22 Feb Member Spotlight: Elizabeth “Betty” Athanasakos
The legacy of Elizabeth “Betty” Athanasakos, BPW/Fort Lauderdale President 1979-1980 and BPW/USA President 1990-1991.
Elizabeth Athanasakos is a “grass root” member of BPW/Fort Lauderdale. She was one of the LO’s organizers and served as LO President and in July 1990 became President of BPW/USA.
Elizabeth Athanasakos, a practicing civil lawyer in Florida since 1958, was the first female municipal judge in Broward County, Florida. She was appointed by President Richard Nixon on October 1, 1969, to serve on the Task Force on Women’s Rights and Responsibilities. Department of Health, Education, and Welfare, 1972-74; Atlanta Regional Panel for the President’s Commission on White House Fellowships, 1974-1976; President; Florida Association of Women Lawyers, 1976-78, The list goes on and on!
When Elizabeth Athanasakos stepped down as president of one of the country’s largest business and professional women’s organizations, she left her successor a battle still unwon. During her year as BPW/USA President, Athanasakos led the 100,000-member National Federation of Business and Professional Women’s Clubs and had traveled around the country, revitalizing working women’s attitudes and rallying for the women’s movement. Athanasakos stepped down at the organization’s national convention on July 24, 1991. She stated she was leaving at a time when women’s rights continually are being restricted by an ever-growing conservative government. Her organization, founded during World War I when many women were joining the work force, must continue to support and encourage women.
“We are the voice of the working women,” she said. “We can achieve economic equality and participate fully in our nation, but now we are seeing a trend that is not pro-woman.”
With the Supreme Court heavily leaning to the right, Athanasakos said, past advancements are being stifled and women are losing the protection and support they have worked so hard to achieve. The organization’s goal, then, is to elevate the status and standards of women.
“When we see the number of rapes and the attitudes of juries, judges and enforcement agencies, you take all of these things and it has to tell you that there’s an attitude that puts all of the ills of the world on women,” she said.
Athanasakos, who grew up in Brooklyn and graduated from St. John’s University law school, said women sometimes, leave the organization because their careers and families require all their time. Specializing in domestic relations law in her own practice and serving as the organization’s national president keeps Athanasakos busy, but she said her clients understand her booked schedule. “My clients have been very understanding to the fact that I’ve been running all around the country,” she said.
She says her efforts were needed because true change will only be possible when women join forces, speak out as a unified group, and gain more positions in the government. “We’re going backwards,” she said. “I think we’re in a time when, if women do not speak up, we’re going to be losing a lot more.”
Article/comments taken from BPW/USA Archives.