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1946 Graduate Significant to Feminist Movement: Sonia Pressman Fuentes

November 2, 2008

Sonia Pressman Fuentes was born in Berlin, Germany, and came to the United States in 1934 with her family to escape the Holocaust. She settled in the Bronx, then Woodridge, then Monticello.

She graduated as valedictorian from Monticello High School in 1946. According to Sonia, while at Monticello High School, she had a number of excellent teachers, one of whom taught her Latin. Although she already spoke German, Yiddish, Flemish and English, she left the class with a lifelong love of language – that which ultimately shaped her career and influenced the direction of her life.Photo of Sonia Pressman in 1940s

“I’ve been a lawyer and I am a writer and public speaker,” said Sonia. “Everything I’ve done has been built on my ability with language.”

While in high school, she had no real idea what she wanted to do with her life and she did not plan on attending college. Two classmates and one of her teachers got her interested in pursuing higher education. Later that year, she won two scholarships and enrolled at Cornell University - though she still had no idea what she wanted to be.

While at Cornell, she studied languages, psychology, business and public administration and eventually graduated Phi Beta Kappa. With all her knowledge, she still found it difficult to get a job. She entered the retail industry and later worked as a secretary.

After a few years in the working world, she felt as if she was “going nowhere fast,” so she enrolled in the University of Miami School of Law. She graduated summa cum laude and went to Washington, DC, to begin work as an attorney at the U.S. Department of Justice. During her 23 years as a lawyer with the federal government, she worked as a labor law attorney, with specializations in civil rights and women’s rights, was the first woman lawyer in the Office of the General Counsel of the Equal EmploymentCurrent photo of Sonia Pressman Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and was one of the founders of the National Organization for Women (NOW). She also spent 11 years as an attorney and executive with two multinational corporations. In her free time, she traveled around the world giving talks on the women’s rights revolution for the then-U.S. Information Agency.

After retiring from the federal government in 1993, she began her new careers as a writer and public speaker. When asked about her journey from the doors of Monticello High School, Sonia wanted to share some of the most important things she has learned:

“Life can be exciting and bring you your heart’s desire if you persevere. I wasn't particularly happy with the person I was in high school. That was the person I was born and raised as-but thereafter, I created the person I have become. I don't believe I did this consciously, but, nonetheless, I did it. You can recreate yourself as the person you want to be.”

For more information about Sonia’s memoir, “Eat First-You Don't Know What They'll Give You, The Adventures of an Immigrant Family and Their Feminist Daughter,” visit

Click the following link to watch a video about Sonia's book that features commentary from the author

To read a recent interview with Sonia by, visit:

CLICK HERE to view the coverage of this story by The River Reporter.