Today is International Women’s Day, which is always a good opportunity to thank your mom (love you, Mom!), but, as she and many others have taught me, women do more than mother – and we should all be grateful to the scientists, athletes, writers, and all around-game changers who haven’t been given their props, but who have helped keep the world running nonetheless.
What better way to celebrate International Women’s Day than offer a list of amazing Upper Peninsula women? Here’s a few you may know and a few you may be surprised to see.
You may have noticed the Longyear name on buildings around the Upper Peninsula and particularly in Marquette. The Longyear family was an important presence in the area for decades, but it was Mrs. Longyear whose philanthropic work left its mark. In fact, she died just after delivering an address called, “An Upper Peninsula Research Collection” for which she received an award for a lifetime of distinguished leadership in the Upper Peninsula’s local historical activities from the American Association for State and Local History. Born in Marquette in 1885, her legacy shaped and enhanced the U.P.
Steadman was one of only 13 women chosen to take the same tests as the Mercury 7 astronauts in 1959. To the nation’s embarrassment, Steadman and the other women tested were not able to advance due to their sex. Steadman’s determination lead her to become a professional pilot who co found the International Women’s Air & Space Museum in Ohio. Born in Rudyard, Michigan in 1925, Steadman was a force in her industry throughout her life.
Cora Reynolds Anderson
Anderson was a political pioneer who was born in L’Anse in 1882. Not only was she the first woman to be elected to the Michigan House of Representatives, she was also the first Native American in the nation to serve in the state legislature. In 2001, she was inducted into the Michigan Women’s Hall of Fame.
Mary Chase Perry Stratton
Stratton was an American ceramic artist born in Hancock in 1867. She’s the founder of Pewabic Pottery, which is nationally known for its iridescent glazes that can be seen in libraries, churches, and schools, among other public institutions. It’s Michigan’s only historic pottery and is a designated historical landmark. Pewabic Pottery continues to thrive in Detroit, where she eventually landed after studying at The Art Academy of Cincinnati. Though her work was mainly downstate, Pewabic may be familiar to Yoopers; it’s the name of an old copper main, which was the native name of a nearby river, located in the U.P.
Nancy Harkness Love
Born in Houghton, Michigan in 1914, Love earned her aviation degree when most of us are learning to drive – at 16. Before eventually becoming a pilot and commander in World War II, she was a test pilot and air racer. During the war, she convinced the commander of the U.S. Army Air Forces to create a group of women pilots to ferry aircraft from factories to air bases. Love was the commander of this unit called the Women Airforce Service Pilots, or WASP. For her service, she was awarded the Air Medal and, in 1948, was appointed lieutenant colonel in the US Air Force Reserve.
Born Elizabeth Emry in Manistique in 1923, “Betty,” as she was called, was a 5’4 right handed pitcher who played in the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League. A shortstop and pitcher for the Racine Bells, her legacy is part of the Women in Baseball display at the Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum. Find her career stats here.
Jane Johnston Schoolcraft
Schoolcraft is known as one of the first of the Native American literary writers. From the Ojibwa Nation, she was also known as Bamewawagezhikaquay, which means “woman of the sound [that the stars make] rushing through the sky.” She wrote traditional Ojibwa stories and poetry, as well as translating Ojibwa songs into English. She was born in 1800 in Sault Ste. Marie, where she lived most of her life.
Engle was born in Negaunee in 1926 and worked as an art director and magazine illustrator. She became an important American watercolor painter and has received many awards, including an honorary doctorate from Northern Michigan University. She is known as one of America’s foremost water color artists, and the Upper Peninsula is a source of inspiration for her work.
Writer of children’s literature, Fisher’s work was included in the 1978 Excellence in Poetry Award from the National Council of Teachers of English. Her books included “The Coffee-Pot Face,” “Runny Days, Sunny Days,” and “Rabbits, Rabbits.” Born in Iron River in 1906, her poetry is not just read by children in the U.P. but by children across the nation.
These are a few of the headliners, but we know women across the Upper Peninsula who make this area shine – both today and in the past. To learn more about the vast array of women who make the UP – and the rest of Michigan – great, then visit the Michigan Women’s Historical Center & Hall of Fame.