February 28, 1921 - June 22, 2013
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With the passing of Dorothy Nelle Jonas, the world lost a passionate defender of justice for women and children. Her family lost a devoted wife, mother, grandmother and great-grandmother, a lively and talented woman they knew as "Dottie" who exemplified how to live a useful life with courage, intelligence, dignity and love.
Dorothy's lifetime spanned nearly a century. In that time, she shared her incredible political gifts in organizing conferences and campaigns, marching for the ERA and reproductive rights, heading women's organizations, defending victims of rape, fighting for better laws for married women and dependent children, and accepting with grace and humility the awards and accolades that came her way.
Dorothy was born into poverty in Oklahoma City during the Great Depression. Orphaned at an early age, she was raised by a few loving relatives. Even in those early days, Dorothy showed her special gifts, including a perfect ear for music. That talent, with her looks and charm, landed her lead roles in high school musicals. Dorothy was to form an emotional bond with music that lasted a lifetime. From opera to classics to the Great American Songbook, Dorothy loved it all.
With her older sister Katherine, Dorothy joined the Great Depression exodus to California in 1938, settling in Los Angeles which would be her home for the next 75 years. When she was 19, she met her future husband, Walter Kessenick. Dorothy and Walter were married for 17 years, giving birth to their son Larry in 1943 and their daughter Bonnie in 1948.
Dorothy's firm belief in economic and social justice led her to early membership in the League of Women Voters and the Westchester Democratic Party. Her hunger for knowledge flourished in the Great Books Society, where she formed a lifelong love of books and learning. Among her favorite authors were Pierre Van Paassen and Ralph Waldo Emerson.
Her career as an activist continued in the 1970's, when she and her second husband, Allan K. Jonas, formed a close friendship with consumer advocate Ralph Nader. Dorothy and Allan were among the earliest supporters of CalPIRG, defending the rights of consumers.
Then, in 1978, Dorothy and her daughter Bonnie took part in the historic march for the Equal Rights Amendment in Washington D.C. It was a turning point in Dorothy's life. In the next 30 years, she would become a leading advocate for women, respected throughout the women's community in Los Angeles, California, and the nation.
From 1978 to 2008, Dorothy served as Los Angeles Coordinator of the ERA "Coundown to Ratification" campaign; Chair of the California Commission on the Status of Women, Chair of the National Organization for Women's Homemakers' Rights Task Force; Chair of the California Coalition for Family Equity; President of the Advisory Board of the Rape Treatment Center - Los Angeles, and Founder of the Los Angeles Women's Leadership Network; She was a member of the Board of Directors, American Civil Liberties Foundation; Board of Directors, California Women's Law Center; Board of Directors, the Fund for the Feminist Majority; Women For:; the National Women's Political Caucus; the National Council of Jewish Women L.A.; the YWCA of Los Angeles; Comision Femenil Mexicana Nacionial; the Asian-Pacific Women's Network; and the Los Angeles Chapter of NOW.
Dorothy's many honors including Women For:'s Woman of Achievement (1981), the Federation of Business and Professional Women's Golden Nike Award (1985); the Los Angeles League of Women Voters Woman of Honor (1988), Santa Monica YWCA's Woman of the Year (1998), along with resolutions from the California Assembly and California State Senate honoring her work on behalf of women.
Dorothy and her husband Allan worked together as partners on many projects, exemplfying the equal partnership marriage that Dorothy believed in her heart was the right of all spouses, including traditional homemakers. Together with her daughter Bonnie and the assistance of many women's groups, feminist attorneys, and legislators, Dorothy changed California marital property law to place a high standard of fiduciary care on every spouse, the only such law in the nation. That law, and the successful campaign to launch the Rape Treatment Center's Stuart House for the treatment of child rape victims, were among Dorothy's highest achievements and greatest source of pride.
Dorothy never wavered in her belief that the arc of the universe bends toward justice, as long as people work together to make justice a reality. She brought women together, was the emotional anchor for her extended family, and proved that from the humblest of beginnings, a great life can grow. Dorothy gave us hope for the future, perhaps her greatest gift of all.
Dorothy will be missed by all, especially her surviving family: children Larry, Bonnie, Andy and Tony, grandchildren Amanda, Heather, Michelle, Annie, David, Scott, Melinda, Anderson and Thomas, and great-grandaughters Sadie and Katie.
Dorothy's family requests that contributions in her memory be made to the Feminist Majority Foundation, 433 S. Beverly Drive, Beverly Hills CA 90212, or the Rape Foundation, 1223 Wilshire Blvd. #410, Santa Monica CA 90403.
Published in the Los Angeles Times on July 7, 2013