deferred, it explodes and there is change.

All successful people, regardless of race or gender, are dreamers. Dreamers like Meg Whitman and Oprah Winfrey. Like me, and like you. Those who are not satisfied with the status quo. And, when a woman’s dream is deferred she is a force to be reckoned with. She will fight for change, she will use the obstacles thrown her way, and she will forge ahead in spite of an occasional failure. She will let her dreams explode.

Every accomplishment starts with a dream. Every dream is built on strength, faith, and courage. But first, you must dare to dream. And dream big, my sisters. What do you want to accomplish in the FBI, what do you want to change in your community, what do you want for your family, what do you want–for you? Dare to dream.

Your power to achieve is limited only by your imagination. Your ability to succeed comes from the desire within. And it starts with a dream.

Be dreamers, as writer Karen Ravn says, "Only as high as I reach can I grow. Only as far as I seek can I go. Only as deep as I look can I see. And, only as much as I dream can I be."

BE A DREAMER and let your dreams explode. Don’t let them dry up like that old raisin in the sun. Let them explode. You won’t get there by just hoping, wishing, and waiting.

Let your dreams explode and there will be even greater changes here in CJIS and throughout the FBI. Let your dreams explode and you will find the success you know you have the ability to achieve. Let your dreams explode and you will find the power you once only imagined you had.

Dare to be dreamers. And then, let your dreams explode!