published Tuesday, March 13th, 2012

Stories help celebrate Women's History Month

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BY THE NUMBERS

157.2 million: Women in the United States as of Oct. 1, 2010.

$36,278: Median annual income of women 15 or older who worked full time year round in 2009.

29.9 million: Women 25 and older with a bachelor's degree or more education in 2009.

55 percent: Percentage of college students in fall 2008 who were women.

197,900: Total active duty women in the military as of Sept. 30, 2008.

Source: U.S. Census

For about 40 years, Beate Ziehres' mother circumvented the Iron Curtain that divided East and West Germany.

In her late teens after World War II, her mother, Hedwig Hasenstab of West Germany, found a pen pal from East Germany, and spent the next four decades exchanging letters and sending parcels with chocolate and coffee, luxuries her female friend didn't have.

And once her friend died, Hasenstab continued the tradition with her pen pal's daughter until the Berlin Wall came down in 1989.

"I think [her story] represents the ability of women to overcome obstacles," Ziehres said Tuesday.

Ziehres, who moved from Germany to Chattanooga three years ago, was one of five participants who shared stories about important women in their lives in the second annual Welcome Outstanding Storytelling. The event was hosted by Erlanger Health System and sponsored by BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee.

The event was created by the Women's Council on Diversity, the community outreach of the American Diversity Report, Chattanooga's diversity and intercultural consulting firm.

Deborah Levine, editor of the American Diversity report and one of the storytellers, started the event last year to celebrate National Women's History Month -- which dates to March 8, 1857, when women from New York City factories staged a protest over working conditions, according to the U.S. census.

"Part of our mission is to educate about global diversity and women's roles in that," said Levine, who shared her mother's letters to her father, a soldier in Germany during World War II.

Estelle Levine wrote letters to Aaron Levine, "loving him, praising him, encouraging him. The letters kept him going, and he kept the letters until he died 60 years later," said Levine, who comes from a Jewish family that was raised in Bermuda.

Vincent Phipps, NAACP director, shared his mother's experience in the civil rights protests of the 1960s.

Ramya Embar Srinivasan, a doctor, talked about how her grandmother bridged the Hindu-Muslim divide in a small village in India.

And Jan Elle Reuter, a geographer, shared the story of how her Italian war-bride mother met the challenge of immigrating to America.

"The stories themselves have some common themes -- women who persevered through historic adversity and shaped generations to come in doing so," Levine said.

about Perla Trevizo...

Perla Trevizo joined the Chattanooga Times Free Press in 2007 and covers immigration/diversity issues and higher education. She holds a master’s degree in newswire journalism from Universidad Rey Juan Carlos in Madrid, Spain, and a bachelor’s degree in political science from the University of Texas. In 2011 she participated in the Bringing Home the World international reporting fellowship program sponsored by the International Center for Journalists, producing a series on Guatemalan immigrants for which she ...

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