Famous people die and are memorialized in words and marble. But often the lesser known deserve a line and a thought as well, not only for themselves but for what they inspired others to do.
One of those people was Tish Sommers, co-founder of the Older Women's League, who died last Friday in Oakland. By her own example, she encouraged activism among middle-aged and elderly women who lost their economic security through divorce or death of the spouse.
Sommers, co-founder Laurie Shields and their league colleagues lobbied for improved pensions for women and better Social Security coverage. They coined the phrase "displaced homemaker" for these women for whom the rules often changed after they had spent their lives devoted to home and family. But as important as the concrete benefits was the network they established of women with shared concerns working to solve their problems. From its beginnings in 1980, the league has grown to 12,000 members in 90 chapters around the country.
As Sommers said once in an interview, "There will be plenty of problems for older women (in the next few years) even though the classic displaced homemaker may not be as important. I think the most important thing to realize is that we're not going to make it unless we join forces to bring about some changes." Sommers used her sense of attachment and her organizing skills to make an invisible problem visible and thus open the options for other older women. That is her memorial.