Oral History of Sonia Fuentes

Sonia Pressman Fuentes was born in Berlin, Germany, and came to the U.S. with her immediate family, after nine months in Antwerp, Belgium, on May 1, 1934, to escape the Holocaust. She grew up in the Catskill Mountains of NY State and graduated as valedictorian from Monticello (NY) High School. She is a Phi Beta Kappa graduate of Cornell University and a summa cum laude graduate of the University of Miami (Florida) School of Law.

She has been involved in women's rights since 1963, when she testified in Congress in favor of the passage of the Equal Pay bill on behalf of the ACLU. In 1965, she joined the General Counsel's office of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) as its first woman attorney. She drafted one of the EEOC's earliest Digests of Legal Interpretations, its first Guidelines on Pregnancy and Childbirth, and the EEOC’s decision finding that airlines violated the law when they terminated or grounded stewardesses on marriage or reaching the age of thirty-two or thirty-five.

She is a co-founder of the National Organization for Women (NOW), the Women's Equity Action League (WEAL), and Federally Employed Women (FEW) on the national level and Women in Management (WIM) in Fairfield County, CT. She is a charter member of the Veteran Feminists of America and was one of the longest-serving members of the Board of Trustees of the National Woman's Party.

In November 1996, at a ceremony honoring the founders of NOW, Betty Friedan presented her with the Veteran Feminists of America Medal of Honor. On October 10, 1999, she was one of four recipients of the 1999 Women at Work Award of Wider Opportunities for Women given in recognition of her commitment to women's issues and leadership in the fields of law and business. Prior recipients included Jane Fonda, Katie Couric, Linda Ellerbee, and Hillary Rodham Clinton.

On March 21, 2000, Ms. Fuentes was one of five Maryland women inducted into the Maryland Women's Hall of Fame for the year 2000. Subsequently, she was honored by the Veteran Feminists of America as being one of thirty-six feminist lawyers in the U.S. who made significant contributions to women’s rights in the 1963-75 time period; and she was selected by the Jewish Women’s Archive as one of seventy-four Jewish-American women in the U.S. who contributed significantly to women’s rights in the same time frame.

Ms. Fuentes was included in the National Gallery of Prominent Refugees established by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees to commemorate its 50th anniversary in 2000. She is also included in Women of Achievement in Maryland History and Feminists Who Changed America 1963-1975.

Ms. Fuentes has lectured extensively in this country and abroad on women's rights and has written numerous articles on that subject in law reviews and other publications both in the US and abroad. Her testimony was presented to a Select Committee of the House of Lords when England was considering the passage of legislation prohibiting gender discrimination in employment, and she was a consultant to the Women's Department and the Department of Labour for the Province of Ontario when Ontario was considering the passage of such legislation.

She has traveled as an "American specialist" on women's rights for the then-U.S. Information Agency to France, Germany, Spain, Japan, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Indonesia. She has served as a resource for the Meridian House International Center in Washington, D.C., for foreign visitors with an interest in women's rights.

In March-April 1993, when Ms. Fuentes was on the Board of Trustees of the American Cancer Society (ACS)-DC Division, she was ACS's representative to the first International Conference on Women's Health in China. In November 1993, she spent ten days in Israel on a New Israel Fund tour. Thereafter, she lectured and wrote on the status of women in China and Israel.

Ms. Fuentes served as an attorney with the federal government (Department of Justice, National Labor Relations Board, Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, and the Department of Housing and Urban Development) for over twenty years and was an attorney and executive with the GTE Service Corporation and TRW Inc. for over ten years. She was the highest-paid woman at the headquarters of each of these corporations.

Ms. Fuentes serves on the advisory committee of the Veteran Feminists of America and is the first and only honorary member of the Sarasota chapter of the Florida Association of Women Lawyers.

On April 21, 2013, Ms. Fuentes was one of five Jewish professional women to receive the Glass Ceiling Award from the Jewish Museum of Florida, in Miami Beach, FL. This award is given annually to Jewish professional women in Florida who broke the glass ceiling for themselves and other women.

One of six permanent exhibits at the Red Star Line (RSL) Museum, dedicated to immigration and the RSL, that opened in Antwerp, Belgium, on September 28, 2013, is about Ms. Fuentes. She is one of five surviving passengers about whom the Museum knows who traveled on an RSL ship between 1873 and some time in 1934. She was the only surviving passenger who participated in the Museum’s opening as a guest of the Museum and the City of Antwerp, during which time she gave talks at the Museum and in Antwerp’s City Hall and met the king and queen of Belgium.

On Nov. 3, 2013, Ms. Fuentes was one of ten inaugural inductees into the Hall of Distinction of the Monticello Central School District in Monticello, NY, from whose high school she graduated in 1946.

Ms. Fuentes is included in the Trailblazing Women in the Law Project of the American Bar Association. Her oral interviews and transcriptions of them are housed in the Library of Congress and the Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America. In the future, they will also be housed, with accompanying material, at the Robert Crown Law Library at Stanford University.

Ms. Fuentes currently lives in Sarasota, FL, where she is a feminist activist, a writer, and a public speaker. She is the author of a memoir, Eat First--You Don’t Know What They’ll Give You: The Adventures of an Immigrant Family and Their Feminist Daughter.

For more information, see Ms. Fuentes website at,

Related Articles:

MiamiLawOfficial, Sonia Pressman Fuentes, JD'57,YouTube (July 6, 2018) (Law Alumni Association Oral History Project, University of Miami School of Law, June 12, 2018),