Tish Sommers

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Tish Sommers
Tish Sommers, from a 1982 newspaper
Letitia Gale Innes

September 8, 1914
Cambria, California
DiedOctober 18, 1985
Oakland, California
Other namesLetitia Burke, Letitia Sommers
Occupation(s)Activist, writer

Letitia "Tish" Innes Sommers (September 8, 1914 – October 18, 1985) was an American author, a women's rights activist, and the co-founder and first president of the Older Women's League (OWL). [1] [2] [3]


Early life and education

Letitia Gale Innes was born in Cambria, California and raised in San Francisco, the daughter of Murray Innes and Katherine Dorsch Innes. [3] Her father was a mining engineer, and her mother was a teacher. [4] She studied dance as a young woman, including three years in Germany in the 1930s. She attended the University of California, Los Angeles. [5]

Career and activism

During World War II, Innes worked in the parks department in Los Angeles. [5] In 1945 she directed a youth theatrical production in Los Angeles with over 150 youth participants, [6] and chaired the program for a "thanksgiving harvest festival" in the city. [7] In the 1950s, Sommers and her second husband worked for social and civil rights causes in the South. [3] [8]

In the 1970s, Sommers became focused on feminist issues, especially involving older women. [5] With the help of her friend Laurie Shields, she successfully lobbied 39 states and Congress to pass displaced homemaker laws, [9] which offered a network of job training and counseling centers for career housewives who went through divorce or the death of a husband. [3] [8] Sommers coined the phrase "displaced homemaker." [2] [10] [11]

Sommers chaired the National Organization for Women's task force on older women in the 1970s. [12] She was also a NOW board member and led the Jobs for Older Women Action Project. [2] [3] [13] She co-founded the Older Women's League with Laurie Shields in 1980, and was its first president. [1] [8]

Sommers was named one of the "Bay Area's Ten Most Distinguished Persons" by the San Francisco Chronicle in 1974. She testified before a Senate committee on aging and Social Security in 1975. [14] She won the Western Gerontological Society Award in 1979, and the Unitarian Universalist Women's Federation's Ministry to Women Award in 1981. In 1982, already facing a cancer diagnosis, she was keynote speaker at a conference on employment at Sonoma State University. [15] In 1983, she testified before a Congressional hearing on Medicare and aging. [16] In 1984, she once again spoke before a Congressional committee on aging and healthcare. [17]


Personal life and legacy

Innes married Sidney Arnold Burke in 1938; they later divorced. She married fellow activist Joseph Sommers in 1949; they adopted a son, and divorced in 1972. [5] "Undoubtedly the divorce was, in part, my own awakening," she later recalled. [24] Sommers died from cancer in 1985 at the age of 71, in Oakland. [3] [25] Some of her papers are held in the San Diego State University Libraries. [13] The Institute for Health and Aging at the University of California, San Francisco established the Tish Sommers Senior Scholars program to honor her; it supports the work of older graduate and postdoctoral students working to improve the lives of older women. [26] In 1991, a biography of her was published, titled Tish Sommers, Activist: and the Founding of the Older Women's League. [27]

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  1. 1 2 Borenstein, Audrey (1983). Chimes of change and hours: views of older women in twentieth-century America. Fairleigh Dickinson Univ Press. pp. 41–42. ISBN   978-0-8386-3170-6.
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  4. "Formal Normal Student Married". Chico Record. May 3, 1904. Retrieved January 6, 2023.
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  6. "Hollenbeck to Present War Chest Show". Daily News. August 14, 1945. p. 8. Retrieved January 7, 2023 via California Digital Newspaper Collection.
  7. "Thanks festival set tomorrow". Daily News. p. 16. Retrieved January 7, 2023 via California Digital Newspaper Collection.
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  9. McCormack, Patricia (September 4, 1975). "Tish Sommers lobbies for Displaced Homemaker's act". San Bernardino Sun. pp. C-17. Retrieved January 6, 2023 via California Digital Newspaper Collection.
  10. DeLuzio, Crista (2009-11-12). Women's Rights: People and Perspectives: People and Perspectives. ABC-CLIO. p. 196. ISBN   978-1-59884-115-2.
  11. Shields, Laurie (1981). Displaced homemakers : organizing for a new life. Internet Archive. New York : McGraw-Hill. pp. ix. ISBN   978-0-07-056802-0.
  12. "Ageism, sexism; They call it double jeopardy". Healdsburg Tribune. April 24, 1975. pp. B-2. Retrieved January 6, 2023 via California Digital Newspaper Collection.
  13. 1 2 "Tish Sommers Papers". Online Archive of California. Retrieved 2011-11-27.
  14. United States Congress Senate Special Committee on Aging (1973). Future directions in social security: hearing before the Special Committee on Aging, United States Senate, Ninety-third Congress, first session ... U.S. Government Printing Office. pp. 1679–1682.
  15. "Conference to Explore American Workplace". Healdsburg Tribune. March 3, 1982. p. 7. Retrieved January 6, 2023 via California Digital Newspaper Collection.
  16. United States Congress House Select Committee on Aging (1984). Medicare and Acupuncture: Hearing Before the Select Committee on Aging, House of Representatives, Ninety-eighth Congress, First Session, November 30, 1983, San Francisco, Calif. U.S. Government Printing Office. pp. 46–51.
  17. United States Congress House Select Committee on Aging (1984). Health Care for Elders: Alternative Futures : Hearing Before the Select Committee on Aging, House of Representatives, Ninety-eighth Congress, Second Session, March 18, 1984, Anaheim, Calif. U.S. Government Printing Office. pp. 17–22.
  18. Sommers, Tish (1978). "Freelance Agitator Argues for Hiring Changes: Look Out Job Market!". Generations: Journal of the American Society on Aging. 2 (4): 8–9. ISSN   0738-7806. JSTOR   44872266.
  19. Sommers, Tish (1980). "If We Could Write The Script..." Generations: Journal of the American Society on Aging. 4 (4): 7–35. ISSN   0738-7806. JSTOR   44875007.
  20. Sommers, Tish (1981). "If I Had a Billion . . ". Generations: Journal of the American Society on Aging. 6 (2): 11–33. ISSN   0738-7806. JSTOR   44875061.
  21. Sommers, Tish (1985). "Caregiving: A Woman's Issue". Generations: Journal of the American Society on Aging. 10 (1): 9–13. ISSN   0738-7806. JSTOR   44875293.
  22. Sommers, Tish; Zarit, Steven H. (1985). "Three Caregivers Tell Their Stories: Seriously Near the Breaking Point". Generations: Journal of the American Society on Aging. 10 (1): 30–33. ISSN   0738-7806. JSTOR   44875298.
  23. Sommers, Tish (1987). Women take care : the consequences of caregiving in today's society. Internet Archive. Gainesville, Fla. : Triad Pub. Co. ISBN   978-0-937404-28-7.
  24. Sommers, Tish; Sorrel, Lorraine; Sojourner, Susan (1982). "with the wisdom of an owl: an interview with tish sommers". Off Our Backs. 12 (1): 6–7. ISSN   0030-0071. JSTOR   25774188.
  25. "Tish Sommers Dies; Led Older Women's Union". The New York Times. 1985-10-19. ISSN   0362-4331 . Retrieved 2023-01-07.
  26. University of California, San Francisco (June 10, 1993). UCSF News.
  27. Huckle, Patricia (1991). Tish Sommers, activist, and the founding of the Older Women's League. Internet Archive. Knoxville : University of Tennessee Press. ISBN   978-0-87049-691-2.