Sunday, August 10, 2014

Fukuoka 60th Anniversary Part 3 - Women Leadership

A few weeks ago, the paper reported that the Church of England voted to allow women to become bishops for the first time in its history. It's hard to realize that sexual discrimination still existed in the Anglican hierarchy, as I know quite a few women have been ordained in ministerial positions. It’s surely a welcome and overdue change.

Helen Blanchard
Today our Toastmasters Worldwide Organizations boasts 100 Districts. Of the 100 District Governors, men and women governors are split 50-50, equally and ideally balanced. Toastmasters International has come a long way,

It was 1970 when Helen Blanchard applied for a membership with the San Diego Naval R&D (her work site) Toastmasters chapter. The club may have been willing to let her in but Toastmaster headquarters’ position banning women hadn’t changed then. When local members submitted her application, her gender was disguised by turning the first name to Homer.

Toastmasters then quickly made an about face and ruled it gender free. Helen advanced up the ladder and in 1985 she was the first woman International President. I attended San Diego Toastmasters Convention but my official Toastmasters membership was after 1994, the year of my retirement when I left San Diego. I know and have seen Helen from a distance but missed the chance to talk with her in person.

Yoshiko Mohri

Upon visiting Fukuoka Toastmasters on my return to Japan, I found Yoshiko Mohri, as the 'Helen Blanchard' of Japan. She joined Fukuoka Toastmasters in 1972, probably one of the very few women Toastmaster trailblazers back in the pioneering days. Fukuoka can compete well with San Diego when it comes to history of women leaders. DTM Mohri held her membership for over 40 years to date without any interruption. She saw Fukuoka club’s 20th, 30th, 40th, 50th and 60th anniversaries!

At the recent 60th Anniversary, I asked her if she was the first woman joining Fukuoka. “No, I was not the first,” was the immediate response. She showed me a photo static copy of the 20th Anniversary where I counted a dozen women. “Fantastic! In 1974, you had a dozen women members out of 20.” “Oh, I remembered a women college professor member brought some of her students… Of all the women members, I might have been the 5th”. In 2006, DTM Mohri served as District Lieutenant Governor for Education/Training, and in 2013 she chaired the D76 Fall Convention in Fukuoka.

I’m impressed with her knowledge and cool application of adult techniques, yet she is considerate with business-like-contacts and responses and full of common sense. Perhaps they are gifts from her travel related trade experiences. Once, she and I had a chance to greet our mutual Taiwan Toastmaster friends in Fukuoka. I liked her excellent choices of restaurant and the entertainment.

Shoko Akie
I pursued with persistence whom she could identify as Fukuoka women leaders like her in the past, serving as officers such as VPs and Presidents. Three names were given: Chieko Kawashima in the 1960s - 70s, Shoko Akie in the 1965 - 76 and Mitsuko Nishimura, later in mid 1980s - 90s. I could not find any records regarding Chieko Kawashima whom other members remembered as a hard worker, always cheerful and friendly. Shoko Akie (born in 1920) is Professor Emeritus of Fukuoka Women's University, holder of the Government’s 3rd Order of the Sacred Treasure for her lifetime contribution to women studies and gender equality campaigns. She authored a book comparing two distinguished educators, Horace Mann (1796-1859) and Yurei Mori (1847-1889). DTM Mohri is proud of such high caliber women as members of the Fukuoka Toastmaster. I know the late Mitsuko Nishimura well because she, Albert Moe and I co founded Kitakyushu Toastmasters in 1997. Mitsuko commuted from Kitakyushu to Fukuoka by train then. I will feature her on a future blog post.
Chieko Kawashima (third person from right)