2016 National Women’s History Month Honoree
Photos of the 2016 National Women's History Month Honoree Reception hosted in Washington, DC
March is National Women's History Month and the Sisters of St. Joseph are proud to announce Sister Mary
Madonna Ashton, CSJ, as a 2016 National Women’s History Month
Honoree. The 2016 theme established by the National Women’s History
Project is “Working to Form a More Perfect Union: Honoring Women in
Public Service and Government.”
“Sister Mary Madonna, at age 92, is oldest living recipient to be honored and only the second woman religious (Sister Aloysius Molloy, OSF, honored in 2007) to be honored since the project began in 1980” explained Molly Murphy MacGregor of the Women’s History Project (NWHP). NWHP is a clearinghouse providing information and training in multicultural women’s history for educators, community organizations, parents or anyone seeking to expand their understanding of women’s contributions to U. S. history.
Sister Mary Madonna Ashton, CSJ, has an impressive Minnesota-based career in public and private service.
She served as president and CEO of St. Mary’s Hospital in Minneapolis, State Commissioner of Health under Governor Rudy Perpich, and founded St. Mary’s Health Clinics.
She worked in medical social work and hospital administration, ultimately serving as president and CEO at St. Mary’s Hospital in Minneapolis.
After resigning her CEO position, she was contacted by then Minnesota Governor elect Rudy Perpich who asked her to serve as Commissioner of Health. “There was a tremendous amount of opposition,” recalls Sister Ashton. She wasn’t a doctor. She was a woman and a nun! During consecutive terms she addressed smoking cessation and AIDS, becoming a highly respected and successful Commissioner of Health.
The landmark legislation she helped pass stopped smoking in public places and on public property. “I spent weeks with lawyers preparing for what would become days of testimony and cross-examination on the stand,” Ashton said of her legal fight with the tobacco industry. Her success on behalf of the State of Minnesota started a nationwide movement.
She also addressed a growing AIDS epidemic, forcing the closure of bathhouses where the disease was spread and instituting mandatory protections of the community’s blood supply.
After her term, she founded St. Mary’s Health Clinics for people without access to healthcare. The free clinics, run by volunteer physicians and nurses, still serve the Twin Cities metropolitan area. “We opened our first clinic in January of 1992. We thought it would be temporary,” said Ashton. By the time she retired in 2000, SMHC had 11 clinics. Today, the clinics continue operating. “Even after Obamacare, there are still people without access to healthcare.”
Sister Mary Madonna Ashton holds a Bachelor of Arts from the College of St. Catherine (now St. Catherine University) and servies as a University trustee emerita, a Master of Hospital Administration from the University of Minnesota, and a Master of Science in social work from St. Louis University. She received honorary doctorate degrees from The College of St. Catherine in St. Paul, Minnesota in 1996 and Hamline University in St. Paul, Minnesota in 1997.
Mary Madonna will receive her award in Washington, D.C. on March 19, 2016, the same day as the Feast of St. Joseph.
Noted National Women’s History Month Honorees
Sister Mary Madonna Ashton, CSJ, joins an impressive and distinguished list of women honored by the Women’s History Project (www.nwhp.org) including: Bella Abzug, Abigail Adams, Susan B. Anthony, Clara Barton, Margaret Bourke-White, Hillary Rodham Clinton, Dorothy Day, Emily Dickinson, Martha Graham, Anita Hill, Coretta Scott King, Winona LaDuke, Georgia O’Keeffe, Sally Ride, Eleanor Roosevelt, Beverly Sills, Gertrude Stein, Gloria Steinem, and a host of others.