by Diane Minor
Jessica Glasser was a student intern who took the NOW National Action Center by storm two years ago. As an intern in our Communications Department, she contributed to a video we produced on electing more feminist women to Congress. She may well have been bound for Congress someday herself.
"Jessica had incredible energy, she was one of those go-getter interns," said Amy Tracy, former NOW press secretary and intern coordinator. "She was one of the most positive interns I ever met. She never, ever said a negative word, never made a crack."
And she was someone to contend with even on paper, long before she came to our offices. Jessica's internship application included a cover letter describing life experiences that had already inspired her to turn her anger into energy and her frustration into ambition, as she put it.
The letter described her work at a law office, where she noted that almost all of the attorneys were men, and all of the secretaries were women. In jobs at a beach, a TV station and a U.S. senator's office, she had felt belittled and treated as a sex object.
Jessica's application also included a 47-word description of a feminist that had large, white letters reversed out of a black background. She sent her description to her father for his comments.
"I said pack your bags and get a place to live in Washington," said her father, Richard, but Jessica questioned his confidence. "I told her if they've filled the spots, they're going to create a new one for you."
Those striking words were read at Jessica's funeral recently. She died in a car accident May 24 at age 22.
One man who attended the funeral asked for a copy of Jessica's definition to read to his own daughter. "I want her to learn to think in that inclusive way about what feminism means," he said.
This remarkable young woman had just graduated magna cum laude from Emory University in Atlanta and was bound for law school at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville. She was the first student ever selected to Emory's honors program as a women's studies major.
Jessica had written a 179-page thesis on women and welfare, which her father says is filled with "staggering" statistics and a perceptive analysis. It was no doubt partly the result of her contact with another NOW activist who died within the past year, former NOW Action Organizer Faith Evans.
It was Jessica who in turn inspired Emory student Laura Perlman to start the school's first journal for women's voices, called A Circle of Women. The first issue leads off with two journal entries by Jessica about her experiences with welfare women.
Jessica and her sister, Hara, grew up in a Norfolk, Va., family that her mother, Jane Ellen Glasser, calls "a household of three women." "We were connected by spirit and a love of words," said Jane Ellen Glasser, a writer and poet who teaches in an inner city school. "Jessie was gifted in words on the page, but also as a spokesperson."
Jessica's father had turned his law firm from one that represented banks, to one that went 10 years with little income while he helped change the statute of limitations for asbestos victims, according to Jane Ellen Glasser.
"I really think that instead of joining her Dad's law firm, Jessica was going to do something for women, particularly poor women, and was going to be politically active for the poor. It's really such a loss, because she was so bent on making change."
Despite their deep sorrow, Jessica's family sought a way to both honor and continue her work. They have established a memorial fund in her name with NOW. The proceeds go to provide scholarships to students who could not otherwise afford to be interns at the Action Center.
For more information, contact Kristin Teigen, 202-628-8669, ext. 722. To make a contribution, send it in memory of Jessica Rachel Glasser, c/o NOW, 733 15th Street NW, 2nd Floor, Washington, D.C. 20005.