Kansas Snapshots by Gloria Freeland - February 14, 2020

A Valentine to Kansas women

Some people call Kansas a "fly-over" state - a place where nothing ever happens. That makes me smile a bit since its entry as a Free State into the Union was so unimportant that it precipitated our Civil War.

We prairie folks also have a few more recent things of note we can point to. While 27 states have never had a major-party presidential candidate, Kansas has had two - Alf Landon and Bob Dole. One president - Dwight Eisenhower - called Abilene, Kansas home.

Kansas was home to other notables - Walter Chrysler, who started the automobile company, opera bass extraordinaire Samuel Ramey, and Fred Phelps (ugh!) The state's most well-known female may be the fictional Dorothy from "The Wizard of Oz." Of course, contributions by flesh-and-blood women have generally flown under the radar everywhere. While I could list the accomplishments of many people from the Sunflower State who have made an impact, with the 100th anniversary this coming August of women gaining the right to vote, I decided to create my personal valentine to some of Oz's remarkable women.

1. Atchison, Kansas native Amelia Earhart immediately comes to mind. Born in 1897, she was an early aviator and the first female to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean. She was instrumental in the formation of The Ninety-Nines - an organization for women pilots with better than 6,000 members today.

2. In a state known for its connection to aviation, Olive Ann Beech is another notable. Born in 1903 in Waverly, Kansas, she founded the Beech Aircraft Corporation in 1932 along with her husband Walter. She took over the business before World War II when he became ill and oversaw the company´┐Żs expansion after his death in 1950. She was often referred to as the "First Lady of Aviation."

3. WASP - Women Airforce Service Pilot - Mildred "Mickey" Tuttle, who was born near Coffeyville, Kansas, became the first woman to fly a B-29 bomber. Ola Mildred Rexroat, who was born in Ogden, Kansas, was the only Native American in the unit.

4. Kansas native Hattie McDaniel, born to former slaves in 1893 in Wichita, made a name for herself on stage and in the movies as an actress and singer. Her role as "Mammy" earned her an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress in "Gone with the Wind."

5. Louise Brooks, born in 1906 in Cherryvale, Kansas, was a sensation as a film actress and dancer during the 1920s and 1930s. The flapper-era sex symbol loved a bobbed hairstyle and that led ordinary women to feel it was OK to wear short hair.

6. Melissa Etheridge was born in Leavenworth, Kansas in 1961. The American singer-songwriter, guitarist and activist has won two Grammy Awards and an Academy Award for Best Original Song.

7. Nellie Sawyer Kedzie came to Kansas from Maine as a child. She earned a bachelor's degree at my alma mater (her name is on the building I work in) and then began a new program we would later call home economics. She continued her work in Illinois and Wisconsin and is now considered the mother of national home extension services. She was also the mentor of the following Kansan:

8. Abby Lillian Marlatt was born in 1869 in Manhattan, Kansas and also graduated from what is now Kansas State University with bachelor's and master's degrees. She taught home economics in Utah and Rhode Island before settling in Wisconsin, where she became the first director of the University of Wisconsin home economics department.

9. Born in 1898 on a Riley County farm less than 20 miles from my home, Clementine Paddleford, a graduate of my very own department, was a widely-syndicated American food writer from the 1920s through the 1960s. She wrote for the New York Herald Tribune, the New York Sun, and Farm and Fireside and, in 1960, published "How America Eats."

10. Lynette Woodard, born in 1959 in Wichita, Kansas, was the first woman in history to play for the Harlem Globetrotters basketball team. At age 38, she began playing as one of the oldest members in the then newly-formed Women's National Basketball Association.

11. Susanna Madora Salter was born in Ohio in 1860, but she moved to Kansas at age 12. She attended my alma mater where she met her husband. They moved to Argonia, Kansas, where she was active in the local Woman's Christian Temperance Union, and became acquainted with nationally-known temperance activist Carrie Nation. Salter served as mayor of Argonia, becoming the first woman elected as mayor and one of the first women elected to any political office in the United States.

12. Speaking of Nation, while she was born in Kentucky, she was living in Leavenworth when a court ruling related to alcoholic drinks infuriated her and led her to commence her famous bar-bashing spree. She paid for her fines by selling miniature hatchets. She also died in Leavenworth.

13. Nancy Kassebaum was born in Topeka in 1932 and, in 1978, became the first woman elected to a full term in the U.S. Senate without her husband having previously served. She retired from the Senate in 1997.

14. Former Kansas governor Kathleen Sebelius served as Secretary of Health and Human Services under President Barack Obama.

15. Speaking of President Obama, anthropologist Stanley Ann Dunham was born in Wichita, Kansas and was the president's mother. Stanley?

So, today, on this Valentine's Day, I would like to say "Thank you!" to these "REAL Kansas women" and the many others not mentioned for using their strengths, talent and passion to make the world a better place.

Top l-r: Amelia Earhart-1, Olive Beech-1, Mickey Tuttle-2, Ola Rexroat-1, Hattie McDaniel-1, Louise Brooks-1, Melissa Etheridge-1, Nellie Kedzie-2; bottom l-r: Abby Marlatt-2, Clementine Paddleford-2, Lynette Woodard-3, Susanna Salter-4, Carrie Nation-1, Nancy Kassebaum-1, Kathleen Sebelius-1, Ann Dunham-1 (1: Wikipedia, 2: Kansas State University, 3: https://wichitaonthecheap.com, 4: Kansas State Historical Society)

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