Sharon Rice Vaughan, a national pioneer from the Twin Cities in providing a safe haven to battered women, was run over by a vehicle and killed while visiting Cuba this week, a family member said Thursday. Vaughan, who lived in St. Paul, was 73.
Vaughan was traveling with a hiking group based in Canada when she was hit Tuesday while crossing a street in Havana, said her son, Thomas Vaughan.
As a VISTA volunteer in 1972, Vaughan and her friends began inviting battered women into their homes. Two years later they created Women’s Advocates, converting a home in St. Paul on Grand Avenue near Dale Street into the nation’s first shelter for battered women and their children.
“She was one of the mothers of the movement,” said Shelley Johnson Cline, executive director of the St. Paul and Ramsey County Intervention Project. “She shifted the nation’s perspective on the issue of domestic violence, no doubt about that.”
Once Women’s Advocates was established, “Sharon soon became a powerful spokeswoman for the hidden plight of battered women and their children,” said Carol Robertshaw, who worked with Vaughan in the late 1980s on a University of Minnesota Public Radio (KUOM-AM) documentary series on battered women. For “Breaking the Silence,” Vaughan received the Association for Women in Communications’ national Clarion Award for best radio documentary series in 1988.
In 1989, during a Star Tribune interview marking the shelter’s 15th anniversary, the single mother of three said, “Women’s Advocates’ philosophy was not to diagnose, but to help the woman find resources and give them a safe place to make decisions. That philosophy was adopted by many other shelters.”
Women’s Advocates pushed for years for the legal protection of battered women and children in Minnesota, lobbying for funding of shelters and safe homes. The shelter also campaigned for the state’s Domestic Abuse Act, which became law in 1979 and allows individuals to obtain a court order for protection without having to file for a divorce or legal separation.
Today, the 15-bedroom Women’s Advocates facility offers shelter, meals, clothing, transportation, counseling and other support to about 1,000 women and children a year.
Vaughan was a faculty member (emeritus) at Metropolitan State University in St. Paul, where she developed and headed its program in community violence prevention. She retired in 2009 from Metro State, where she first taught in the early 1970s.
Vaughan also was a longtime member of the Twin Cities’ Women Against Military Madness (WAMM) and a current board co-chair, said one of the peace organization’s founders, Polly Mann.
“She recognized that women and children were most often victims of war and among the most deeply affected,” Mann said. “As a committed antiwar activist, she participated in marches, rallies and many other actions with WAMM.”
Services for Vaughan are scheduled for 11 a.m. April 2 at the Unity Church-Unitarian, 733 Portland Av., St. Paul. Vaughan is survived by siblings Mary Bandt, of North Oaks; Robert Rice, of Jamestown, N.D.; and Margaret Langland, of Columbia, Mo. She was preceded in death by a daughter, Rachel, and is survived by sons Thomas, of Pocatello, Idaho; and Jeremy, of St. Paul.