Women in Leadership talk welcomes Lelia Foley Davis
TNE Editor
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Women in Leadership talk welcomes Lelia Foley Davis

Published 2/9/18

Lelia Foley Davis has a story to tell and she is bringing that story to Tahlaquah and the campus of NSU.

The Center for Women's Studies at NSU will hold an inaugural Women in Leadership talk. The event will be Feb. 15 at 1 p.m. in the Webb Auditorium. The NSU Black Heritage Committee and the departments of criminology, justice studies, & global security, history, and geography & political science are co-sponsoring it with the Center for Women's Studies as a Black History Month event. Foley is the speaker and will talk about being the first African-American female mayor in the nation when she was elected mayor of Taft.

"I am trying to start a speaker series for the center that will highlight women in leadership positions in our university, community and state," said Dr. Suzanne Farmer, associate professor of history and director of the Center for Women's Studies. "The goal of the series is to highlight women in leadership positions at NSU, as well as in the community, state and region."

Foley was elected mayor of Taft in April 1973 while raising five children as a single mother. She served the city as mayor until 2015 and now resides on the city council.

"It was and is great," said Foley. "It was a rocky start. It was an icebreaker for me with five kids and being mayor."

Foley had the great fortune to meet three presidents during her tenure as mayor.

In 1974, Foley traveled to the White House to receive recognition from then President Gerald Ford. She was recognize as one of the 10 outstanding young women of America and receive a gold pendant from the president.

"The president's dog, a golden retriever, was running around the White House and everyone was petting the dog," said Foley. "I looked at the president and said I did not come here to play with a dog I came here to talk to you about housing for my community."

The president took the time to sit down with Foley and then sent someone to Taft to visit with Foley and discuss housing possibilities.

The Department of Housing and Urban Development ended up building housing in Taft.

President Jimmy Carter invited Foley to the White House when he recognized the country's 50 black mayors.

"We had brunch at the White House and I got to dance with President Carter," she said.

In 2011, Foley traveled back to the White House and met President Barack Obama.

"He kissed me on my cheek and I never wanted to wash my cheek, again," said Foley.

Farmer said she is excited to have Foley as the first speaker and is excited about the series.

The national Association of American University Women recently reported that despite the fact that women are not new to leadership positions, women are still vastly underrepresented in leadership positions at all levels from national, state and local governments to corporate America, said Farmer.

"Women are simply much less likely to hold leadership positions than men. With this lecture series, we hope to highlight women in our own community and region that hold leadership positions," she said. "Actress Geena Davis, who works tirelessly to promote films made by women about women, has famously said, 'if they can see it, they can be it.' The vast majority of the NSU student body is female and with our series we hope to empower our female students to be leaders in their careers and communities."

Farmer said this speaker series will expose students to women who may serve as potential mentors and can inspire them in their own paths to achieve leadership positions. 

"She is truly an inspiration to anyone who wishes to make a difference and have their voices heard.," said Farmer

The talk is scheduled for 1 p.m., Thursday, Feb. 15 in Webb Auditorium and is free and open to the campus community and the public. 

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