Every year on March 8, we honor the impact that women make on all our lives, and we try to do whatever we can collectively to return the favor and make a positive impact on women.
While it may seem like a recent creation, International Women’s Day (IWD) has been around since the early 1900s. According to the official IWD website, the first IWD meeting occurred in 1911. That’s before women gained the right to vote in the United States.
The event was first celebrated by the United Nations in 1975, and the UN has adopted a theme for the day every year since 1996, according to the IWD website. This year’s theme is #BalanceforBetter. The theme reflects the fight for gender equality and celebrating women’s achievement.
But who are some of the notable women from Arkansas? There’s countless women who have made a difference, in ways big and small, in our state’s proud history. Here are just a few of the Arkansas women who we are honoring on International Women’s Day.
Maya Angelou (1928-2014
One of the most famous Arkansas natives is Maya Angelou, the author of the autobiography I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. Although she was born in St. Louis, she grew up in Stamps with her grandmother for part of her childhood. She became first black female cable car conductor in San Francisco, and she was a dancer, singer and performer in the 1950s and 1960s.
In 1969, Angelou published I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. Angelou would go on to write six more autobiographies, as well as poetry, plays and screenplays. She delivered a recitation of her poem “On the Pulse of Morning” at President Bill Clinton’s 1993 inauguration.
Hattie Caraway (1878-1950)
Caraway is another transplant to Arkansas, originally coming from Tennessee. She arrived in Jonesboro with her husband Thaddeus Caraway, a lawyer and politician. Thaddeus was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives and later the Senate. When he unexpectedly died, Hattie was appointed to fill his seat. She won a full term in 1932 and maintained her seat until 1945, having been defeated in the 1944 election.
Caraway was the first woman ever elected to serve a full term as a U.S. Senator. During her tenure, she was largely a supporter of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s policies, especially the New Deal.
Helen Gurley-Brown (1922-2010)
Helen Gurley-Brown was born in Green Forest, Arkansas and went on to become one of the leading lights of mid-century American fashion. In her early years, she worked in advertising and was a copy writer. In 1962, she published Sex and the Single Girl, which became a best seller. Three short years later, she was named editor-in-chief of Cosmopolitan magazine.
In 1997, she retired as Cosmopolitan’s editor-in-chief, having made the magazine one of the most iconic magazines of the latter half-century.
Gail Davis (1925-1997)
While she may be little known today, Gail Davis was a star in her time. In the mid-1950s, Davis portrayed Annie Oakley on the western series Annie Oakley, which ran from 1954-56.
In addition, she appeared in 32 feature films. Her Hollywood work earned her a spot in the National Cowgirl Hall of Fame and a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, according to the Encyclopedia of Arkansas.
Davis was born in Little Rock, and her family moved to the capital from McGehee when she was young. She later studied at the University of Texas at Austin, and went to Hollywood.