Most of us think we have a decent understanding of what life looked like in the 1950s. Two parent households with mom and dad. Husband was the breadwinner, the wife a homemaker. We can imagine a beautiful house, warm dinner waiting on the table, the doting wife, Mad Men style. This life was abundant for most. It was not enough for the women that we will introduce to you today. The women we will talk about were 1950’s superheroes. They excelled at being homemakers, but they knew they could do so much more in their lives. And they did!
These extraordinary women were your everyday Chicagoans. What brought them together was the academic world - they each were married to university professors. One holiday season, being their welcoming selves, the women realized there are groups of international students at their husbands’ universities who did not have a place to spend Thanksgiving, the quintessential American holiday that is all about bringing people together over a homemade feast.
The women decided to help and invited over every foreign student so that they would not be alone this day. By doing so not only did they make the students feel welcome, they offered them a closer look to what an American family life looks like, something that was inaccessible to most of these students.
The Thanksgiving dinner initiative was such a success that on February 20, 1956, The Hospitality Center of Greater Chicago was incorporated. It was a direct result of these strong women showing their abilities and good hearts. In the article of incorporation submitted to the secretary of state, the purpose for which the organization was organized was:
“To assist the education of foreign students, by organizing tours, lectures and other facilities for contact of foreign students with economic, cultural, social and educational activities and visitations in the Chicago area. To provide a center for reception of foreign visitors to the Chicago area and to provide a general travelers aid service for such visitors(…)”
Over the years this nonprofit has evolved but has not changed its values. In the early 1960s, WorldChicago was run by notable Chicago civic leader and pioneer female radio and TV commentator Frayn Utley.
The Hospitality Center of Greater Chicago became known as The International Visitors Center of Chicago and then in 2010, WorldChicago, an organization encouraging citizen diplomacy. This organization establishes relationships with emerging leaders all over the world. The list of notable alumni that have been a part of the program includes names like Tony Blair former prime minister to the UK; Tawakkol Karman 2011 Nobel Peace Prize winner; various European Parliament members, and other world leaders.
In the fall 2019, one of the U.S. Department of State's International Visitor Leadership Program fellows is Tanja Dzido, a true renaissance woman who has the ability to turn anything she touches into a golden, life-changing opportunity. Tanja is a digital strategist, founder of Shhhefica, a Female Role Model of the Year and a bestselling author. She graduated with a Master’s degree in Public Relations and holds a Master of Business Administration. She is another woman superstar, a reflection of the WorldChicago founding members more than 60 years later.
Besides excelling at her work, Tanja finds the time to be an inspiration to women in Croatia. She empowers them to tell their stories like they really are, no embellishing. She ensures her audience that one true strength all of us possess is the ability to stay true to yourself. Her power is from within and her optimism makes everyone feel as if they can do anything. She truly is a gift and to get to know her as one of the Professional Fellows was an honor.
None of this would be possible if it wasn’t for a group of 1950’s housewives that decided to assist the education of foreign students and provide a center for reception of foreign visitors, the U.S. Foreign Affairs have been able to create and curate relationships with leaders of the free world. The simple invitation, an extra slice of pie made it possible for this organization to thrive and change lives. I feel honored I got to meet Tanja and be inspired by her work, her attitude and everything she represents as a person. To me, this is the point of citizen diplomacy – the exchange of ideas, mutual respect, and inspiration. I could not be grateful enough to that group of 1950’s superwomen for making that extra slice of pie.