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:
Alabama: Rosa 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.
Michigan: Harriet 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.