EastBay Today

Posted January 6, 2017

Advocating for Women

Sheila McHugh Memorial Scholarship looks to support the next generation of leaders

Jeanne McHugh created a memorial scholarship in 2003 in honor of her daughter, alumna Sheila McHugh.

Jeanne McHugh has always been something of a radical. She first got involved in politics as a college student in the 1940s; served as executive secretary of the civil rights organization American Democrats for Action through the tumultuous 60s and 70s; and has been a lifelong activist for women’s equality, education and reproductive rights — speaking on issues decades before they became mainstream.

“I worked all my life and I worked in interesting jobs, and I went to interesting places,” says McHugh, who finally retired from a second career in real estate at 81. “There’s a lot more life in older people than you think.”

And now, at 91, she’s turning to the next generation of women to continue fighting for causes she believes still need to be resolved. “If we have a society where everyone has a chance, then we can have a good democracy,” she believes. “It’s [through] education that we can give women more opportunities.”

Although McHugh supports women’s advocacy in a variety of ways, when her daughter, Cal State East Bay alumna Sheila McHugh (B.S. ’99, Psychology), died at just 40 years old, she was inspired to do something specific in her honor.  

“[Losing her], that’s why I want to help other women,” McHugh says. “I thought, ‘What can I do to abate my pain?’ And I’ve always felt [strongly] about women being [treated as] the ‘second-sex,’ so to speak, so it just came together that I started the scholarship.”

Since 2003, the Sheila McHugh Memorial Scholarship has been dedicated to promoting social responsibility in women’s education and global population control. Just this past year, McHugh has helped three students, all mothers balancing work, family and school. Elizabeth Boman, a single mother of two and advocate for STEM education for girls, is set to be “pinned” as a graduate from Cal State East Bay’s nursing program this month — and she is a natural fit to help carry on McHugh’s mission.

“Things are very crazy right now in terms of our healthcare system, our education system, the environment,” Boman says. “I think that nurses should be more politically engaged and organized together to raise awareness for things that are going on. I’m so grateful for this money. And 20 years from now, I’m going to be on the donor end of this [conversation] saying how good it feels to give back.”