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Remembering the Women of 9/11/2001

Many women were victims of the terrorist attacks on the Pentagon and World Trade Center Twin Towers on September 11, 2001. Women were heroes of 9/11, too. Some women were at Ground Zero -- though language about September 11 has sadly hidden their existence and heroism.

This article was originally written on the one-year anniversary of 9/11, with slight edits since.

Women were part of September 11 in many ways. The news media has largely focused in the year after 9/11 on women as bereaved family members. But women were September 11 victims and heroes in many ways. They died on the planes and in the offices -- they also died in rescue attempts. And women in Afghanistan have been disproportionate victims, of a "war against women" before 9/11, and as civilian "collateral damage" and refugees after.

Many women died in the World Trade Center Twin Towers and other buildings that collapsed in New York City. Military and civilian women workers in the Pentagon were among the dead there. Death made no distinction for gender on the flights that crashed into the Twin Towers, the Pentagon, and a field in Pennsylvania.

Here are a few of the women who died at the Pentagon, outside Washington, DC:

  • Samantha Allen - a budget analyst working in the Pentagon
  • Rosemary (Rosa Maria) Chapa - a civilian working for the Defense Intelligence Agency
  • Sheila Hein - a civilian, former Army photographer
  • Sgt. Tamara Thurman of the U.S. Army
  • Lt. Col. Karen Wagner of the U.S. Army

In New York City, these names serve as examples, just a few of the women working in the offices that collapsed or injured in the collapse:

  • Sophia B. Addo
  • Arlene Babakitis
  • Pamela Boyce
  • Donna Marie Giordano
  • Tara Yvette Hobbs
  • Deborah Ann Kaplan
  • Beth Ann Quigley

On American Airlines flight 11, United Airlines flight 175 and American Airlines Flight 77 women were among the victims. A few of those women were:

  • Ana Gloria Pocasangre de Barrera of San Salvador
  • Sarah Clark, Asia Cottom (11), Anna Campana Judge, and Hilda Taylor
  • Barbara Olson - conservative commentator and wife of the U.S. Solicitor General
  • Heather Lee Smith

Flight 93, apparently downed by a passenger attack on the hijackers, included many brave women among those who probably helped in the attack. These included

  • flight attendant CeeCee Lyles, a former police officer
  • Lauren Grandcolas and Linda Gronlund, Emergency Medial Technicians
  • Deora Bradley, once captain of her high school basketball team
  • Debby Welse, senior flight attendant, at six feet tall
  • Colleen Fraser, only 4'6" tall but a battler for disability rights
  • Elizabeth Wainio, whose last words on the phone to her mother were, "Mom, they're rushing the cockpit. I've got to go."

The women who talked to passengers on Flight 93 may also have contributed to the heroism. Lisa Jefferson of GTE spoke with Todd Beamer and urged him to remain calm, and later relayed his last words to his family. Many women -- mothers, wives, sisters -- received cell phone calls that were certainly the last time they'd hear from loved ones.

Also less known is that women were among the firefighters, police officers and rescue workers. As the media kept talking about "firemen" and "policemen," the existence of these women became invisible. There might have been more: women (and minority racial groups) have long alleged discrimination that's kept many women from serving in the New York City police and fire departments. Among those who died were:

  • Captain Kathy Mazza, Port Authority of New York and New Jersey Police Department
  • Moira Smith, Police Officer, New York City Police Department
  • Yamel Merino, EMT
Other women who served survived, and some have told their stories. Some worked in their official capacity as police officers, EMTs and firefighters. Thousands of other women volunteered their time, as chaplains, as doctors or nurses, as rescue workers, bringing food or other supplies, helping neighbors left homeless, and in countless other ways. Here are a few of those who served officially, with some of their stories:
  • FDNY Lietenant Brenda Berkman, who has spoken out eloquently on the invisibility of the women of Ground Zero in media coverage
  • EMT Bonnie Jean Giebfried
  • NYPD Lieutenant Terri Tobin
  • FDNY Firefighter Maureen McArdle Schulman

If the firefighters and police officers who died were mostly men, that also means that many of those men left widows and children.

Same sex partners of some of the women and men who died -- in the buildings, on the planes and as firefighters, police officers, and other rescuers -- have often had difficulty being considered for survivor benefits, adding to their struggles and loss.

In the response to the 9/11 attacks, women have served in the armed forces. Marine Sgt. Jeanette Winters was the first American woman to be killed in action, when the helicopter she was in crashed on January 9, 2002, killing all who were aboard. (Two servicewomen were among the dead on the USS Cole in October, 2000, when that ship was attacked in Yemen by terrorists.)

Women were, of course, the disproportionate victims of the Taliban in Afghanistan, before September 11. A nation where many women were professionals, well-educated, government ministers was turned into a virtual concentration camp for all women, who had to hide under body- and face-covering burkas and were not allowed to hold jobs or even go to school. Groups within Afghanistan, like the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan (RAWA), and groups outside tried to raise the alarm about the internal terrorism of women in Afghanistan for years before September 11, 2001. If the international community had done more before September 11 about the violations of women's rights in Afghanistan, who knows how history might have been different?

Women have also been the disproportionate victims of the bombing in Afghanistan. Inevitably, in bombing campaigns, women are among the civilians who are "collateral damage," and in most wars, women are 75% of the war refugees, driven from their homes and facing not only homelessness but starvation.

Women are victims and heroes, along with men, and need to be remembered in their many roles.

Women and 9/11: Books

  • Women Journalists at Ground Zero: Covering Crisis (2002)
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