.Women’s History Month in Sonoma County

Women don’t have a history.

That’s the message children got from their history textbooks back in the “olden days,” before five visionary women—Molly Murphy MacGregor, Mary Ruthsdotter, Maria Cuevas, Paula Hammett and Bette Morgan—created the National Women’s History Project in 1980.

“As teachers, we were aware that the history books mostly spoke about men,” said MacGregor, who still answers the phone and directs people to resources at the organization now known as the National Women’s History Alliance.

In fact, only 3% of the people featured in classroom history texts were women. So, working with the Sonoma County Commission on the Status of Women, these five intrepid souls went about writing women back into history.

First, they created a Women’s History Week, centered on March 8, International Women’s Day. Then they called the White House, and President Jimmy Carter agreed to make it official that year.

They brought this new idea to the local schools, where teachers agreed to put Women’s History Week on their school calendars and invited local women into their classrooms to talk about their lives. In 1987, Congress voted to make March Women’s History Month in perpetuity.

By 2018, so many women’s organizations were involved in Women’s History Month that the group changed its name to the National Women’s History Alliance.

Now, in celebration of Women’s History Month, the Bohemian is featuring five remarkable women who share their time, talents and expertise with the Sonoma County community and beyond.

Jackie Elward

Rohnert Park City Councilmember Jackie Elward says it is her kids who drew her into politics.

“My son was frightened, seeing me constantly pulled over, profiled by the police. He didn’t have anyone to speak for him. Our leadership lacks people of color, strong women of color, especially the Black community,” Elward said.

Deciding “not to stand on the sidelines any longer,” she organized a Black Lives Matter rally with Julie Royes and ran for City Council in 2020. Along with two other women newcomers, she flipped the council from a conservative one to a progressive one, Elward said. When she served a term as the city’s mayor in 2021, she was the first Black mayor from Marin County to the Oregon border.

With a progressive majority, the council secured $14 million in state funds for transitional housing and mental health programs, worked with Cotati and Sonoma State University to formulate a program that brings mental health professionals to non-violent emergency calls and purchased a 30-acre former Hewlett Packard site where they are planning to build a downtown.

Now, encouraged by her constituents, she is running for the state Senate in District 3.

Born and raised in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Elward came to California with her husband in 2005, to escape the political turmoil and, what she called a “silent genocide.” They have three children, ages 20, 17 and 13. Elward, who speaks six languages, is an instructional aide at the French American Charter School in Santa Rosa.

Duskie Estes

Restaurateur, farmer and food bank organizer Duskie Estes “fell in love with all things restaurant” at the tender age of 10. That’s when her parents divorced and she spent time with her father at “cool” restaurants, like Greens, Chez Panisse and Star.

When Estes grew up, she considered medicine and the law, but found herself irresistibly drawn to cooking and food. While working as an unpaid intern in Washington, D.C., Estes got a job in a restaurant and joined the Share Our Food, No Kid Hungry campaign and Food Matters.

Moving across the country to Seattle, she worked at the Palace Kitchen, wrote a cookbook and won a James Beard award. Eventually, she and her husband, chef John Stewart, settled in California, where they created Zazu Kitchen + Farm, and Black Pig Meat Company, while raising three children.

When their restaurant in Sebastopol’s Barlow flooded in 2019, they realized that restoring it was overwhelming, so they decided to leave the restaurant business behind after 19 years. They still operate their farm and meat company and a food truck that services winery events and music festivals.

“It’s impossible to make a living in the restaurant business, pay employees well and source your food ethically,” is her take-away.

By ethical sourcing, she means growing what one can oneself and buying organic produce and ethically raised meat from local farmers and ranchers.

“Farm to table instead of freezer to table,” she quipped.

Four years ago, she became the director of a gleaning organization that brings extra produce from farmers and backyard growers to “people who need it.” According to Estes, one in four Sonoma County residents are facing food insecurity while so much produce goes to waste in people’s backyards. All through the year, volunteers glean the excess food and transport it to local food banks.

“Every day I’m outside with people doing something for people they don’t even know,” she rhapsodized.

At the end of February, she retired from Food to Pantry, but is still involved with some of its programs, like Farm to Snacks, which provides afterschool and summer snacks for children.

Pastor Lindsay Bell-Kerr

As lead pastor at Santa Rosa’s Christ Church United Methodist, Lindsey Bell-Kerr is able to fulfill their passion for social change through religion.

“John Wesley founded the Methodist Church on social justice,”

Bell-Kerr said. “He believed that women could be church leaders. He was an abolitionist until his death. He believed in the rights of animals. I found a place in the most radical part of the church.”

Born and raised Catholic in western Pennsylvania, a conservative part of the country, Bell-Kerr noted, they studied journalism in college, but soon “had an itch to try something else.” It was also in college where they gravitated toward the Methodist Church.

After graduation, they traveled to Mindanao, Philippines, working with the interfaith organization, Initiatives for Peace. While there, they decided to study theology at the Pacific School of Religion in Berkeley.

“I heard my calling (to the ministry) in the Philippines,” they said.

Bell-Kerr identifies as non-binary and has faced some difficulties in the church as a result. But they have weathered the storm and found a home at Christ Church United Methodist, which was GLBTQ-friendly long before Bell-Kerr arrived. The church’s website is splashed with all manner of rainbow colors, and the congregation includes both GLBTQ people and their “proud parents.”

The church is also involved in other social justice issues. It houses the North Bay Organizing Project, as well as a Harvest for the Hungry garden and a food bank, Elisha’s Pantry. At Bell-Kerr’s “nudging,” it is moving even farther in that direction. The church has recently joined the Changemaker Church Project, which encourages members to become change makers in their local communities.

“I came to the church because I am not just interested in justice for GLBTQ people, but for all people,” they said.

Bell-Kerr is married to Rev. Diana Bell-Kerr, pastor at the First Congregationalist UCC Church in Santa Rosa.

Katie Ketchum

Singer, pianist, composer and painter Katie Ketchum was tongue-tied as a child—literally—which required two surgeries to loosen her tongue. And it hasn’t stopped wagging ever since.

Basically shy as a child, Ketchum found her self-expression in music. That meant studying classical piano at the Royal Conservatory in Toronto and finding her own voice as a singer and a composer of zany musicals about women in history.

While taking art classes at a university in Las Vegas, she learned about Mary Cassatt, a turn-of-the-century American painter who struggled to make her way in the male-dominated art world. After receiving a National Endowment for the Arts grant to complete this work, and enjoying a successful run of her first effort, she wrote a second musical about composer/pianist Clara Schuman, whose father controlled her musical career until she married composer Robert Schuman.

Then, because Ketchum had always been interested in how Mary Magdalene was ignored in the Bible, she decided to write a musical presenting her in various guises, including as a country western singer. Along the way, it turned into a comedy.

“All my plays are about women’s empowerment,” she said, adding that they have all had successful runs around the country.

Twelve years ago, she added another art to her repertoire—painting. Here again she focuses on the feminine, painting icon images of goddesses and some contemporary heroines, like Dolores Huerta and Ruth Bader Ginsberg. She also joined herchurch, a feminist church in San Francisco, where she serves as piano player, choir director and painting instructor. And, along with lyricist Jann Aldredge-Clanton, she has written a book of feminist chants, Hersay, Songs of Healing and Empowerment.

Currently she is showcasing a new musical, Mad Hattie Saves the World, an interactive tea party where she solicits suggestions for transformation from the audience. She is in her 50th year of teaching voice and piano in Sonoma County.

Renee Saucedo

“I’m fully bi-cultural,” is how Renee Saucedo describes herself, having spent her childhood traveling between her mother’s home in Mexico and her father’s in Saratoga, CA.

That’s what makes Saucedo uniquely qualified to help immigrant Mexican women bridge the gap between the country they left behind and their new lives in the U.S. Having spent several years as an attorney for La Raza Centro in San Francisco, and then the Graton Day Labor Center, she is now the director of Almas Libres (Free Spirits), a Sonoma County advocacy organization for Indigenous Mexican women.

Saucedo said she has always been drawn to helping Indigenous people better their lives.

“Growing up in Mexico, I became radicalized,” she said. “I saw the extreme poverty. I knew I wanted to work for oppressed people.”

Saucedo began working with the local women’s group when it was part of the Graton Day Labor Center. After she moved to the Raizes Collective, the group joined her and took the name Almas Libres. She said it provides a place where women can empower one another through sharing their stories and supporting each other along the difficult path of being an immigrant in an unfamiliar, and not always benign, new land. Las Almas is also working with state and federal organizations to create a pathway to citizenship for Mexican immigrants.

“I am so honored and privileged to work with these women,” she said. “I am a witness to their transformation, their courage and their love of family. I have been doing this work for 35 years, and I still wake up every morning excited about my work with immigrant and Indigenous women.

“They work hard, strenuous jobs, and still find the courage to support each other and work in the community for social justice,” she continued. “Many of them are forced to leave their loved ones behind, and risk their lives to come here and work to put food on their babies’ tables and provide for their elderly parents. They need citizenship to be able to travel and visit their families.”



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