Calista Selena Jones was the first woman in Jamestown to receive the same pay for the same job as the man she replaced. She received $1 per day as the principal of one of the school districts. The exact year has not surfaced; however it occurred in the mid-1800s, many years before women in general earned a college degree, worked outside the home or had the right to vote.
Calista was born May 25, 1823, in the town of Ellicott. Her early education was received in private schools and she continued to read and study on her own throughout her life. She began teaching in 1841, continuing her career in education until her death in 1900, when she was the high school librarian. During her career she was instrumental in establishing Jamestown Union School on the site of the current Jamestown High School.
In the 1894 history of Chautauqua County, she is cited for her "faithfulness, persistence and energy." The Chautauqua County Schools and Education 1802-1902 volume noted that Ellicott and Jamestown "owe more to her than to any other person their great success in all their educational undertakings." She is also referred to as "the fearless sergeant in command of the educational picket line in the struggle to subdue ignorance and vice." It has been claimed that she was the first woman in Jamestown to vote - women did have the right to vote in local school elections in the late 1800s.
However, Calista's greatest claim to fame for the Jamestown AAUW was her successful effort to achieve pay equity. When a man failed in his management of a school in one of Jamestown's districts, the school trustees asked Calista to replace him. She replied in the affirmative - IF - she received the same pay as he did. The aghast trustees said "no"; Calista replied "no." However, the trustees knew she was the only person qualified in every way and appointed her on her terms.
Calista remained an anomaly for over a century. In the mid-1900s, women were receiving an average 59 cents for every dollar earned by men. Today, the disparity has lessened, but remains at 78-80 cents per every dollar overall. Yes, there are professions and businesses where women's pay/salaries are equal. However, averaged out, women must work 15-16 months to receive the same compensation men receive in 12 months. The exact date this year is Tuesday, April 17, when we take note of Pay Equity Day, the date women catch up for 2011.
In 1982, the Jamestown AAUW established the Circle of Distinction to celebrate Women's History Week (later Month) and to recognize and honor the area's women who pioneered in the 19th and early 20th centuries in securing equality for women in all fields of endeavor. Calista Selena Jones was the first honoree. Now, 30 years later, it is time to honor her again.
In 1982, the difference was 59 cents to the dollar Today it is 78-80 cents to the dollar. Women have gained ground, but full equality is still elusive. We have gained 20 cents, there remains another 20 cents to gain.
Please join AAUW on Tuesday in a commitment to achieve full pay equity for all women in all fields of employment.
Calista will be smiling.
B. Dolores Thompson is City of Jamestown historian, Jamestown AAUW public policy chair, and long-time advocate of equal rights for women and for all minorities in our community.