Kansas Women in History
March is women’s history month, and many of history’s notable women were born right here in Kansas! Home to women who have made historical impacts on aviation, law, civil rights, film, sports and more, Kansas has a lot to celebrate this month. Check out our list of Kansas Women who have made History below.
Amelia Earhart was born in Atchison, Kansas. Earhart was the sixteenth woman to obtain a pilots license, and was the first woman to fly over the Atlantic Ocean in 1928. Earhart mysteriously disappeared in 1937 while flying over the Pacific. Little evidence was found regarding her disappearance. Only a few items were recovered on Pacific islands, including tools, clothes and skin cream. Amelia Earhart was legally declared dead two years later in 1939.
Lawrence-born Erin Brockovich is subject of the 2000 Julia Roberts movie by the same name. Brockovich is known for her involvement in a direct action lawsuit against utility company PG&E (Pacific Gas and Electric).
While doing clerical work at a law firm, Brockovich discovered that PG&E was responsible for high levels of hexavalent chromium in the drinking water of Hinkley, Ca. This had led to a rash of illnesses. Eventually, the case was settled for $333 million. This was the largest case of its kind in U.S. history.
Linda Brown may not be a name that you immediately recognize, but Brown vs. the Board of Education might be. Linda Brown of Topeka, Kansas was the child associated with this iconic 1954 Supreme Court case that outlawed segregation in schools.
The case began when the NAACP asked several African-American parents to enroll their children in all-white schools, expecting that they would be turned away. Linda Brown, who was in third grade at the time, was one of 13 families involved. All of the families' names were attached to the case, but as Brown’s name came first alphabetically, the case simply became known as Brown vs. the Board of Education.
Hattie McDaniel, a Wichita-born film actress, became the first African-American to be nominated for, as well as the first African-American to win an Oscar.
In 1940, McDaniel received the award of Best Actress in a Supporting Role for her portrayal of Mammy in Gone With the Wind, 1939. She was honored with a star on the Walk of Fame in 1960.
Ann Dunham was born in Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. Dunham is the mother of Barack Obama Jr., the first African-American President of the United States.
Dunham briefly attended the University of Hawaii where she met Barack Obama Sr., a Kenyan student who had been recruited overseas. Obama would eventually become the father of her child and her husband.
Postwar poet Gwendolyn Brooks was born in Topeka, Kansas, where she stayed for only six weeks. By the time she was a teenager, Brooks had already began writing and publishing.
Her work was recognized nationally after the release of her 1945 collection A Street in Bronzeville. In 1950, Brooks became the first African-American to win the Pulitzer Prize. She received the award for her book Annie Allen.
Professional basketball player Lynette Woodard was the first woman in history to play for the Harlem Globetrotters. She was added to the team’s roster in 1985 and played on the team for two seasons.
Woodard went on to play overseas, serve as an athletic director in Kansas City, and play in the WNBA (Women’s National Basketball Association).
Although she might not have been born in Kansas, this list wouldn’t be complete without Carry Nation, who brought Wichita national attention when she destroyed the Eaton hotel bar with a hatchet in 1900. Nation was a prohibitionist, and a strong one at that. After seeing her first husband suffer from an alcohol addiction that eventually killed him, she knew the evils of the substance and took it upon herself to do away with it by destroying the saloons that served it and berating the people who worked and frequented them. The Eaton bar was Wichita’s fanciest and most prominent at the time, making it a perfect target for Nation and her trusty hatchet.