Photography by Danny Fulgencio

Winston Churchill is one of the most revered politicians in history, but Natalie Gonnella-Platts geeks out over his wife, Clementine Churchill. “She put up with a lot, and history has largely forgotten who she is,” Gonnella-Platts says. “That’s something we’re still grappling with today. That has to change.” As director of the Women’s Initiative at the George W. Bush Institute, Gonnella-Platts is responsible for research and programming that empowers women and girls around the world. That includes the First Ladies Initiative, which supports first ladies globally as they use their platform to generate positive change in their countries. Gonnella-Platts has served in the position since 2014, when she and her husband moved from her home state of New York to a home on the M Streets. The couple added a baby boy to the family less than a year ago.

Video by Margaret O’Rourke

On Growing Up

“My longstanding passion for creating gender equality ties back to my grandmother. In 1946-1947, she started a candy shop and [before that] started a union when she worked for a larger chocolate producer.”

On Empowerment

The importance of empowering women and girls:

“There’s a huge undervaluing of the contributions of women and girls. If women have access to markets, it’s more likely their children will be healthy and educated. Women invest more in their community. We need to ensure they can actively participate in decision-making. It’s vital. If women don’t succeed, no one succeeds.”

On First Ladies

The role of the first lady:

“They’re apolitical influencers and leaders in their own rights. But there is no job description. Gender bias affords them a very low margin of error. We support their office through best-practice sharing, capacity building and connecting them with each other.”

On Inspiration

Her inspiration:

“I’m really inspired by the work we’ve done in Namibia. It’s often hailed as a successful African country, but it’s got one of the highest wealth disparities in the world. First Lady Monica Geingos recognizes there are a lot of folks in her country who are left behind. One of her programs addresses the high rates of violence and HIV among young people. She helps them get the information they need to be successful and protect themselves. She helps young kids get access to some of the best schools in the country. She gives female entrepreneurs access to capital so they can grow their businesses.”

On Admiration

A first lady she admires:

“Lou Hoover was the first woman in the U.S. to earn a degree in geology from Stanford. A lot of women saw her as influential and a bit more liberated than most. She received a ton of letters from women wanting to seek out education. She wrote checks to support those women. She didn’t tell anyone about it, but she was in a position to help. She was described as an oak in a flowerpot. She was confined by the constraints of the era, but we all can do something.”


Women and the coronavirus:

“The long-term effects of COVID-19 will be disproportionately felt by women and girls. Women are on the front lines of COVID-19. They are a huge majority of nurses, cleaning services and grocery store workers. We are literally dependent on women in these circumstances, and they are so underrepresented in leadership.”

On Gender Discrimination

“For those of us who have not experienced discrimination, it’s important to remember that there was a path paved for us. We shoulder a responsibility to support those who do experience discrimination in all its forms.”

On East Dallas

What she loves about East Dallas:

“Where I’m from, Frank Lloyd Wright built a lot there, so I love historic architecture. I love that I live in a conservation district. People have such an appreciation for it here. We are very much urbanites. We love that we can walk and go out to dinner or grab a drink. It demonstrates the vibrancy of Dallas. My husband is British, and he loves the expanse of Texas and that you can get a steak as big as your head.”

Click to sign up for the Advocate's weekly news digest and be the first to know what’s happening in Lakewood/East Dallas.