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Athena CEO Inducted into San Diego Women's Hall of Fame

Updated: Apr 4, 2023

Holly Smithson Recognized as the 2023 "Spirit of the Hall of Fame" Inductee

Holly Smithson, Athena CEO, along with six other highly accomplished San Diegans were added to the list of luminaries inducted into the San Diego Women's Hall of Fame on March 18.

Hosted by the California Commission on the Status of Women and Girls and the Women’s Museum of California, this ceremony honors those who’ve made outstanding contributions and whose achievements are improving the quality of life for all people.

Rep. Sara Jacobs, D-San Diego addressed the crowd before San Diego Superior Court Judge Marissa Bejarano bestowed the formal swearing-in honors. Rep. Jacobs, one of the youngest members of Congress, highlighted the challenges she faced in Washington where she’s often judged based on her age and gender. She emphasized that achievement is not synonymous with equality.

“As we celebrate today’s inductees and all that they’ve accomplished, we should also remember how far we’ve come and how far we still have to go until all women are respected, free, equal, and empowered in this country,” Jacobs said.

She also highlighted the U.S. Supreme Court's recent decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, which she identified as a significant issue affecting women across the nation. In addition to the 7 individual inductees, Planned Parenthood of the Pacific Southwest was also honored.

Recognized as the 2023 “Spirit of the Hall of Fame” category, Holly shared her spirit’s three guiding principles: “Voice your perspective, as the only way to solve a problem is to give it a voice; don’t ever lower your standards, we achieve far more when we expect more, and create value that reaches as many people as you can on this earth.”

Congratulations to these historic hall of fame leaders including Patricia McQuater as “Trailblazer” inductee for her work as corporate counsel for Solar Turbines, the first Black woman appointed as Port of San Diego Commissioner, and chair of the San Diego Convention Center Board, and as one of San Diego’s top 10 lawyers.

Amy Forsythe as “Historian” inductee in recognition of her career in military journalism, including five combat deployments as a U.S. Marine in Iraq and Afghanistan. She serves in the U.S. Navy Reserves as a public affairs officer. Forsythe, who is active in veterans organizations, said Saturday that she took her greatest satisfaction from “sharing the courage it takes to wear a uniform.”

Norma Chávez-Peterson, executive director of the ACLU of San Diego and Imperial Counties, is the hall’s “Activist” inductee. Born in La Piedad, Michoacan, Mexico, and grew up in California as part of an undocumented household, Chávez-Peterson began speaking out in the 1990s. She organized protests against Proposition 187, the ballot initiative — ultimately declared unconstitutional — that sought to keep undocumented residents from using a wide range of social, medical, and educational services.

The first Mexican-American woman to run a local ACLU affiliate, Chávez-Peterson co-founded the San Diego Rapid Response Network that assists local immigrants dealing with deportation, family separation, and retention.

Anthropologist Huma Ahmed-Ghosh is the hall’s “Empowerer” inductee for her work in women’s studies at San Diego State University. The author of two books on gender, globalization, and religion, the professor emeritus is president of the board of License to Freedom, a San Diego non-governmental organization, and founded numerous organizations including the South Asian Women’s Initiative and Survival English for Newly Arrived Afghans.

Mary Casillas Salas is one of two “Cultural Bridge Builder” inductees for her work leading the county’s second-largest city after her election in 2014, becoming Chula Vista’s and the county’s first Latina mayor. Having returned to school at age 37, Casillas Salas was elected to the California Assembly in 2006 and to the Chula Vista City Council in 2012.

During her tenure at City Hall, Chula Vista was recognized for its urban planning and sustainability efforts.

Juana Machado Alipas de Wrightington was inducted posthumously as a cultural bridge builder. Born at the San Diego Presidio in 1814, according to the San Diego History Center, she was known for her work as a nurse and midwife in and around the city’s origin point now known as Old Town.


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