We are saddened by the passing of extraordinary leader and true trailblazer Glendora Putnam. A former president of the boards of YWCA USA and of YWCA Boston, Ms. Putnam dedicated her career to civil rights and justice.
In 2013, Glendora was honored at YWCA Boston’s Academy of Women Achievers Luncheon, where current YWCA USA CEO Dara Richardson-Heron presented her with the Sandra B. Henriquez Racial Justice Award. As Dr. Richardson-Heron noted then, “Ms. Glendora Putnam’s actions speak volumes and at very high decibels. Truly her strength of character and determination to enhance the lives of others and pass her brilliant torch on to the next generation is exemplary.” You can watch Ms. Putnam’s full acceptance speech here.
A graduate of Bennett College, Ms. Putnam went on to Boston University Law School and graduated in 1948, at a time when few African-Americans had access to higher education. Reflecting on her decision to pursue higher education, Ms. Putnam said, “I decided that I was going to law school, and I was going to kick open every door that had ever been shut on me.”
After being admitted to the Massachusetts Bar in 1949, she continued to blaze new trails. “She would not be deterred, even when she faced gender and racial inequality and was essentially told that even with her law degree, since she didn’t know how to type, she really didn’t have marketable skills because back then apparently women were hired to be typists, not lawyers,” said Dr. Richardson-Heron. Ms. Putnam continued on. She persevered. She became the first African-American woman to occupy the post of as assistant attorney general for civil rights in Massachusetts, and she later also served as chair of the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination and as Deputy Assistant Secretary for Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity in Washington, DC.
In 1972, Ms. Putnam joined the YWCA National governing body, and in 1985, she became president of the YWCA USA National Board. In 2007, the Museum of African American History, Boston, recognized her as a Living Legend and presented her with a Lifetime Achievement award. Legend and a lifetime full of achievements, indeed. As Dr. Richardson-Heron remarked so astutely, “Just a brief review of her life and legacy makes it clear that at some point, life threw down a gauntlet that she absolutely could not ignore.” We couldn’t agree more with Ms. Putnam’s own assertion that she “put a dent” in our country’s discrimination and segregation. For over six decades, Ms. Putnam fought for civil rights and social justice, dedicating herself to eliminating racism, empowering women, and promoting peace, justice, freedom, and dignity for all. She will be greatly missed.