Vi Simpson, Charlotte Zietlow, and Tomilea Allison. Photos by Shannon Zahle

Past recipients of BCSW awards: (l-r) Vi Simpson, Charlotte Zietlow, and Tomilea Allison. Photos by Shannon Zahle


The Bloomington Commission on the Status of Women (BCSW) predates its statewide counterpart, the Indiana Commission for Women, by nearly 27 years. Commissioner Jacqueline Fernette says there is even documentation suggesting that the BCSW may be the first women’s commission in the state of Indiana.

Now in its 42nd year, the BCSW advocates for, supports, and recognizes the achievements of local women. “Women’s issues are part of a larger landscape of life and community that touches us all,” says Debby Herbenick, chair of the commission. The commission’s objectives include helping local women with resources and services, as well as encouraging legislation that supports women’s rights.

The BCSW also concentrates on outreach, including events such as the Women’s History Month Luncheon held each March. The luncheon recognizes women who Fernette refers to as shining examples of the Bloomington community. The women are honored through the publicly nominated Woman of the Year and Lifetime Contribution awards. Past recipients of the awards include Charlotte Zietlow, Vi Simpson, and Tomilea Allison.

“Just acknowledging those women as representative of what we can all accomplish and do to make our communities better is probably the most impactful part,” says Fernette, who also serves as chair of the luncheon committee. This year’s luncheon will feature keynote speaker Gladys DeVane, also a past award recipient.

Cathi Crabtree, former chair of the commission, values the luncheon for its celebration of women’s accomplishments and its validation of her 11 years of commitment to the BCSW. “Even people like me who are really engaged and identify as feminist can start to feel really worn down after awhile, and events like the luncheon are reinvigorating,” Crabtree says.

The 31st Annual Women’s History Month Luncheon will be March 23 at the Bloomington/Monroe County Convention Center. Tickets are available at until March 21. Fernette urges prospective attendees not to be deterred by the $22.50 ticket price, as the BCSW makes scholarships and sponsorships available to women of all ages.

Everyone is welcome to share information with the commission, and the commissioners encourage anyone interested to attend BCSW meetings, which are held the first Thursday of each month at Showers Plaza/City Hall. “There’s always time for public input,” Crabtree says.

For more information on BCSW or the luncheon, visit