Collection commemorates women's right to vote
To commemorate the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment in August, the USA TODAY Network is recognizing 10 American women from each of the 50 states and the District of Columbia as Women of the Century, based on their contributions to their states and the country.
Some of the Sunflower State’s most remarkable women didn’t meet the guidelines for the project or were a hair under the top 10 cutoff when the robust debating over nominees was over. So many deserving Kansas women, and a mere 10 spots to fill. Ultimately, Kansas’ top 10 list represents the intellect, resiliency, political savvy, business acumen, adventurous nature and stellar talent of the women who have called the state home. Special thanks to Daphne Maxwell, member of Kansas African American Affairs Commission, Junction City; Nancy Sherbert, former head of acquisitions at the Kansas Historical Society, Auburn; Bonita Gooch, editor of The Community Voice, Wichita; Ronnie Padilla, longtime community activist, Topeka; Jackie Mundt, communications and marketing manager at Kanza Cooperative Association, Pratt; Michel’ Cole, former vice president of corporate communications and public affairs at Westar Energy, Topeka; Megan Rohleder, senior archivist at Kansas State Historical Society, Topeka; Patricia Michaelis, former director of the Kansas State Archives, Topeka; Jan Biles, former journalist at The Topeka Capital-Journal and Lawrence Journal World, for their help with this inspirational project.
Amelia Earhart Aviation pioneer (1897-1937) Earhart captured the world’s admiration as she set a record flying solo across the Atlantic Ocean, becoming a symbol of the perseverance of women and the American spirit of adventure. Earhart, a native Kansan who was a nurse’s aide with the Red Cross during World War I, began taking flying lessons in 1921 in California and soon purchased an airplane. The international spotlight first shone on her in 1928, when, as a passenger on a seaplane, she became the first woman to fly nonstop across the Atlantic. Earhart’s celebrity status was elevated in May 1932, when she navigated her Lockheed Vega from Newfoundland to Ireland – 14 hours, 56 minutes – to become the first woman to make a solo transatlantic flight.
Nancy Kassebaum Baker First woman to represent Kansas in the U.S. Senate (1932- ) Kassebaum Baker was born into Kansas political royalty but made her own mark once she was elected to Congress. She was the first woman to represent Kansas in the U.S. Senate and the first woman to chair a major Senate committee. Kassebaum Baker, the daughter of Alfred Landon, 26th governor of Kansas and 1936 Republican presidential nominee, carried on her father’s legacy by earning a master’s degree in diplomatic history and working for Republican Sen. James Pearson’s office in 1975. When Pearson decided not to seek reelection, Kansas voters picked Kassebaum Baker to fill his seat. Kassebaum Baker served in the Senate from 1978 to 1997.
Lucinda Todd Teacher and education activist (1903-1996) Todd fought to advance educational opportunities for AfricanAmerican students and played a key role in the Brown v. Board of Education lawsuit, which resulted in the U.S. Supreme Court decision striking down school segregation. After Todd was forced to quit her teaching job because she married, she became secretary of the Topeka chapter of the NAACP. When a local newspaper column described the chapter as a “militant group” trying to disband “colored schools,” Todd replied, “If by wanting my child to have equal education I am being ‘militant,’ then thank God I am militant.” In 1951, Todd was the first of 13 parents to sign on as a plaintiff in a class-action lawsuit against the Topeka Board of Education in the U.S. District Court.
Lynette Woodard Two-time U.S. Olympian, WNBA player and first female member of the Harlem Globetrotters (1959- ) Woodard revolutionized collegiate and professional women’s basketball. She was a four-time first-team All-American player at the University of Kansas, two-time U.S. Olympian and WNBA player. At KU, Woodard was women’s collegiate all-time leading scorer with 3,649 points. In 1996, she was named the greatest female player in Big Eight Conference history, scoring more than 400 points more than any other woman in conference history and setting a rebound record of 1,716. In 1984, the Olympic team, with Woodard as captain, won the gold medal in Los Angeles. A year later, Woodard became the first female member of the Harlem Globetrotters.
Georgia Neese Clark Gray First female treasurer of the United States (1898-1995) Gray was an actress and banker who became the first woman to hold the office of U.S. treasurer. After graduating in 1921 from Washburn College in Topeka, Gray enrolled at the Franklin Sargent School of Dramatic Art in New York City. She performed with stock companies for about 10 years, until acting jobs dried up during the Depression. She returned to Kansas and began working in 1935 at her father’s bank in her hometown of Richland. Two years later, after her father’s death, she took over as bank president. Active in the Kansas Democratic Party, Gray was elected national committeewoman from 1936 to 1964. She was a backer of President Harry S. Truman, which influenced her appointment as the first female U.S. treasurer.
Eva Jessye Acclaimed professional choral group director (1895-1992) Jessye was the first African American woman to win international acclaim as a professional choral group director. She also was a singer, actress, author and poet. After careers as a teacher and reporter, Jessye in 1926 joined the Dixie Jubilee Singers, a New York-based choral group. The singers performed jazz, spirituals, light opera and other musical styles for film, radio and stage. In 1927, the choir contributed to the film “Uncle Tom’s Cabin,” and Jessye published “My Spirituals,” a critically acclaimed collection of songs from southeast Kansas. Composer George Gershwin chose Jessye in 1935 to be choral director for “Porgy and Bess.” For the next 30 years, Jessye was affiliated with nearly every production of the popular folk-opera worldwide.
Melissa Etheridge Singer-songwriter, guitarist, activist (1961- ) Singer-songwriter Etheridge is known for her Grammy Awardwinning rock songs, her activism and her openness about her sexual orientation. Etheridge attended the Berklee College of Music in Boston for a year and then moved to Los Angeles to try to break into the music industry. She was signed to Island Records in 1986. Six years and four albums later, she won a Grammy for best female rock vocal performance for “Ain’t It Heavy.” Her sixtimes platinum album, “Yes I Am,” chartered for more than 2 1 ⁄2 years. She scored another Grammy in 1994 for the song “Come to My Window.” In 2011, she received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
Kathleen Sebelius Former Kansas governor and U.S. secretary of health and human services (1948- ) Sebelius was elected the 44th governor of Kansas in 2002. She resigned in 2009 after President Barack Obama appointed her secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services, where she worked to pass and implement the Affordable Care Act. Sebelius served eight years in the Kansas House and eight years as Kansas insurance commissioner before becoming the second woman to be elected Kansas governor. Sebelius followed in the footsteps of her father, John “Jack” Gilligan, governor of Ohio from 1971 to 1975. She is the only daughter of a governor to be elected governor in U.S. history.
Olive Beech Co-founder of aircraft company; known as “First Lady of Aviation” (1903-1993) Beech was the first woman to head a major aircraft company and be awarded the National Aeronautics Association’s Wright Brothers Memorial Trophy. Known as the “First Lady of Aviation,” she was inducted into the National Aviation Hall of Fame in 1973. Beech was hired as bookkeeper-secretary of Wichita’s Travel Air Manufacturing Company in 1925. She became the personal secretary to company co-founder Walter Beech. They married in 1930 and two years later formed Beech Aircraft Company in Wichita. In 1934, they introduced the Beechcraft Staggering biplane designed for airline and corporate needs. Beech Aircraft boomed during World War II because of the demand for military aircraft.
Minnie Evans Tribal chairwoman of the Prairie Band of Potawatomi Nation (1888-1971) Evans was a tribal chairwoman of the Prairie Band of Potawatomi Nation who successfully fought against Congress in 1954 to stop the termination of the tribe. In 1953, Congress passed a resolution that called for the termination of many Indian tribes in the United States, including the Prairie Band of Potawatomi Nation and three other tribes in Kansas. In February 1954, Evans and other Prairie Band leaders were among those testifying in a joint hearing of the House and Senate subcommittees on Indian affairs. The effort to terminate the tribes was defeated. In 1946, Evans became tribal chair of the Tribal Council Claims Committee and submitted a claim for reparations with the Indian Claims Commission.