50 States, 50 Women: Part 1 of 3

On a pilgrimage to Seneca Falls. (See “New York” in the post for Part 2.)

What if the National Statuary Hall in Washington, D.C. required every state to submit a statue of one female representative of their region? Noting the paucity of women in the current collection, M.L. and I set ourselves the challenge of choosing recommendations for the Hall’s collection.

Our guidelines are pretty loose. We each researched 25 states and selected a woman who was born or lived a portion of her life in the state. She could be famous for anything – artistic endeavors, political achievements, a colorful story – so long as she was not significant only by virtue of her connection with her husband. (So first ladies are pretty much out…) The end product is three blogposts, two by yours truly (because it makes for a very, very long post if I include all 25 women in one shot), and one by M.L. (who doesn’t mind long blog posts at all), which will be uploaded as a guest post. (Stay tuned!)

I will note that my selections tend towards women who are significant for their achievements in the arts, health care, or social activism. I don’t have too many female scientists, business persons, or athletes here, but would be very, very happy to hear of women to those fields that I have overlooked. So, without further ado:

AlabamaRosa Parks (1913-2005)
Rosa Parks was an African-American civil rights activist, most famous for her refusal to give up her seat to a white passenger on a bus in Montgomery, AL in December 1955. Her action sparked the Montgomery Bus Boycott, an important symbolic action in the history of American civil rights. Rosa and her husband, Raymond, steadily campaigned for equality in Alabama, Virgina, and Michigan throughout their lifetimes.

Alaska: Elizabeth Wanamaker Peratrovich (1911-1958)
Elizabeth Peratrovich was a Tlingit Native Alaskan who fought for the end of discrimination against Native-born persons. Disgusted by the oppressive civil and employment discrimination in Alaska, Peratrovich lobbied for the passage of the Anti-Discrimination Act in 1945. Speaking before the Territorial Senate, Peratrovich began, “I would not have expected that I, who am barely out of savagery, would have to remind gentlemen with five thousand years of recorded civilization behind them of our Bill of Rights.” The senate passed the Act on February 16, with a vote of 11 to 5.

California: Sally Ride (1951-2012)
Sally Ride was an astronaut, science writer, and barrier breaker. Ride ventured into space twiceaboard the Challenger, first in 1983 and again in 1984. The following year, Ride had the unenviable task of serving on the Presidential Commission investigating the tragedy of the Challenger explosion. Later in life, she was a professor at University of California, San Diego and CEO of Sally Ride Science.

Colorado: Madeleine Albright (1937-2001)
Though born in the Czech Republic, Albright spent her adolescence in Denver. Albright’s political career included positions as a staff member for Ed Muskie’s campaign, work for the National Security Council, and diplomatic endeavors as the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations. Her crowning achievement, though, was her appointment as Secretary of State by Bill Clinton in 1996. Albright became the first woman to serve in this post, forging the way for subsequently famous female secretaries, Condolezza Rice and Hilary Clinton.

Florida: Zora Neale Hurston (1925-1960)
Born in Alabama, but raised in Eatonville, FL, this Harlem Renaissance author is most famous for her novel, Their Eyes Were Watching God. However, Hurston was also a top-knotch folklorist and traveled throughout Southern America and the Carribean collecting and recording the stories of the cultures she encountered there.

Georgia: Coretta Scott King (1927-2006)
I’m breaking the guidelines a little here by including a woman whose initial significance to American civil rights was deeply connected to her husband, Martin Luther King, Jr. Her work following her husband’s death, however, is equally admirable. She traveled on goodwill missions to Europe, Latin America, Asia, and Africa, advocating for human rights the world over. Scott King also successfully lobbied for the institution of a national holiday in her husband’s honor. MLK, Jr. Day has since become synonymous with voluntarism and the the continued efforts of ordinary citizens to “be the change.”

Illinois: Jane Addams (1860-1935)
An ardent feminist and crusader for the dignity of the materially poor, Jane Addams was the founder of Hull House in Chicago, Illinois. The organization provided a space in which troubled and impoverished people could seek out assistance and fellowship. (The building ultimately included a public kitchen, art gallery, gym, swimming pool, music school, library, boarding area for girls, art studio, book bindry, employment bureau and labor museum.) Addams was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1931 for her efforts.

Iowa: Amelia Jenks Bloomer (1818-1894)
Though best known for her activities in western New York State, Bloomer moved to Iowa later in life and transplanted her feminist spirit and savvy journalism to her new home. A temperance reformer, newspaper editor, and suffragist, Bloomer is perhaps best known for her invention of a more “healthful costume” for 19th-century ladies. The “bloomers” that bear her name consisted of a short skirt and pantaloons that allowed women freer movement than the corseted, bustled dresses of her era.

Kentucky: bell hooks (1952- )
bell hooks is a feminist, activist, and author. Ever attentive to systems of power, hooks turns a lens on racism, sexism, and discrimination based on sexual orientation in her many works. hooks is a controversial figure, for sure, but has persistently injected the American feminist movement with the much-needed perspective of a woman of color, a woman of the south, and a woman of the postmodern era.

Maryland: Billie Holiday (1915-1959)
Holiday was a jazz singer with a golden voice. “Lady Day” consistently recorded hits like “My Man” and “Autumn in New York with Columbia records, often working with the jazz greats like Count Basie or Charlie Parker. Holiday, though, has become a justice legend for her courage in recording her emotive version of “Strange Fruit.” Initially barred from recording the song with Columbia due to the song’s subject matter (the original poem reflects upon the lynching of a black man), Holiday sought out Commodore records and turned out this haunting ballad.

Massachusetts: Anne Hutchinson (1591-1643)
Anne Hutchinson was a Puritan mother, midwife, and theologian. Well-educated and encouraged to pursue theology by her father, Hutchinson adopted and further developed the “gospel of grace” (in opposition to a focus on works) preached by John Cotton in England and the New World. Hutchinson’s theology – and her practice of teaching women, and eventually men, in the privacy of her home – proved to be at odds with Gov. John Winthrop’s vision for the Massachusetts Bay Colony. Hutchinson was consequently tried for her beliefs and banished from the colony.

MichiganHarriet Quimby (1874-1912)
Quimby was the first licensed woman pilot in the U.S. and the first woman to fly solo across the English channel in 1912. Though she perished in an unsanction aviation race in Boston, Quimby’s example paved the way for future women aviators, including Amelia Earhart.

Minnesota: Sister Elizabeth Kenny (1880-1952)
Kenny was an Australian nurse who later worked in Minnesota, in part to escape the criticism of the British Medical Association and her colleagues down under. Kenny’s work was controversal. She suggested that infant paralysis might be cured not through traditional prescriptions for rest, but through the exercise of children’s limbs. Her theories, and ultimately success, served as the foundation for modern rehabilitative medicine.


2 thoughts on “50 States, 50 Women: Part 1 of 3

  1. Pingback: 50 states, 50 women, part ii. « The Northumbrian Countdown
  2. Many thanks, Heather, for the inspirational bio-sketches that lead me down this morning’s path.

    I began by clicking your link for Anne Hutchinson and ended with insight into the female experience in earliest, historical America.

    Initially, my curiosity asked: What was Anne (Marbury) Hutchinson getting at with her theological emphasis on Grace, rather than Works? The one hint came in this biographical detail: “…(she believed) that God had given her the power of clairvoyance, and that she had known in advance of the exact day of (her ship’s) arrival in the colony”.

    Simply put, she was applying Ecclesiastes, Chapter 3 (“To everything there is a season…”) to her daily life–or perhaps doing so subconsciously. Being educated and unencumbered by dogma, she realized she could devine the meaning in events and history in a more crystaline manner than could her male ‘superiors’. In a virgin land where everything was beginning anew, there must have been an overwhelming, compelling need to witness.

    This led to my reading about Mary Dyer, Anne’s friend. Each resisted the male oppression in 1630s New England in their own way, and each died a violent death. One, from abandonment, one might argue, and the other from martyrdom.

    And finally, the pearl found, unexpectedly: America’s first published poet, Anne Dudley Bradstreet, 1612-1672, who came to the same colony as Anne Hutchinson and Mary Dyer (in 1630) and left, arguably, an even greater legacy, her inner-most thoughts.

    Here are parts of three of her poems, each a jewel, that speak to me over nearly 400 years:

    * From “In Honour of that High and Mighty Princess, Queen Elizabeth”
    Now say, have women worth? or have they none?
    Or had they some, but with our queen is’t gone?
    Nay Masculines, you have thus taxt us long,
    But she, though dead, will vindicate our wrong,
    Let such as say our Sex is void of Reason,
    Know tis a Slander now, but once was Treason.”

    [Note: Queen Elizabeth I reigned from 1558 to 1603]

    * From “Another”
    He that can tell the stars or ocean sand,
    Or all the grass that in the meads do stand,
    The leaves in th’ woods, the hail, or drops of rain,
    Or in a corn-field number every grain,
    Or every mote that in the sunshine hops,
    May count my sighs, and number all my drops.
    Tell him the countless steps that thou dost trace,
    That once a day thy spouse thou may’st embrace;
    And when thou canst not treat by loving mouth,
    Thy rays afar salute her from the south.

    [Note: her husband, who she loved passionately, was away on government business for long stretches of time.
    Also, note the emphasis on counting and numbers.]

    * From “The Author To Her Book”
    [Note: this is the self-aware poem of an auther who was published without a chance to edit. It describes how she wishes she could improve on her “Ill-formed off-spring…”. Note the piercing, many-storied allusions.]
    And rubbing off a spot still made a flaw.
    I stretched thy joints to make thee even feet,
    Yet still thou run’st more hobbling than is meet;
    In better dress to trim thee was my mind,
    But nought save homespun cloth, i’ th’ house I find.
    In this array ‘mongst Vulgars may’st thou roam.
    In critic’s hands beware thou dost not come,

    Is this genius? I think so.

    Is it ‘clairvoyance’, akin to what Anne Hutchinson experienced? The answer can be read in the final lines of her Queen Elizabeth poem:

    No more shall rise or set such glorious Sun,
    Until the heaven’s great revolution:
    If then new things, their old form must retain,
    Eliza shall rule Albian once again.”

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