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Cathy Hirko: Sharing an example of gender discrimination

When I was first pitched a story about Sherry Knowlton’s work as an author, I was intrigued. So I did what any editor does, I googled her.

One of the first online results was a November 2016 New York Times article that featured dozens of women’s personal experiences – Knowlton’s included – on gender discrimination.

I remember reading the piece when it was first published on Nov. 12. Knowlton’s example stood out. It both saddened and, frankly, pissed me off.

I ended up writing a story about Knowlton’s recent publishing career, a career that blossomed after she retired. You can read that here.

But I was also curious as to how Knowlton became a featured subject in the Times story.

Knowlton told me she was scrolling through her Facebook feed when a post from the The New York Times made her pause. It asked people to share their stories on gender discrimination.

The inquiry’s timing was precise. It was shortly after the November 2016 election – an emotionally raw and disappointing time for staunch Hillary Clinton supporters.

“So many women, especially women in my age range, were destroyed by this election,” said Knowlton, a Cumberland County resident.

Knowlton, now 66, supported Clinton for years: during the 1990s, and when she first ran for president in 2008.

“I thought she would make a very good president,”  Knowlton said. “My God, it’s time. When over 50 percent of the population are women.”

Knowlton decided to answer the Times’ Facebook request.

Her example dated back to the 1960s, her teen years. She applied to be a page for Sen. Hugh Scott of Pennsylvania. Her grades were excellent and she was among the top of her class in Chambersburg High School. She thought she had a good shot.

Sadly, her application wasn’t even considered because of her gender.

“I can still remember standing in our dining room after school and tearing open the letter with the fancy gold Senate seal — only to find I’d been rejected,” she wrote for the Times. “Not because I wasn’t qualified, but because I was born female.”

Almost 1,200 other women responded to the Times to share their stories. Knowlton’s example led all other submissions when the piece published online.

“I was shocked,” she said. “It was pretty amazing.”

Others were touched by Knowlton’s story and reached out to her.

One woman, just a few years younger than Knowlton, wrote that she was in the first class of Senate pages that accepted women. It was groundbreaking, but far from easy.

“She shared how she went into their offices and some of the senators wouldn’t talk to her because they were so pissed off that there were women pages,” Knowlton said.

Another response, this one from a teenage girl currently serving as a Senate intern, wanted to console Knowlton.

“I wanted you to know that girls can be pages now,” the teen wrote.

“I sat at the computer and cried,” Knowlton said. “People were so touched by it that they wanted to reach out to me, somebody who they didn’t know and say, ‘It’s all right, it’s fixed now.'”

In this month’s newsletter

Knowlton is our cover story this month in the Women in Leadership newsletter. Now 66, Knowlton, has had an interesting life and career path. From the hippie culture of the late 1960s/70s, to the buttoned-down world of the state capital, she has worked in varied environments.

This next chapter for her is semi-retirement, and she’s just getting started in the publishing world. Here’s that story.

At last month’s WIL roundtable, financial literacy among businesswomen was one of the topics that surfaced. Specifically, the lack thereof. Reporter Roger DuPuis delved into this topic. He interviewed Tara Mashack-Behney, a partner and president of Conrad Siegel Investment Advisors.

Una Martone’s name has bounced around my circle for the past year. Many wanted us to meet. There’s a good reason why. Martone is synonymous with midstate leadership, having spent 10 years at president of Leadership Harrisburg Area. Read her story here.

Brandalynn Armstrong shares what it’s like to co-own Zeroday Brewing Co. The beer industry is largely comprised of men, but she is holding her own.

From our National Small Business Week issue, we’ve unlocked a story that features three women business owners sharing their experiences in the bridal shop industry. Click here to read about how they’re adapting to the ever-changing retail climate.

Cathy Hirko
Cathy Hirko is managing editor, news, for the Central Penn Business Journal and Lehigh Valley Business. Email her at chirko@cpbj.com.

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