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The Ackermann Room Project

A stately wood-paneled public meeting space in Cambridge’s City Hall, the Ackermann Room was renamed in 1982 to honor Barbara Ackerman, a former mayor of Cambridge (1972-73). In the words of then-mayor Alfred Vellucci, this renaming was meant to “signify to the women of the world that the City of Cambridge, for the first time since its beginnings in 1620, has recognized the work of women.” However, of the thirteen portraits of civic leaders that have hung on the walls all these years, only one has been that of a woman.

In the summer of 2021, Cambridge City Councilor E Denise Simmons began the Ackermann Room Project, working with a group of Cambridge students to reconsider the imagery in the space. Now in 2023, after careful consideration, the list of candidates has been finalized, showcasing a group of impactful, dynamic, and diverse women.

 

All of the individuals recognized through this project have lived lives of notable public service, and it’s our honor to highlight their contributions to shaping the Cambridge of today. 

The Women of the Ackermann Room

Squaw Sachem
SQUAW SACHEM

17th Century Leader of the Massachusett Tribe

 

The distinguished leader of the Massachusett tribe, Squaw Sachem of Mistick (circa 1590-1650 or 1667), played a crucial role in granting substantial tracts of eastern Massachusetts to the early colonial settlers. Her autograph, housed in Cambridge City Hall, stands as a testament to her legacy, as no credible paintings of her are known to exist.


Having lost her husband, Nanepashemet, who was the Sachem of the Pawtucket Confederation, Squaw Sachem adeptly governed the Confederation's territories following 1619. Her given name, however, remains a mystery. In the 1630s, she collaborated with other Indigenous peoples to cede land in Concord to the colonists. Later, she married Wompachowet, a spiritual leader of her tribe, also referred to as Webcowit or Webcowet.


Squaw Sachem gifted expansive lands, including modern-day Newton, Arlington, Somerville, Malden, and Charlestown, which encompassed Cambridge and Watertown, in 1639. She spent her twilight years near what is now Medford, Massachusetts, and passed away sometime between 1650 and 1667.


Her enduring legacy is celebrated through the Boston Women's Heritage Trail, and her sons, Wonohaquaham, Montowampate, and Wenepoykin, carried on as tribal chiefs. It is important to note that Squaw Sachem is occasionally misidentified as other Squaw Sachems like Awashonks and Weetamoo.

Francis Cooper
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FRANCIS COOPER

First African American Woman on the Cambridge School Committee

 

First African American woman to serve on School Committee, she was a teacher and artist, active member of Harvard Epworth Church 

 

Fran Cooper, a dedicated public servant and advocate for education, served on the Cambridge School Committee from 1984 to 1991. After initially resisting the call to run, Cooper eventually stepped up, balancing her responsibilities as a mother to four young children with her commitment to the community. During her tenure, she distinguished herself by initiating a parent feedback survey, a teacher recognition program, and a comprehensive teacher orientation program. Cooper also held multiple leadership roles, including Vice Chair of the School Committee and Co-Chair of the Superintendent Search Committee. Beyond the Committee, she served as Corporation President at Central School, and as a Member of the Community Learning Center Board of Directors, where she also volunteered as a counselor for the Adult GED Program. An alumnus of Pennsylvania State University and Harvard University, Cooper’s profound impact on Cambridge education continues to be felt.

Rita Arditi
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RITA ARDITTI

Biologist, Educator, Activist

 

Rita Arditti (1934-2009) was a trailblazing Argentine biologist, educator, activist, and writer. Born in Buenos Aires, she earned a doctorate in biology at the University of Rome and conducted laboratory research in Italy and the U.S. for over a decade. Arditti spent the last 30 years of her career teaching doctoral students at The Union Institute and University.


A dedicated activist, Arditti co-founded Science for the People, New Words Bookstore, and the Women's Community Cancer Project. She authored the influential book, Searching for Life: The Grandmothers of Plaza de Mayo and the Disappeared Children of Argentina (1999), and co-edited Science and Liberation (1980) and Test Tube Women: What Future for Motherhood? (1984).


Arditti's work with the Grandmothers of Plaza de Mayo brought international attention to the human rights abuses during Argentina's Dirty War, and her book on the subject was instrumental in supporting their nomination for the Nobel Peace Prize in 2001.


Throughout her life, Rita Arditti was an inspiration to countless individuals and made lasting contributions to the fields of biology, education, activism, and human rights. Her legacy lives on in the hearts of those she touched and the causes she championed.

Renae Gray
RENAE GRAY

Civil Rights Activist

Born on April 19, 1951, Renae Gray was a devoted civil rights activist, mentor, and cherished member of the Cambridge community. After settling in Cambridge in 1973, she ran for City Council in 1987 and 1989.


A tireless advocate for women's rights, the LGBTQ+ community, and the Port community, Renae served organizations like the Haymarket People's Fund, Boston Women's Fund, and YWCA. She received the 2016 Bayard Rustin Service Award for her exceptional efforts.


Renae's commitment to social justice extended internationally, serving as a UN Observer during Nelson Mandela's presidential election. At the Margaret Fuller Neighborhood House, she led Elder Programming, fostering inclusion and respect for elders. As YWCA Cambridge Board of Trustees Chair, Renae was honored with the Ruth Barron Award for outstanding community service.


Renae's warmth, generosity, and passion for civic engagement won her numerous friends and admirers at Union Baptist Church, City Hall, and throughout the Greater Boston Region. She leaves behind her daughter, Michelle Scott, and a loving extended family of friends. Renae Gray's indomitable spirit will continue to shine upon Cambridge for years to come.

Cheryl-Ann Pizza-Zeoli
CHERYL-ANN PIZZA-ZEOLI

Affordable Housing Activist

 

Cheryl-Ann Pizza-Zeoli (1957-2019) was a dedicated affordable housing activist and lifelong advocate for Cambridge residents. With degrees from Williams College, Simmons College, and the University of Massachusetts, she possessed a unique blend of academic expertise and practical experience. As a founding member of the Alliance of Cambridge Tenants (ACT), Cheryl-Ann helped establish the first U.S. citywide organization representing both public housing and voucher tenants equally.


Her 20-year tenure on the CEOC Board of Directors exemplified her commitment to social issues, including affordable housing, income inequality, and immigrants' rights. As both ACT's Voucher Co-Chair and Chair of its Policy Committee, Cheryl-Ann played a significant role in shaping housing policies and protecting tenants' rights.


Cheryl-Ann's appointment to the Cambridge Affordable Housing Trust in 2014 further demonstrated her impact on the community. Her contributions to the City's comprehensive housing plan and participation in the Mayor's Blue Ribbon Task Force on Tenant Displacement solidified her status as a tireless advocate for affordable housing.


Cheryl-Ann Pizza-Zeoli's legacy lives on through the countless Cambridge residents who enjoy safe, secure, and affordable homes thanks to her dedicated work. As a notable woman of Cambridge, her portrait in City Hall serves as a lasting tribute to her passion and commitment to a more equitable community.

Zelma Bostick
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ZELMA BOSTICK

Community Leader, Veteran

 

Zelma Edina Bostick was a trailblazer and dedicated community leader, making lasting impacts through her achievements and commitment to social justice. Her passion for languages emerged at Boston Latin School for Girls, shaping her life's work.


Holding degrees in Business Management, Divinity, and Education, Zelma was a loving mother to her daughter, Alinda Asiam. As an Itinerant Elder in the African Methodist Episcopal Church, she actively addressed critical issues like affordable healthcare, unfair housing, and decarceration. Her grant writing talents benefited her congregations immensely.


Zelma's mentorship guided young people through their educational journeys. Her military service as a Lieutenant and Active-Duty Chaplain in the United States Navy made her just the 7th female African American Chaplain on active duty, and she co-founded the Cambridge Women Veterans’ Organization.


Zelma's inspiring legacy, honored with her portrait in city hall, encourages future generations to remember and cherish her contributions to society.

Sara Mae Berman
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SARA MAE BERMAN

Cambridge School Committee Member, Athlete

 

Sara Mae Berman, born in 1936 in The Bronx, NY, is a trailblazing athlete and dedicated public servant. As the first woman to win the Boston Marathon in 1969, 1970, and 1971, her victories contributed to her successful election to the Cambridge School Committee in 1975. Berman served four terms, tackling significant challenges like desegregation, budget cuts, and passing one of the first school-choice laws.


Berman's impressive athletic career also includes being named to the first Women's National Cross-country Ski Team in 1968 and competing in ski orienteering World Championships. She co-founded the respected Cambridge Sports Union with her husband Larry, who also played a vital role in her athletic success.


A graduate of the Rhode Island School of Design, Berman worked as an interior design consultant for 20 years. Following her political career, she and Larry published a national magazine, Orienteering North America, for 15 years. Berman remains actively involved in local politics and neighborhood issues, continuing her lifelong commitment to public service and community engagement.

Eva Martin Blythe
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EVA MARTIN BLYTHE

Former Executive Director of YWCA Cambridge

 

Eva Martin Blythe, a dedicated and influential leader, served as the Executive Director of YWCA Cambridge for 13 years until her departure in December 2020. With an unwavering commitment to the betterment of the community, Eva championed women's causes, expanded YWCA Cambridge's services, and advocated for affordable housing. Her tenure witnessed numerous programs and campaigns aimed at eradicating racism and empowering girls to reach their full potential.


Eva's extensive experience with the YWCA spans over two decades, beginning as the Executive Director of YWCA in Kansas City, Missouri, and later leading a regional YWCA in Ontario, Canada for 15 years. She focused on supporting women and families in areas such as housing, domestic violence shelters, childcare, early learning, and health and wellness programming.


A graduate of the University of Kansas, Eva initially worked as the Director of Operations and Campaign Manager for Congressman James Slattery, later serving as the Director of Constituent Services in his Washington office.
Throughout her illustrious career, Eva has received numerous accolades, including the 2019 Inspire Award, the 2018 Bayard Rustin Service Award, and the 2012 Peace and Justice Award. These recognitions exemplify her lifelong dedication to peacemaking and civil rights advancement
.

Margaret Drury
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MARGARET DRURY

First Female Cambridge City Clerk

 

Margaret Drury, a trailblazing figure in Cambridge, was the city's very first female City Clerk. Born in Newport, Vermont, and raised in Randolph, Massachusetts, she majored in English literature at Syracuse University before earning her Juris Doctor degree from Suffolk University Law School.
Following her c
lerkship for the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Rhode Island, Margaret joined the Massachusetts Committee on Criminal Justice as a regional planner under Patricia McGovern. They both contributed to the founding of the Women's Bar Association.


Margaret's career with the City of Cambridge began as a hearing examiner for the Rent Control Board. With her exceptional skills and dedication, she was promoted to Deputy Director, then Executive Director. In 1992, she was appointed City Clerk.


A milestone during Margaret's tenure was the Massachusetts Supreme Court's 2003 decision granting marriage rights to same-sex couples. She promptly ensured that the City Clerk's Office accepted marriage license applications for same-sex couples starting May 17, 2004 - making Cambridge the first city in the nation to issue these licenses. 
Margaret Drury retired in 2014, leaving a widely-respected legacy as a trailblazer and devoted public servant.

Christine Elow
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CHRISTINE ELOW

First Woman Cambridge Police Commissioner

 

Officially sworn in as the permanent commissioner in January 2022, Christine Elow shattered glass ceilings as the first woman and Cambridge native to head the force since its founding in 1859. Her momentous appointment on Martin Luther King Jr. Day highlighted her influential role as an inspiring figure for young girls of color within the community.


A proud Navy veteran and committed public servant, Elow began her journey with the Cambridge Police Department in 1995. Throughout her career, she held various key positions, including in the Professional Standards Unit, Patrol Division, and ultimately serving as the highest-ranking female officer in the department's history. Embracing her passion for social work and community engagement, Elow now commands a 329-person force with a $69 million budget.


Dedicated to fostering transformative change in public safety and working in harmony with the community, Elow has garnered well-deserved admiration. As she assumed this exceptional opportunity, her forward-thinking leadership was set to position the Cambridge Police Department as a benchmark for policing across Massachusetts and the United States.

Sara Garcia
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SARA GARCIA
First Latino to serve on School Committee, 1986-1987
 

Sara Olivia Garcia, a stalwart advocate for bilingual education, launched her public service career in 1985 with a successful run for the Cambridge School Committee. She served one term, from 1986-1987, and was the first Latino to serve upon the School Committee. She earned significant support from Latino and Haitian communities, underscoring her commitment to immigrant rights.

As Chairperson of the Committee on Bilingual Education, Garcia implemented a program to aid undocumented parents and students in understanding their rights, reinforcing her devotion to educational equity.

Garcia's career extends over four decades, serving as a teacher, advisor, consultant, and researcher. Her initial role as a teacher at McKinley Magnet School laid the foundation for positions such as Multi-Cultural Specialist for the World Health Jamaica High School Project, Staff Development Consultant and Advisor at Something Good in the World, and Associate Director at the Education Development Center, Inc.

With a BA in Special Education from Mount Saint Mary College and an EdD from the School for Educational Leadership for Change at Fielding Graduate University, Garcia's academic credentials mirror her professional achievements. Now residing in New York City, Garcia continues to impact the educational landscape as a Trainer and Consultant for The Efficacy Institute, Inc., and a Parent Educator at Ramapo for Children.

Her portrait in Cambridge City Hall stands as a testament to her enduring dedication to education and advocacy, celebrating her contributions to the betterment of diverse and marginalized communities.

Saundra Graham
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SAUNDRA GRAHAM

Community Activist, Politician

 

Saundra Graham, born on September 5, 1941, in Cambridge, Massachusetts, is a community activist and politician. Raised in a large family, she attended public schools, the University of Massachusetts, and Harvard University Extension. After her divorce, she raised her five children as a single parent. Graham became a prominent community leader, serving on the Cambridge Community Center Board, the Riverside Planning Team, and the Riverside Cambridgeport Community Development Corporation. Known for her advocacy for affordable housing and rent control, she also led protests against Harvard University's real estate expansion, ultimately securing commitments for elderly and family housing complexes.


In 1971, Graham became the first woman of color elected to the Cambridge City Council, later serving as Vice-Mayor and chairing various committees. As State Representative from 1976 to 1988, she was the first black woman representative from Cambridge, chairing the Massachusetts Black Legislative Caucus and serving on the Joint House-Senate Committee on Housing and Urban Development. Graham also founded the Childcare Coalition and worked on peace initiatives, such as co-chairing the Massachusetts Coalition for the 1983 March on Washington. She has received numerous awards, including the 1976 National Sojourner Truth Award, and the Graham and Parks Alternative Public School was named in her honor. Though no longer an elected official, she continues to be an influential political figure.

Lisa Peterson
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LISA PETERSON

(Title)

 

Lisa C. Peterson dedicated over two decades to serving the City of Cambridge, beginning her career as Public Works Commissioner in 2001. She was later promoted to Deputy City Manager in 2013, and even held the role of acting City Manager between October 1, 2016 and November 14, 2016. Throughout her tenure, Lisa prioritized the needs of Cambridge residents and played a pivotal role in the city's major public construction projects, including the $160 million King Open and Cambridge Street Upper Schools and Community Complex.


Beyond her primary responsibilities, Lisa worked tirelessly for the betterment of the community by chairing the Community Benefits Advisory Committee and the Community Preservation Act Committee. Her dedication to ensuring that vulnerable populations were supported and included in the city's decision-making process earned her the Brian Murphy Award in 2019.


Lisa Peterson's unwavering dedication, strong leadership, and resolute commitment to the City of Cambridge left a lasting impact on the community. Her inclusive and compassionate approach helped shape the city's many successes.

Carolyn Turk
CAROLYN TURK

Educator, School and District Administrator

Born and raised in Cambridge, Dr. Carolyn Turk has devoted her life to education and community empowerment, inspired by her mother, Muriel W. Turk, a dedicated 3rd-grade teacher in the Boston Public Schools. Dr. Turk's own journey in the Cambridge Public Schools began as a kindergarten student in the early 60s, a journey that would come full circle as she rose through the ranks of education, taking her to the position of Deputy Superintendent at Cambridge Public Schools. 

 

Over her career, spanning from 1977 to the present, Dr. Turk has held various roles, such as classroom teacher and school/district administrator. Her unwavering dedication to education has made her an esteemed figure in the City of Cambridge.

 

A passionate advocate for young people, Dr. Turk has consistently pushed for access to leadership opportunities that support academic achievement, civic engagement, and personal growth and development. Her tireless efforts have positively impacted the lives of countless students and have left an indelible mark on the community.

 

In her leisure time, Dr. Turk enjoys connecting with her mother and the community through shared activities such as tending to porch-grown tomatoes, engaging in meaningful conversations with neighbors, or appreciating the serene environment of Fresh Pond Reservation. Dr. Carolyn Turk's ongoing commitment to education and the City of Cambridge continues to inspire future generations.

Special Thanks To:

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