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Joan Carter

There are two milestones in the history of women and the Philadelphia Union League. In 1986 it accepted its first woman member and last year it named its first female president. The two groundbreaking changes were personified by the same woman, Joan Carter. Carter is a prosperous and respected entrepreneur who, with her husband, started a series of very profitable businesses. She explains how it all began with an idea and an influential book.

In December of last year, I was elected President of the Union League of Philadelphia. The first woman to be elected in our 148 year history. It was a proud and humbling moment when I was given the gavel and called upon to make a short speech to about 300 members who came to celebrate with me.

I have always considered that patriotism - a profound belief in the principles on which our nation was founded - was important to me. But articulating that to an organization that raised troops for the civil war - the civil war - in 1862 - made me think about what I really believe and how it has influenced my life.

When asked what is so different about our country, the answer is often that we are a democracy. True. But what America is about is liberty. The freedom of the individual to think as we please, to worship where we want or not at all, to earn a living by any legal means. In short, it means being free to live the life you want as long as it does not harm anyone else.

This is the message that is outlined in the book, Atlas Shrugged, which I read in my early twenties - just about the time I was starting my career in business - ideas that have had a profound influence on my life. Atlas Shrugged has recently been made into a movie adapting Ayn Rand's powerful novel for the screen. And, in a twist of fate, the producer is none other than my husband, John Aglialoro.

You see, individual liberty, a central theme of Atlas Shrugged, is a uniquely American concept firmly grounded in our Constitution - along with other key principles of free markets and limited government. These are the principles we have fought wars to defend - from our founding in 1776 throughout our history and still today.

It is worrisome to me that economic liberty in the United States is not what it once was - that the admonition of Thomas Jefferson that "it is the natural progress of things for liberty to yield and government to gain ground" seems to be more and more a reality. The economic freedom glorified by our founders - the freedom that enabled my husband and me to start a business which has sustained our family for the past 30 years - seems to be losing strength in the combat of ideas.

I believe it is our duty as citizens to preserve individual and economic liberty for future generations. Further, I do believe that we have a duty to honor those who are protecting the principles of the nation we were founded to be. To honor and support those who are speaking out for the importance of the individual.