The month of March is set aside as a time to recognize the contributions women have made to the country. Some notable women are honored year-round through the Arkansas Women’s Hall of Fame.
Anna Beth Gorman, chairwoman of the organization’s board of directors, says it was started by a group of people “that really felt the need to recognize outstanding women past and present here in Arkansas and what their contributions to the state have been.”
The first class was inducted in 2015 and nominations for 2019 are open through March 8. An induction ceremony for this year’s honorees is scheduled for August.
“It’s really incredible to sit in a room and to see the stories of the various women and just the incredible life’s work of women in our state,” Gorman says. “It makes you proud to be an Arkansan.”
In honor of Women’s History Month, we are learning more about the lives of ten women who have impacted the Natural State. The list includes many Arkansas Women’s Hall of Fame inductees and perhaps a handful of future honorees as well.
Hattie Caraway was the first woman elected to the U.S. Senate, first to preside over the Senate, first to chair a Senate committee and first to preside over a Senate hearing.
Hattie was born Feb. 1, 1878, near Bakersville, Tennessee. She earned a B.A. from Dickson Normal College in 1896. She later married Thaddeus Caraway after working as a school teacher. They settled in Jonesboro, where she raised their three sons, and Thaddeus practiced law and embarked on a career in politics.
Thaddeus was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1912 and to the Senate in 1920. He was reelected in 1926, but when he died unexpectedly in 1931, Hattie was appointed in his place. She was confirmed in a special election in early 1932 then won a full term later that year, becoming the first woman ever to do so. She won her second term in 1938 and lost her race for a third term in 1944. Her term ended on Jan. 2, 1945, but she remained in Washington in other civil service positions.
Hattie worked for the Equal Nationality Treaty of 1934, which extended women several nationality rights previously limited to men. In 1943, she became the first woman in the Senate to co-sponsor the proposed Equal Rights Amendment.
Hattie Caraway died Dec. 21, 1950 in Falls Church, Virginia.
SISTER ROSETTA THARPE
Referred to as the Godmother of Rock and Roll, Sister Rosetta Tharpe was the first gospel performer to record for a major record label and is an essential figure in the history of rock and roll.
Rosetta was born in Cotton Plant on March 20, 1915. She began performing at four, and by six, she appeared regularly with her mother. They performed a mix of gospel and secular music styles that would eventually make her famous.
Billed as the “singing and guitar-playing miracle,” Rosetta and her mother were members of an evangelistic troupe that worked in the South before arriving in Chicago in the late 1920s. Tharpe moved to New York in the 1930s and was signed to Decca Records in 1938. She was only one of two black gospel acts to record V-Discs for U.S. troops overseas. In 1951, 25,000 people paid to witness her wedding at Griffith Stadium in Washington D.C.
Rosetta lost her recording contract with Decca, but signed with Mercury Records in the late 1950s. A stroke in 1970 resulted in a leg amputation and speech difficulties, but she continued performing until her death Oct. 9, 1973, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
Sister Rosetta Tharpe was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2018.
Roberta Fulbright was a dominant figure in Fayetteville and for the progress of Arkansas. As publisher of the Northwest Arkansas Times, she championed the University of Arkansas, fought political corruption, advocated for social equality for women and promoted civic causes.
Roberta was born Feb. 14, 1874, in Rothville, Missouri. After graduating from high school, she attended the University of Missouri for two years to qualify for a teacher’s certificate. In 1894, she married Jay Fulbright, and the couple moved to Fayetteville in 1906.
When her husband died suddenly in 1923, Fulbright encountered opposition from those who believed a woman had no place in business. She fought for her family’s holdings, which included two banks, a hotel, a newspaper publishing company and a small railroad. In 1936, she was one of three female bank presidents in Arkansas.
Roberta’s most active role was as publisher of the Fayetteville Daily Democrat, later the Northwest Arkansas Times. In her newspaper, she campaigned for a new hospital, a boys club and a library. She also kept an eye on local, state and national government. In 1949, she called the founding meeting of the Arkansas Newspaper Women, the forerunner of today’s Arkansas Press Women.
Roberta Fulbright died Jan. 11, 1953 in Fayetteville.
Louise Thaden was an aviation pioneer and held several flight records during the 1920s and 1930s.
She was born Nov. 12, 1905, in Bentonville. She attended the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville from 1922 to 1925 where she majored in journalism and then physical education. After leaving school without a degree, she moved to Wichita, Kansas to work for local businessman and aviation booster Jack Turner.
In 1928, Louise earned her pilot’s certificate, which was signed by Orville Wright. She became the first and only pilot to hold the women’s altitude, solo endurance and speed records simultaneously. She won the first all-women’s transcontinental race, the National Women’s Air Derby, in Aug. 1929. Louise, Amelia Earhart and others founded the Ninety-Nines, an international organization for female pilots, later that year.
After a ban on women in top air races was lifted in 1935, Thaden and her co-pilot became the first women to win the Bendix Transcontinental Air Race in 1936. Louise won aviation’s highest honor given to a female pilot, the Harmon Trophy, in April 1937.
In 1938 Louise retired from competition to spend more time with her two children. She is a founding inductee in the Arkansas Aviation Hall of Fame and is a member of the Smithsonian Institution’s Aviation Hall of Fame.
Louise Thaden died Nov. 9, 1979, in High Point, North Carolina.
DAISY GATSON BATES
Daisy Bates played a crucial role in desegregation in Arkansas.
A foster family raised Daisy in Huttig, Arkansas. She met insurance agent and journalist Lucious Christopher “L.C.” Bates as a teenager. They married in the early 1940s and moved to Little Rock. Together they operated the Arkansas State Press, a weekly newspaper advocating for civil rights for African Americans.
In 1952, Daisy became president of the Arkansas Conference of Branches, the umbrella organization for the state NAACP. Following the Brown v. Board of Education ruling in 1954, the Bates chronicled school desegregation in their newspaper. In 1957, Daisy helped nine African American students become the first to attend the all-white Central High School. The Bates’ home became the headquarters for the battle to integrate the school and Daisy served as a personal advocate and supporter to the students. She was selected as the only female to speak at the Lincoln Memorial at the March on Washington in 1963.
In 1968, Daisy moved to Mitchellville, Arkansas to become executive director of their Economic Opportunity Agency. She remained there until 1974. She revived the Arkansas State Press in 1984 and sold it in 1988.
Daisy Bates died Nov. 4, 1999, in Little Rock.
THE HONORABLE ELSIJANE TRIMBLE ROY
Elsijane Trimble Roy was Arkansas’ first female circuit judge, the first woman on the Arkansas Supreme Court, the first woman appointed to an Arkansas federal judgeship, the first female federal judge in the Eighth Circuit and the first Arkansas woman to follow her father as a federal judge.
Elsijane was born April 2, 1916, in Lonoke, Arkansas. After graduating from high school as valedictorian, she attended the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville. She completed undergraduate studies and law school in five years and was the only woman to graduate from the U of A School of Law in 1939. At the time, she was only the third woman to graduate from the university with a law degree.
By 1954, Elsijane and her husband established Blytheville’s first husband-and-wife law firm, which lasted until 1963. In 1966, she became the first female judge in Arkansas when she was appointed as a justice for the Sixth District Court. Elsijane was named the first female judge on the Arkansas Supreme Court in 1975. In October 1977, President Jimmy Carter nominated Elsijane to be the first female federal district court judge in the Eighth Circuit, and the U.S. Senate confirmed her on Nov. 1. She occupied the position for 21 years, taking senior status in 1989 and retiring in 1999.
Elsijane Trimble Roy died Jan. 23, 2007 in Little Rock.
DR. BETTYE CALDWELL
Bettye Caldwell was an educator and academic who influenced the development of Head Start.
Bettye was born Dec. 24, 1924 in Smithville, Texas. After graduating first in her high school class, she attended Baylor University, where she studied psychology and speech. She earned a master’s degree at the University of Iowa and a doctorate from Washington University. After graduate school, Bettye worked at several universities.
While at Syracuse University, Bettye worked with pediatrician Julius Richmond on child development studies. Finding that poor children trailed off developmentally after the age of one, they created a daycare center for children six months to five years old. In 1964, their work led to the establishment of Head Start.
Bettye joined the University of Arkansas at Little Rock in the mid-1970s and continued with the university for about 20 years. She helped establish a project at Kramer School, which offered early education daycare for children through 12 years old. She served as principal of the school for three years.
In 1977, she was one of the founders of Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families, a nonprofit that continues to provide research and advocacy to promote reforms that have improved the lives of children.
Bettye Caldwell died April 17, 2016, in St. Louis, Missouri.
RAYE JEAN JORDAN MONTAGUE
Raye Jean Jordan Montague was a U.S. Navy engineer credited with the first computer-generated rough draft of a U.S. naval ship. Good Morning America recognized her as a “real-life hidden figure.”
Born Jan. 21, 1935 in Little Rock, Raye graduated from what would become the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff. She wanted to study engineering, but could not due to segregation, so she earned a business degree.
In 1956, she began her naval career as a digital computer systems operator in Maryland. She later became a computer systems analyst and served as program director for the Naval Sea Systems Command’s Integrated Design, Manufacturing and Maintenance Program. She became the first female Program Manager of Ships in the U.S. Navy. She worked on the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower and the Navy’s first landing craft helicopter-assault ship.
In 1972, she was given the U.S. Navy’s Meritorious Civilian Service Award, the third-highest honorary award. In 1978, she became the first female professional engineer to receive the Society of Manufacturing Engineers Achievement Award, and in 1988, earned the National Computer Graphics Association Award for the Advancement of Computer Graphics. She retired in 1990.
Raye Jean Jordan Montague died Oct.10, 2018 in Little Rock.
Dorothy Stuck is a newspaper publisher, government official and proponent of equal rights.
Dorothy was born Feb. 5, 1921, in Gravette. She majored in history at the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville. She graduated in 1943 and spent the next three years working as a high school history teacher.
Dorothy and her husband published three newspapers in eastern Arkansas. She became a leader in the local newspaper community and was a charter member of the Arkansas Press Women, serving as the group’s president in 1953. She was given the Press Woman of the Year Award in 1964 and 1969. Dorothy was selected to represent Poinsett County in the 1969 Arkansas Constitutional Convention and chaired the Suffrage and Election Committee, the only woman to chair a major committee.
In 1970, Dorothy moved to Dallas, Texas to become regional director of the Office of Civil Rights for the Department of Health, Education and Welfare. She was responsible for the implementation of the department’s desegregation regulations and of Title IX of the Civil Rights Act, which provided equal opportunities for women in education.
In 1992, Dorothy was among the original members of the Arkansas Travelers, a group of Arkansans who traveled the country on behalf of Bill Clinton’s presidential campaign. Dorothy actively supported Hillary Clinton’s 2008 and 2016 presidential campaigns.
Dorothy resides in Little Rock, Arkansas.
DR. JOYCELYN ELDERS
Joycelyn Elders is the first person in the state of Arkansas to become board certified in pediatric endocrinology, the fifteenth U.S. Surgeon General, the first African American and the second woman to head the U.S. Public Health Service.
Joycelyn was born Minnie Lee Jones Aug. 13, 1933, in Schaal, Arkansas. In 1949, she earned a scholarship to Philander Smith College, becoming the first in her family to attend college. She intended to become a lab technician but decided to become a physician after attending a lecture by Edith Irby Jones, the first woman to attend the University of Arkansas Medical School. She joined the U.S. Army’s Medical Specialist Corps, and in 1956, she entered the University of Arkansas Medical School on the G. I. Bill.
She became director of the Arkansas Department of Health in 1987. Campaigning for expanded sex education caused controversy, but in part because of her lobbying, in 1989 the Arkansas Legislature mandated a K-12 curriculum that included sex education and substance-abuse prevention. From 1987 to 1992, she nearly doubled childhood immunizations and expanded the state’s prenatal care program.
In 1993, the Senate confirmed her as U.S. Surgeon General. After leaving office, she returned to the University of Arkansas as a faculty researcher and professor of pediatric endocrinology at Arkansas Children’s Hospital.
Now retired from practice, Joycelyn Elders is a professor emeritus and remains active in public health education.