Michele Mattei’s “First Ladies” at Cross MacKenzie

Rebecca Cross, the owner of the fabulous Cross MacKenzie gallery in Georgetown, had hoped this opening would come on the cusp of a woman moving past “First Lady” status and owning the President title. ‘Twas not to be.

“We are celebrating other very high broken ceilings nonetheless,” she told me.

She’s talking about French-born fine art photographer Michele Mattei, who’s photographed an impressive group of women who’ve reached the tops of their games. The collection was first exhibited in DC at the National Museum for Women in the Arts, and selected works are now coming to Cross MacKenzie, where they’ll be on display starting this Friday.

The late, legendary journalist Helen Thomas

“These activists, writers, politicians, teachers, doctors, and artists fought against the entrenched patriarchal systems to be recognized for their individual achievements, and in so doing opened doors for all the women who followed,” the gallery description reads. “First Ladies” will open with a reception this Friday from 6-8 p.m.

I feel privileged to have met two of the women in this group. Helen Thomas, of course, covered the White House for decades while she was with United Press International. She knew my grandmother, Dorothy McCardle, who covered the White House for the Washington Post in the ’60s and ’70s. Long after my grandmother died in 1978, I got to know Helen when I went into journalism myself. Amazing how life comes full circle.

The late Betty Friedan, a feminist pioneer and author of The Feminine Mystique

I went to Smith College, which is also the alma mater of Betty Friedan. Shortly before she died in 2006, I was assigned to write a story for the Smith alumnae magazine. The topic was women who were choosing to leave the professional arena to concentrate on home and children. I went to Betty’s apartment in Georgetown to interview her on that subject, and boy did I light a fire of unprintable comments. Needless to say, she was not in favor of the trend.

Having gone to a women’s college (just two hours west of Hillary Clinton’s Wellesley College), I have always appreciated the power of ambitious and passionate women, and Michele Mattei has beautifully illustrated it in her photography, which I’m eager to see on Friday. Here’s a first look:

Dolores Huerta: labor leader, civil rights activist, co-founder of the American Farmworkers Association. President Obama awarded her the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2012.


The late Muriel Siebert, the first woman to buy a seat on the New York Stock Exchange

Ned Riley, who curated the show for Cross MacKenzie, wrote me an e-mail with his thoughts on working with such powerful images of powerful women. “Even without the added celebration of our first female president, our hope is that this show will illuminate all the progress that has already been made, and serve as a reminder that there is plenty still to accomplish,” he said.

The late Louise Bourgeois, a prominent artist of large-scale art and sculpture

“We feel that the selection of these eminent ladies provides a wonderful range of the achievements that have been made throughout the 20th and 21st centuries to promote the equality of women across industries and cultures,” Ned added.

DC’s own Wilhelmina Holladay, the founder of the National Museum for Women in the Arts

Here’s the greatest part about this opening this week: Michele Mattei is staying in town to do portrait sessions this weekend, Jan. 14-15. Call the gallery to make an appointment between 1 and 4 pm on either day, and the portrait will be hung alongside the exhibition Feb. 4-11.

“The portrait sessions are not limited to ladies, extending also to gentlemen who support the equality of gender throughout the world,” the notation says, so bring on the men, too!

“First Ladies” is on view through Feb. 28.


  1. Cynthia Siegel Neal says:

    Helen Thomas

    Dear CM Gallery,
    This will not be the first letter pronouncing that the inclusion of the infamous Helen Thomas is a disgrace.
    In doing this you have demeaned the other grand women and their achievements.
    Yes, this is your first amendment right. This is your intellectual right.

    Millions of us have worked the majority of our lives to improve the lives of others, to make our nation cohesive.
    With the addition of a woman whose mindset is the exclusion of we Jews, you have helped to over ride the essence of what so many of Americans strive for each day.

    I am an American who has experienced for over seven decades the horror of hatred. I disown any and all that traffic in it.
    I only wish that you too had had the decency, the guts, and the heart to have done so.

    I remain, Sincerely Yours, Cynthia Siegel Neal

  2. Andrea Kenner says:

    Wonderful post!