Lynn Yeakel: Inspiring women to seize leadership roles

In her family, Lynn Hardy Yeakel says public service was considered the highest calling. In many ways, the says, it’s her failed campaign against U.S. Senator Arlen Specter that inspired her to found Vision 2020, an organization that aims to advance women economically and socially. is a joint project of PBS and AOL showcasing hundreds of compelling stories from trailblazing women. The documentary “Makers: Women Who Make America,” premiering on PBS on Feb. 26 (check local listings), tells the story of the women’s movement through first-hand accounts of its leaders, opponents and trailblazers.

This is one of a separate series of articles about notable women in the Philadelphia region.

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Lynn Hardy Yeakel is the director of the Drexel University College of Medicine’s Institute for Women’s Health and Leadership and co-chair and founder of Vision 2020, an organization that aims to advance women economically and socially by the year 2020.

Yeakel is well known for challenging long-time U.S. Senator Arlen Specter in 1992 after he outraged many women in his treatment of Anita Hill during the Clarence Thomas confirmation hearings. Yeakel did not unseat Specter, but she went on to run for governor of Pennsylvania in 1994, without success. In 2000 she challenged incumbent Republican Pa. Senator Dick Tighman for the 17th District seat. She did not win.

“You have to step up when there’s an opportunity and seize it,” said Yeakel. “And if you don’t succeed the first time, it might turn out that something even better comes along as a result. And in many ways that how I see Vision 2020 — as the natural continuation of my stepping up to run for the U.S. Senate.”

Vision 2020 started as a 3 a.m. idea Yeakel had in 2008. The organization aims to increase the number of women in leadership positions, achieve pay equity between men and women, educate businesses about family friendly policies, educate youth to respect generational differences, and break records with the women’s vote in 2020 in celebration of the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment.

Yeakel is a grandmother of six: four boys and two girls. Her granddaughters will be 18 and 20 in 2020, both casting their first vote for president of the United States.

“I thought, ‘What a great thing if they had a woman to vote for for president,'” said Yeakel, “and down the line if they themselves could think about what they want to do, possibly in public service, and would have those opportunities open to them and that’s what this is about.”

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