When it comes to leadership in San Antonio, women are finally taking their place at the head of the table.
San Antonio’s current leadership includes Mayor Ivy Taylor, only the second female mayor in the city’s history. She and state Sen. Leticia Van de Putte are vying for the job against two male candidates, Mike Villarreal and Tommy Adkisson. City Manager Sheryl Sculley has become the most recognized big city manager in the country of either gender.
Sculley and Taylor were among millions of women across the globe to celebrate International Women’s Day at a Monday luncheon hosted downtown, a celebration of women’s suffrage and equal representation in politics.
International Women’s Day has celebrated the social, economic and political achievements of women for decades.The occasion gives women an opportunity to push for equality and women’s rights.
Hundreds of other local leaders joined in at the 9th annual International Women’s Day Luncheon, hosted by The Mayor’s Commission on the Status of Women.
San Antonio’s contemporary history of strong women leaders began decades ago when one woman had the courage to stand and make a difference. She became an enduring role model, one still active in the public arena, even into her 90s.
Lila Cockrell: Leader of the Pack
At the robust age of 92, Lila Cockrell still remains an icon to women in all walks of life across the city. Despite her advanced age, Cockrell remains active and mentally sharp. Her vivacity and passion for women rights hasn’t faltered. It’s common to see younger generation of leaders crowding around her at public events.
“I see so much progress in (women’s rights). My husband and I moved to San Antonio in 1956, although I had two daughters. The norm was to stay home and mind my own business,” Cockrell laughed. “It didn’t work out. I started getting involved.”
By 1963, Cockrell was elected to City Council. It was the beginning of a long and fruitful career.
On May 7, 1970 Cockrell established The Mayor’s Commission on the Status of Women. The commission served as advisors to the City Council on matters affecting employment, education, social, civic and political participation and opportunities by women. There are currently 11 women on the commission. Over the years, the commission has raised money for the Pathways to Leadership Scholarship Fund, which helps women return to school and move on to better paying jobs.
Cockrell served on City Council for a decade, and was elected mayor in 1975. She is considered the first woman to govern a major metropolis.
“From then on, I wanted to serve in a manner that would keep the doors open for other women to follow,” Cockrell said. “When you have a door open, you move through and you learn and grow as you go and fight for issues you think are important.”
Making History: Sculley and Taylor
“San Antonio is and always has been a city of opportunity. … It is not stretching the truth to say the city would not be what it is today without the strong women who shaped it,” Taylor said at the Monday luncheon.
Taylor also is the city’s first African-American mayor and San Antonio is the largest city to have a black woman as mayor.
“Who is responsible for protecting our past, creating our present success and catalyzing our future? A bunch of women, that’s who.” Taylor said. “From Adina DeZavala, Clara Driscoll, the San Antonio Conservation Society, to our own Lila Cockrell.
“It is women who understood the soul of San Antonio, grasped what made us different from other cities, and struggled to preserve and build it.” Taylor said.
“It was the city mothers who had to set the city fathers straight.” Taylor added jokingly.
Programs such as Pre-K 4 SA allow mothers to provide children with a top-notch early childhood education while giving the opportunity to be in the workplace without worrying for their child’s well-being. Despite the great amount of change happening in the city, it isn’t enough, according to both Sculley and Taylor.
“I think we have made a lot of advancements,” Sculley said. “There has been a lot of advancements for women in the community, but there is still a lot to do.”
According to Taylor, approximately 1 in every 5 adults in the city is functionally illiterate.
“We still have a lot to do. There is no opportunity for women who can’t read or do basic math. They may be stuck in dead-end jobs, or tied to public assistance or even tied to damaging or unstable relationships. We need to give them the tools to advance,” Taylor said.
Adult literacy services recently have been integrated into several San Antonio Public Libraries, and programs such as Project QUEST and Each One, Teach One (founded by a woman, as well) have helped combat the issue. Taylor has requested additional funding for said encouraging literacy programs.
“San Antonio can and must continue to be a city of opportunity for all of us, but especially for those that have not had education or assistance that will allow them to flourish,” Taylor said. “We have the obligation to continue the legacy that the women of the past have paved for us.”
*Featured/top image: (From left) Former mayor Lila Cockrell, Edith McAllister, and City Manager Sheryl Sculley pose for a photo during the International Women’s Day luncheon. Photo by Amanda Lozano.