Sonia Pressman Fuentes 
Image of Sonia Pressman Fuentes from Maryland Women's Hall of Fame program.

Sonia Pressman Fuentes has a reputation in Washington, the rest of the country, and internationally as a pioneering feminist and one of the initiators of the Second Wave of the womenís rights movement in this country. 

Ms. Fuentes demonstrates that the American dream can still be achieved. She came to this country as an immigrant with her immediate family and rose, by dint of hard work and determination, to positions of influence in the Federal government and in multinational corporations. She uses that influence for the betterment of minorities and women.

A feminist, writer, public speaker, and lawyer, Ms. Fuentes has devoted her education, skills and ability to fighting discrimination of all kinds and, in particular, to improving the status of women in Maryland, the United States and the world.

Ms. Fuentes and her family escaped the Holocaust in 1934. They fled from Berlin to this country where English was their fourth language.  In spite of this tumultuous beginning, Ms. Fuentes went on to distinguished academic achievement. In 1950, she graduated Phi beta Kappa from Cornell University, and in 1957, graduated first in her class and summa cum laude from the University of Miami School of Law. At that time, 3% of the nationís law school graduates were women.

For 20 years, Ms. Fuentesí served as an attorney with the Federal government. Her Federal career included working with the Department of Justice, the National Labor Relations Board, The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Ms. Fuentes was the first women attorney in the General Counselís Office at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), receiving an Outstanding Achievement Award for her work there. She was responsible for drafting a number of the EEOCís initial landmark guidelines and decisions. Additionally, she was the staff person who was identified with enunciating the EEOCís interpretations of the sex discrimination prohibitions of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the law that prohibits employment discrimination. This landmark Act prohibited discrimination based on race, color, religions, sex and nationality by covered employers, employment agencies and labor unions. It was later amended to also prohibit discrimination based on age and mental or physical disability.

In the 1960ís and early 1970ís, Ms. Fuentes was a founder of the National Organization for Women (NOW). The Womenís Equity Action League (WEAL), and Federally Employed Women (FEW), all nationwide organizations. She received the Veteran Feminists of America Medal of Honor for her work for women and she was one of four recipients of the 1999 Women at Work Award of Wider Opportunities for Women, a nationwide organizations, based in Washington, D.C., that works to achieve economic self-sufficiency for women.

Ms. Fuentes spent over 10 years as an attorney and executive at the headquarters of two multinational corporations, GTE in Stamford, Connecticut and TRW in Cleveland, Ohio. At each of these corporations, she was the highest positioned woman at headquarters. At TRW, she was director of compliance management, with responsibility for equal employment opportunity and affirmative action for this 90,000-employee corporation. She was chosen one of Clevelandís six top women executives by the New Cleveland Woman Journal (Feb. 1984, vol. 1. No.11).

Following her retirement, Ms. Fuentes worked as an attorney volunteer for the Montgomery County Human Relation Commissioner. In addition, she serves on the Board of Trustees of the National Womanís Party (NWP) and the Veteran Feminists of America. Also, she is a life long member of the NAACP.

Further, in 1998, she published her memoirs, Eat First. You Donít Know What Theyíll Give You. The Adventures of an Immigrant Family and Their Feminist Daughter.

Eli Ginzberg, a Columbia University economist and chair of the National Commission for Manpower Policy, said that the increase in the number and proportion of women who work is the single most outstanding phenomenon of our century. Sonia Pressman Fuentes played a significant role in bringing about the change. She has dedicated the past 35 years of her life to making equal rights for women, not just a slogan, but a reality.


© Copyright Maryland State Archives, 2001