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Historic lives portrayed

She was nearly in tears at the end of her performance.

The work of Dian Fossey, a woman who studied gorillas in Zaire and was stabbed to death while asleep in her mountain, clearly had had some resonance in her life.

Sunday it was the job of Joanne Shope, a member of Soroptimist International of Tahoe Sierra, to take the stage at Lake Tahoe Community College Theater and tell Fossey’s story in first person.



Shope is one of six members of Soroptimist, an organization dedicated to the improvement of women and children, who took time out to portray revolutionary women as part of Women’s History Month.

Other than Fossey, the group recreated the lives of five women including that of Dr. Susan Love, a breast cancer surgeon, and Emma Hart Willard, a woman who established America’s first “rational” school for women in the early 1800s.




Norma Santiago, organizer of the fundraiser, said this year will hopefully be the first year of an annual performance of “Women in History.” “The goal is to educate and provide historical reference to young people of women who have made a difference,” Santiago, who impersonated Donaldina Cameron, a human right activist, said. “To empower women is the whole idea.”

Patti Howell, a member of Soroptimist since 1988, portrayed Dr. Susan Love.

“Women have studied men’s history for 50 years,” she said. “Now it’s time for men to study women’s history.”

The performance started out with a big group laugh from the audience when Shope, who at best is five feet five inches tall, spoke about how Fossey was a very tall women.

“You can’t tell by looking at me but by the age of 14, I was six feet tall,” she said.

Dressed in a denim vest, jeans and holding a walking stick, Shope displayed slides of silver-backed gorillas and spoke of Fossey’s life.

“I had hundreds of hours of observation and notes and I’d stay up half-the-night writing them into journals,” Shope told the audience. “I studied their behavior, communication and family grouping. And I gave them all names.”

Fossey eased the loneliness of the mountains with cigarettes and whiskey, sometimes a case a week. And being a single woman, Fossey pretended to have supernatural powers to ward off unwanted company. “I used masks . . . and just tried to scare them,” Shope said. “That’s how I survived.”


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