When Teresa Younger was a girl growing up in North Dakota, she fostered a deep connection to an organization that would become one of the most formative of her life: the Girl Scouts of the United States of America. As the daughter of a military father, and moving from place to place, Ms. Younger found inspiration and stability in her Girl Scout troops, even in her early days as a Brownie.
“Everywhere we moved I always had this sisterhood, a recognition that there were women supporting women, and women role models in front of me that were the leaders and mothers of other people and my own mother,” said Ms. Younger in an interview with the Gazette earlier this month when she was on-Island to talk about her new role as president of the Ms. Foundation.
Ms. Younger eventually became president of the Girl Scouts of Connecticut, a position she held for more than four years until May of 2013. This June, she became the president and chief executive officer of the Ms. Foundation.
The Ms. Foundation, founded in 1973 by Gloria Steinem along with Patricia Carbine, Letty Cottin Pogrebin and Marlo Thomas, aims to advance women’s issues ranging from equal pay to reproductive justice, by encouraging civic engagement and supporting grass roots organizations across the country.
As the organization’s second African American CEO in its 40 years of existence, Ms. Younger said she is ready to make a big impact. She’s hoping to re-frame the feminist movement as a more inclusive one, a departure from its reputation as a primarily white, middle-class effort.
“I’d like to include and grow the Ms. family, have it really be reflective of today’s society — young women, young men, older women, older men, of every socio, racial and ethnic grouping,” she said.
One of her primary goals as president and CEO of the foundation is to raise more awareness of the foundation to help its fundraising capabilities so it can support more organizations. Currently, the Ms. Foundation gives out close to $2 million in grants to over 100 organizations.
But equally important to her mission, Ms. Younger said, is “correcting history and challenging it.”
“Women of color have long been active in the feminist movement,” she said. “If you talk to the early defined feminists they’ll say that they were inspired by women who were doing work on the ground in their communities, ensuring that they had voter rights and that their children could go to school and that their husbands could get jobs. I think that is a reality and I think we don’t tell that story and the media hasn’t told that story.”
We need, Ms. Younger said, to “tell the right history.”
“Just because we’re told it or it’s written in a book does not necessarily make it so,” she added. “Women’s history is not written in books effectively or talked about effectively, so why should we assume that women of color are in those books effectively?”
But to spur change, all of society must learn to talk openly and actively about these issues, she said.
“Ms. is going to have to really research how gender, race and ethnicity work together, because I don’t think we’re going to resolve any of these issues unless we’re able to resolve all of these issues,” she said.
Ms. Younger is in the process of launching a listening tour, where she will travel to nearly 40 American towns and cities to talk to people about how to grow the women’s movement and effectively impact policies that affect women and families. On Wednesday, August 6, Ms. Younger visited the Vineyard for the first time for a reception hosted by Susan and Sherm Goldman in West Tisbury. The Island is home to vice chair of the Ms. Foundation’s board of directors, Susan Dickler. In addition, the board’s president, Heather Arnett, was vacationing on-Island for the week.
“We thought what better opportunity for us all to come together,” said Ms. Younger. “Ms. really has not been out on the Vineyard to talk with our potential supporters and talk about the work that we do.”
Ms. Younger, Ms. Dickler and Ms. Arnett hope to stimulate interest in the Ms. Foundation on-Island. But to all the Vineyard’s visitors from across the country, Ms. Younger said: “The Ms. Foundation may be in their neck of the woods soon . . . hosting conversations around where we’d like the movement to go and how people can be engaged.”