Greek-American Sylvia Mathews Burwell Shares Greek Yiayia’s Voting Story

WASHINGTON, DC – Greek-American Sylvia Mathews Burwell is the President of American University (AU) in Washington, DC and on August 21, she posted on Twitter a touching video tribute to her Greek immigrant grandmother Vasiliki Bessie Maroudas, the first woman in her family to vote, in honor of the 100th anniversary of the ratification of the 19th Amendment which gave women in the United States the right to vote.

Along with the video, Burwell posted, “I’m honored to share the story of my grandmother, Vasiliki Bessie Maroudas – a Greek immigrant, the first woman to vote in my family, and a very influential person in my life – and to remember the importance of 100 years ago women getting the ability to vote. #FirstWomanVoter.”

In the video, Burwell mentions that her grandmother came to the United States to marry her husband, a man she had only met through letters in the mail. Burwell added that her grandfather hired a babysitter so that her grandmother could attend citizenship classes, and after she became a U.S. citizen, she voted for the first time in 1940. Burwell also mentions her grandmother’s talent for needlework, showing examples of her work that her aunt incorporated into a quilt. She also shows the pan her grandmother used to bake Greek favorites like spanakopita and baklava. Burwell noted that she herself still uses her grandmother’s pan to this day.

The video can be viewed online: https://twitter.com/SylviaBurwell/status/1296842373155229697.

Burwell is AU’s 15th president and assumed her responsibilities on June 1, 2017. She previously served as the 22nd Secretary of the United States Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), a role she held from 2014 through the end of President Obama’s second term. Prior to that Cabinet appointment, Burwell was Director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), also a Cabinet position. She emerged as the top candidate in a very competitive national search.

The daughter of Cleo (née Maroudas) Mathews, a teacher and Hinton, WV mayor from 2001 to 2009, and Dr. William Peter Mathews, an optometrist, Burwell’s grandparents on both sides were Greek immigrants. An accomplished senior government official and global foundation executive, Burwell is a leader of immense character and vision, known for her rigor of thought and laser-like focus on mission. A Rhodes Scholar, she possesses an inherent intellectual curiosity that she has applied to push the boundaries of knowledge in order to address complex problems. These traits, combined with her experience and commitment to education and research, make her well suited to lead AU at this moment in their history.


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