by Jennifer Lynn Robinson

On Sunday, July 24th, the historic Fairmount Water Works hosted nine women who were recognized as “firsts” in their fields. This event was created by The Walnut Club, founded by Marla McDermott in 2015. The Walnut Club is a community of over 100 diverse, forward-thinking, professional women. You can learn more about this organization here: The event was scheduled to help kick off the DNC in Philadelphia.


The event included a VIP reception, tours of Fairmount Water Works, performances, great local food, and more. A highlight included Lynn Yeakel speaking about her organization Vision 2020 which was a beneficiary of the event. Learn more here:
Denise Fike was also on-hand to help attendees celebrate the event by creating beautiful sketches of each woman. There was even an appearance by former Mayor Michael Nutter.



I asked some of the winners about the biggest challenge of being “first” in their fields.

Cynthia Link, first female Superintendent of Graterford Prison:

“When I started thirty years ago there were only three other women employees at the prison. It is tough to navigate your way through the male dominated mindset and still be who you are authentically. You have to find some sort of common ground. For me that was looking for acceptance and making sure I was not too different. Without the support of men in my field, I would not be where I am. They reached back and pulled me forward.”

The Honorable Renee Cardwell Hughes, first African-American woman to be appointed CEO of the American Red Cross, Eastern PA Region:

“People underestimate you and that is both a challenge and an opportunity. It is an opportunity to exceed expectations, make a difference and crack the mold.”

I also asked some of the winners about what they were excited to showcase this week about the city of Philadelphia.

Marilyn Russell, award-winning morning personality on 95.7 Ben FM and the creator of the groundbreaking “Woman of the Week” series:

“I think since so many people visit the Rocky statue we should have a “Rocky ambassador” to welcome people to Philly and tell them what else they should be visiting while they are here. I think I should have the job. I’m a native Philly girl, I’m street smart, and I would rock it!”


Leslie Richards, first female Secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation:

“I want the delegates and visitors to see how vibrant and how easy it is to get around the city of Philadelphia and the state of Pennsylvania.”

Joan Shepp, a retail pioneer and fashion-authority in Philadelphia for over 45 years

“I want to show people what a friendly city we are. It has always been important to me to showcase both fashion and causes. Everything I do is for a cause. I encourage visitors to view our window displays and stop in for a free gift while they are in town.”

The event helped to toast this groundbreaking election and brought together some of the most accomplished women in all aspects of business, media, arts, science, and politics to champion each other’s achievements.