Ain’t I American? Women, Human Rights, and U.S. Identity in the 21st Century

Dorothy Q. Thomas

Dorothy Q Thomas

Where would our society be without the contributions of countless women who’ve worked so tirelessly to secure our rights? On Tuesday, October 30, activist, author, advisor, and strategist Dorothy Q. Thomas invites us to reflect on this question as she delivers the fourth annual Helen Pond McIntyre ’48 Lecture. As a means of tracing the rise of two distinct but intersecting movements in the United States—the struggle for women’s rights and the struggle for human rights—Thomas shares with us an intimate look into three generations of her family’s involvement in them. The lives and work of Thomas’ grandmother, her aunt Eleanor Elliott ’48, and of Thomas herself provide a fascinating glimpse not only into the evolving relationship between two rights-based social movements in America, but also how those movements shape the United States’ understanding of its role in the world.

Dorothy Q. Thomas is a visiting fellow at the London School of Economics’ Centre for the Study of Human Rights and an independent consultant on human rights and strategic philanthropy. Until January 2007, she was the senior program advisor to the US Human Rights Fund. From 1990-1998 she served as the founding director of the Human Rights Watch Women’s Rights Division. She is a 1998 MacArthur Fellow and a 1995 Bunting Fellow of the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard University. In 1998 she received the Eleanor Roosevelt Human Rights Award from President Bill Clinton. She is the author/editor of numerous articles and reports on human rights, including most recently “Against American Supremacy: Rebuilding Human Rights Culture in the United States,” “Into the Bright Sunshine: The Value of Human Rights in the United States,” and “Close to Home: Case Studies of Human Rights in the United States.” She holds a Masters degree from Georgetown University, which awarded her an honorary doctorate in 1995. She is a member of the Board of Directors of the Ms. Foundation for Women and serves on the advisory boards of the US Human Rights Fund, Human Rights Watch’s US program, the ACLU human rights project, the Four Freedoms Fund and Breakthrough Communications.

In addition to these stellar accomplishments, Ms. Thomas has the added distinction of being the niece of Barnard alumna, Trustee emerita, and longtime friend of BCRW, Eleanor Thomas Elliott, whose generous gift makes this lecture possible. Like so many of you, we, at the Center, were greatly saddened when Elly passed away last year. It seems a particularly fitting tribute to honor Elly’s legacy to Barnard and to the Center by celebrating her legacy to her family: with intelligence, wit, and with great grace, Dorothy Thomas continues to fight the good fight.