The Power of Women

Women Divers Hall of Fame celebrates 20 years

WDHOF group photo from 2018 NOGI Award dinner

When the Women Divers Hall of Fame (WDHOF) was created in 1999, only 28 percent of divers were female. Now the Professional Association of Diving Instructors (PADI) reports that almost 40 percent of newly certified divers are female, thanks in part to the support of and inspiration from other women in the sport over the years — women such as those honored in the WDHOF.

"The organization is a way to recognize outstanding women divers and their incredible accomplishments, while also making a difference, paying it forward and giving back

Wendy Benchley
through our scholarship, training grants and mentorship programs," said Bonnie Toth, WDHOF member since 2007.

Initially thought of as a "girls club," the WDHOF has grown to include the most influential female divers from around the world. While some members are known to many divers — Sylvia Earle and Eugenie Clark, for example — each woman has accomplished some sort of "first" in the field of diving: the first woman to film manta rays and whale sharks (Lotte Hass), the first female scuba instructor in the U.S. (Dottie Frazier), the first woman to dive the Andrea Doria (Evelyn Dudas), the first American female to walk in space (Kathryn Sullivan, who also dived in submersibles to depths up to 8,000 feet) and the list goes on. With more than 200 members, six inducted each year, the number of "firsts" among this group of women is truly remarkable.

Sylvia Earle, Ph.D.

Sally Bauer, M.D.
Even more noteworthy, however, is the humility of these women. When Sally Bauer — WDHOF member since 2011, medical doctor, aquarist, dive historian, the first person to raise clownfish in an aquarium and founder of the History of Diving Museum — was asked what it feels like to be a part of such an elite organization, she explained, "These women made history; I just tell it."

Patti Gross, a WDHOF member since 2016, is a marine conservation educator who has

Patti Gross
created conservation-based dive specialty programs, serves as the dive safety officer for the Coral Restoration Foundation and has traveled around the world to outplant corals and train citizen scientists. Despite her many achievements, she said, "Throughout my life, I never thought I was doing anything notable. I have always lived by my passions. To me, water was always a passion."

Perhaps their unassuming nature is what has allowed these women to create such an impactful organization for future generations. The members seem to agree that, while

Shirley Pomponi, Ph.D.
honored to be recognized among this elite group of women, they are most proud of the effects WDHOF has on the next generation, primarily through their scholarship program.

"WDHOF is more than an organization that recognizes the accomplishments of women," explained Michele Hall, an award-winning underwater filmmaker and member of the

Michele Hall
WDHOF since 2000. "It is an organization comprised of accomplished women who strive to assist in passing the baton.… I believe that WDHOF's greatest achievement lies within our outreach and our scholarship program. Through the funds we raise, we can help so many people each year as they strive to increase their skills and their own outreach. Being a part of that effort makes me immensely proud."

Norma Hansen
Kathy Weydig, the first president of the organization, requested $500 for the first scholarship In 2001. As the WDHOF membership has grown, so has the scholarship program. Now the organization awards tens of thousands of dollars every year. Since its inception, the WDHOF has awarded more than $500,000 to deserving recipients via a highly competitive application process. In 2019 the group awarded more than $80,000 in scholarship money to 59 recipients. All funds these women raise throughout the year go toward the WDHOF scholarship program.

The WDHOF currently includes women from 30 states across the U.S. and more than 18

Nath Lasselin
countries. They come from hugely diverse backgrounds (education, science, conservation, the arts, business, media, medicine and exploration, among others), and the scholarship opportunities they offer are equally as diverse. "Due to our professional diversities, our outreach is far and wide, adding to our strength as an organization," Hall explained. The varied grant and scholarship opportunities, which support both women and men, include fields such as dive training, marine conservation and underwater archaeology. As further proof of the dedication these women have to future generations, WDHOF members sponsor many of the scholarships.

Spanning multiple generations, the women are also a source of inspiration for each other. Gross has a National Geographic magazine from 1971 with an article and

Nancy McGee
photos about Sylvia Earle conducting coral surveys — the article inspired her so much as a child that she kept it. When Gross met Earle in 2013, she had her mentor sign the magazine.

Hall, who understands that "our future lies in the hands of our youth," is inspired by Margo Peyton and Annie Crawley, two WDHOF members who are devoted ocean educators. All the members set an example for young divers. "By providing an arena for recognizing achievements, we encourage and set examples and standards for others to emulate," Hall explained.

"I am in awe of our members who are still out in the trenches," Toth said, "diving, making their mark, speaking at the dive shows and representing our organization."

Mel Lillis
Among the celebrations and events WDHOF members are preparing for their 20th anniversary is a "traveling watch" bearing the WDHOF logo. The first prototype of the watch will travel around the world and go to a different "sea sister" every 30 days for 20 months — one month for each year of the WDHOF. These women use creative avenues such as this world-spanning journey of a meaningful symbol to connect with each other.

While this group of women obviously includes extremely hard workers, they make time for some fun — they are divers after all. "We love to dive, we love having fun, and we love to have fun and dive together," Hall said. "Some of my most fun dives and dive trips have been because I shared the adventure with my sea sisters."

Lotte Hass
Coming from different countries with incredibly diverse backgrounds, these women share one passion: diving. What makes these women so powerful, special and worthy of celebration is what each of them has done with this passion. While the organization celebrates these accomplished women, WDHOF also celebrates the future by providing a platform for successful women to inspire each other along with future generations.

As co-founder Kathy Weydig wrote, the WDHOF is a reminder that "the power of women to help other women is alive and well." Happy 20th anniversary to the WDHOF, and thanks for your inspiration and contributions to divers everywhere.
Explore More
Learn more about the Women Divers Hall of Fame by watching this video produced for the organization's 15th anniversary and by visiting their website at

© Alert Diver — Q2 Spring 2019