I mentioned in a recent post that one of the projects I had in the pipeline was in cooperation with my fiancée, Heather. Our idea was inspired by the National Statuary Hall in Washington D.C., where each state gets to pick two representative citizens to be immortalized in marble near the capital rotunda. Heather and I began to think, “what if each state had to pick one woman?” Who would it be? We would each take 25 states at random and select who we believed to be the exemplary woman “from” that state. (“From” can mean a multitude of things– one could be born there, retire there, work there, or perform some kind of activism there.) We had only one rule and one guideline: no first ladies, and avoid those who were famous largely by being the wife, daughter or mistress of a famous man.
There was just one snag– when we put the names on slips of paper and drew them out of a hat, Heather got all of the “good states”: New York, Illinois, California, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania– states with a great many famous women to choose from. I got most of the duds where in some cases I really had to scrape: Arkansas (remember, no First Ladies), the Dakotas, West Virginia, Delaware, etc. Heather offered to redraw the states, but I refused. It was more fun to complain. I shall link to Heather’s selections and write-ups when she’s done. (In all fairness, I only finished mine first because I don’t have a Master’s thesis to write!)
So, here are the choices that I have made:
Arizona: Linda Rondstadt (b. 1946): Already a member of my “Free France Rock and Roll Hall of Fame” (those wrongfully excluded from the illegitimate Hall of Fame in Cleveland), Rondstandt makes another appearance here. Few women excelled in quite so many facets of popular music: as an expressive singer, thoughtful songwriter, and a creative arranger who successfully navigated between the rock, folk, and country/western idioms.
Arkansas: Katharine Susan Anthony (1877-1965): Oddly, the only Susan Anthony on our list (someone else beat her more famous relative for New York’s spot), she was an early 20th-century advocate for the rights of women in the workplace. Additionally, she was a prolific biographer, writing pieces on Elizabeth I, Catherine the Great, and Louisa May Alcott.
Connecticut: Claire Booth Luce (1903-1987): This breaks the “no wife of famous people” guideline, but for good reason; her husband was Henry Luce, the eminent publisher of Time, Life, and Sports Illustrated. Claire Luce was no less significant. Her resume is astounding: editor, playwright, screenwriter, Republican congresswoman, atomic energy advocate, and ambassador to Italy.
Delaware: Annie Jump Cannon (1863-1941): A prominent astronomer, whose system of star classification remained the field’s standard for decades. She is credited with the discovery of over 300 stars, a record matched only by Ed McMahon.
Hawaii: Queen Liliukalani (1838-1917): In her youth, she was a reformist monarch who advocated a limited monarchy and a constitutional empowering native Hawaiians. In later life, she valiantly fought an illegal attempt of sundry U.S. entrepreneurs to annex the Hawaiian islands. Alas, this was in vain, and the state became a lucrative fiefdom for the Dole fruit company for the next several decades.
Idaho: Sacajawea (1788?-1812?): Actively, she sought out berries, edible plants and provided crucial translation skills for the Lewis and Clark expedition. Passively, her mere presence discouraged attacks against the party by first nation tribes, reassured that a war party never traveled with a woman. Virtually nothing we know about her comes from her own hand or her own words, and yet there’s a fascinating tapestry of a life here.
Indiana: Madame C.J. Walker (1867-1919): Not too many entrepreneurs on my list, but Walker certainly deserves a place here. Her eponymous company sold shampoos and hair ointments out of an Indianapolis factory. Walker is widely considered the first African-American woman to be a millionaire, and the first American woman to be a millionaire as a result of her own business acumen, rather than through inherited or bequeathed wealth. Later in life, she supported the NAACP and began to train other African-American women to run their own businesses.
Kansas: Mary Elizabeth Lease (1850-1939): Among the loudest and most long-winded of the Populist agitators that dotted the American prairie in the 1880s. At a time when crippling railroad rates and quasi-colonial policies toward the Western states made life difficult, she exhorted farmers to “raise less corn and more Hell.”
Louisiana: Mahalia Jackson (1911-1972): Perhaps the most famous gospel singer in U.S. history. While many African-American women veered unerringly for blues or pop or eventually R&B, she lent her magnificent voice to gospel recordings, the veritable soundtrack of hope.
Maine: Martha Ballard (1735-1812): Come on, you thought I would pick Margaret Chase Smith, didn’t you? Surprise! I chose Martha Ballard, a long-forgotten midwife working during the Early Republic era. Her diary, a meticulous, thorough litany of her career assisting the birth process, has proven to be an invaluable resource to future historians.
Mississippi: Fannie Lou Hamer (1917-1977): Working in a civil rights movement that could be shockingly sexist at times, Fannie Lou Hamer was in charge of SNCC, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, which did the dirty work, going house to house registering voters in rural Mississippi. This Freedom Summer of 1964 was a watershed in the civil rights movement, obscured by more conspicuous, publicity-grabbing maneuvers by MLK and the SCLC. A shame really; if King was the face of the movement, Hamer was its inviolable heartbeat.
Missouri: Maya Angelou (b. 1928): An amazing life of unlikely turns: abject poverty, abusive family members, 5 years as a mute, time as a prostitute and pimp, Calypso nightclub performer, anti-Apartheid activist, and finally, perhaps the most loved and respected poet of her generation.
Montana: Jeannette Rankin (1880-1973): She only served a few terms as a Montana congresswoman, but Rankin was there during two crucial points in our country’s history– our decision to enter World War I, and our decision to enter World War II. Rankin is the only congressperson to have voted against declaring both wars. A lifelong pacifist, she explained her vote thusly: “As a woman, I can’t go to war, and refuse to send anyone else.”
New Hampshire: Mary Baker Eddy (1821-1910): The founder of the Christian Science movement, an intriguing blend of modernist and spiritualist ideas in the 1870s. Eddy is indirectly responsible for this crazy-as-hell cable access show, the Junior Christian Science Bible Lesson Show.
North Carolina: Crystal Lee Sutton (1940-2009): A union activist in a notorious right-to-work state, Sutton successfully organized workers in a textile factory despite fervent opposition, and eventually dismissal from her employers. Courts subsequently ruled their action illegal and unconstitutional. The Sally Field film Norma Rae is based upon her life.
North Dakota: Elizabeth Bodine (1898-1986): Obscure but a common, salt-of-the-earth woman who did humanitarian work among the American Indian tribes in her state, and sent all 18 of her children to college. She was the winner of the 1979 Mother of the Year Award.
Ohio: Gloria Steinem (b. 1934): What it means to be a feminist has been diluted, twisted, and misrepresented in the last 40 years. Steinem’s name gives some people fits, but it shouldn’t. Steinem, more than anyone else, even her contemporary Friedan, made modern womanhood into a viable and respectable culture. That was essentially the contribution of her Ms. Magazine, forging a feminism that is assertive and forthright and eager to correct structural inequities, but not at all the shrill, abrasive, and shrewish phenomenon of its detractors’ imaginations. Gloria Steinem is okay with you holding the door open for her. Honest.
Rhode Island: Anne Smith Franklin (1696-1763): A sister-in-law of Ben, she was the first prominent woman publisher in the Colonies. As a widow, she took up her husband’s line of work, serving as an editor, a writer of almanacs, and a printer of paper currency.
South Carolina: Sarah Grimke (1792-1873): Would it surprise you to know that one of the greatest American abolitionists came from a family of aristocratic planters in South Carolina? After being reproached for teaching slaves to read, she moved up north, married into a Quaker family. With her sister Angelica, she became prominent as a voice for ending slavery and increasing the role of women as moral voices in the public sphere.
South Dakota: Laura Ingalls Wilder (1867-1957): Nobody captured the challenges and the blessings of life in the far Midwest quite like Wilder. Her book series and in time, the semi-apocryphal television series based on her life have become common currency in youth fiction. I’d drive past the eponymous “little house on the prairie” in South Dakota during frequent trips between Mitchell and Sioux Falls.
Texas: Molly Ivins (1944-2007): Throughout the 80s and 90s, Ivins was an acerbic, sharp-tongued political pundit, routinely breaking out into Texas colloquialisms and phraseology to shed light on corruption and hypocrisy, both nationally and the special object of her wrath, the Texas State Legislature.
Utah: Marie Osmond (b. 1959): I’m sorry, okay? Utah was really difficult. Argh. Um..from what I can glean from a cursory look at her Wikipedia page, she…let’s see here…hosted a t.v. show, started a line of dolls, and is involved in some charity work or other.
Washington: Mother Joseph Pariseau (1823-1902): A lot of people on here are activists, but not everyone on here is someone I can describe unequivocally as compassionate or loving or gentle. Mother Jones of the Sacred Heart has these qualities in divine abundance. In a sparsely populated Pacific Northwest, she built a network of orphanages, hospitals, schools and charities from the ground up.
West Virginia: Mother Jones (1837-1930): During the turn of the century, the last thing you wanted if you were a mine owner is for Mother Jones to come to your town. With a stump speaking style that alternated between sweet humor and prophetic anger, Jones organized workers and communities in coal-mining towns throughout Appalachia. She was instrumental in the foundation of the Industrial Workers of the World and crusading for laws limiting a child labor at a time when a patronizing press called such radical ideas “socialistic.” WV gets credit for her on account of the Paintsville protest, where Jones was arrested and refused to recognize the legitimacy of her court, held under the auspices of martial law.
Wyoming: Esther Hobart Morris (1814-1902): Originally from central NY, Morris moved to the Wyoming territory and became an early advocate for women’s right to vote in a rough-and-tumble environment where the domestic ideal that prevailed back East simply wouldn’t fly. She was also, by all accounts, the first female Justice of the Peace.