Bertha Stovall Waters, 95, of Philadelphia, a licensed social worker who fought for social justice and educational equity, died Saturday, Jan. 6, of a stomach ailment at Chestnut Hill Hospital.

Bertha Stovall Waters
Courtesy of the family
Bertha Stovall Waters

Ms. Waters worked at the Pennsylvania Department of Education, where she was the equity coordinator, ensuring that opportunities for students were not limited by gender. She retired in the 1990s after a long career.

After marrying and having seven children, Ms. Waters went back to school at age 54. She graduated summa cum laude in 1977 with a bachelor's degree from Temple University. Two years later, she was awarded a master of social service degree from Bryn Mawr College.

"Someone going to college after having seven children, that person is serious," said her longtime friend Pearl Battle Simpson. "And then you figure out what you want to do. She just continued down that path."

"That spoke volumes to us and the grandchildren," said son Vincent Stovall Waters of Ms. Waters' educational achievements.

The impetus for Ms. Waters' advocacy for the underdog began long before she earned advanced degrees, said daughter Linda Waters Richardson.

"The seeds of her lifelong passion for the rights of all individuals were sown when she cast her first presidential election vote for Franklin Delano Roosevelt," Richardson said.

Ms. Waters fought for economic and social justice and change, Richardson said. She was active in the civil rights and anti-war movements, and was an early supporter of gay and lesbian rights.

She was a board member of the Philadelphia Ethical Society. Ms. Waters also was active with the Parents' Union for Public Schools in Philadelphia, the advisory board of the University of Pennsylvania Women's Center, and Bread and Roses Community Fund, and was a longtime member of the Belmont Community Improvement Association.

"I think one of the great things about her was being so open-minded and understanding of people in general," said her friend Battle Simpson. "She didn't back off people being different. She knew how to be accepting of everybody."

In 2005, the Philadelphia Chapter of the National Organization for Women honored Ms. Waters as an advocate for gender equity in education. In 2009, she received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Bryn Mawr College Graduate School of Social Work and Social Research.

The daughter of Arthur and Edith Stovall, Ms. Waters graduated from West Philadelphia High School. She married Lester A. Waters. The family lived in the Belmont section of West Philadelphia.  She spent her final years in Chestnut Hill.

In August 2002, Ms. Waters made news when she got lost on a hike with a grandchild and three great-grandchildren in dense woods in the Poconos. As a thunderstorm blew in, she built a pine shelter and awaited help, the Inquirer wrote. When they were hungry, they ate wild blueberries.

"Throughout the night, we knew they were looking for us," said Ms. Waters. When the children whimpered, she led them in singing "The Bear Went Over the Mountain." They were found the next morning unscathed.

"She knew how to handle things," Battle Simpson said. "What an adventure. I remember that like it was yesterday."

Ms. Waters' husband died in 1993. Besides her son and daughter, she is survived by children Cynthia Waters-Tines, Sheila Fay Waters, Lester "Jack" Waters, Diana Beth Waters, and Nica Waters-Fleming; 13 grandchildren; 20 great-grandchildren; two great-great grandchildren; and nieces and nephews.

Memorial services and burial will be private.

Donations may be made to Camp Linden, c/o Philadelphia Ethical Society, 1906 South Rittenhouse Square, Philadelphia 19103.