10 Famous Arkansan Women Everyone Should Know
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Politics and Activism

10 Famous Arkansan Women Everyone Should Know

Arkansas can produce something other than rice and stereotypes: amazing women.

10 Famous Arkansan Women Everyone Should Know

With Tuesday, March 8, being International Women's Day and March itself being Women's History Month, it's time to reflect on the powerful, influential women brought to the world from Arkansas. No, not all of the women in Arkansas are what is portrayed on TV. In fact, very few, if any, women from Arkansas are barefooted, toothless and uneducated. We are portrayed that way on television because apparently it is a comedic gold mine. However, Arkansan women are a force to be reckoned with but, I bet you couldn't even name two. Luckily for you, here are 10.

1. Florence Beatrice Price (1888-1953)

Florence Beatrice Price, born in Little Rock, was the first African American woman to be recognized as a symphonic composer and the first to have a piece played by a major orchestra. Price went to the New England Conservatory of Music where she pretended to be Hispanic in order to avoid the stigma against African Americans. After the Chicago Symphony Orchestra played her music in 1933, Price paved the way for African American composers.

2. Helen Gurley Brown (1922-2012)

Having been raised in Little Rock, Helen Gurley Brown hit it big in 1962 with her book "Sex and the Single Girl." Four years later in 1966, she became editor-in-chief of Cosmopolitan magazine (a failing publication at the time). Brown completely revamped the magazine and made it into the well-known and beloved Bible of womanhood; racy articles and all.

3. Gail Davis (1925-1997)

Betty Grayson was born in Little Rock, raised in McGehee for sometime, and graduated from Little Rock Central High School. After marrying her first husband, the two moved to Hollywood for Betty to launch her acting career. She soon changed her screen name to Gail Davis. She spent a few years appearing as a guest star in western films and TV shows until, in 1953, she landed the lead role on the "Annie Oakley" series. Davis, with her feisty attitude, was the first woman to star in a western TV series and became a role model for young women. Davis even did most of her own stunts. Now anyone can see the Arkansan's star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

4. Sister Rosetta Tharpe (1915-1973)

A musical prodigy was born in Cotton Plant, Arkansas, to her single mother. Sister Rosetta Tharpe, considered "the godmother of rock and roll," was a natural at guitar and used her talent to make gospel music popular during the 1930s and 1940s. Tharpe did everything from performing at Carnegie Hall to touring Europe. She combined spiritual music with blues and jazz elements to create a sound that was uniquely her own and it was eaten up by the mainstream music scene.

5. Louise Thaden (1905-1979)

Louise Thaden grew up in Bentonville, Arkansas, and tried a stint in at the University of Arkansas until she left her junior year to join the Travel Air Corporation. Being besties with Amelia Earheart had its benefits when the two created the Ninety-Nines, a group of female pilots looking to foster friendship and support for one another. Thaden also set a world record for the women pilots' altitude mark of 20,260 feet in 1928. In 1929, she became the first woman to win a national air race.

6. Daisy Gaston Bates (1914-1999)

Daisy Gaston Bates, a famous activist, journalist and publisher, is most known for her help in the Little Rock public school integration in 1957. Since she and her husband created the Arkansas State Press, a local newspaper focused on civil rights, and she was elected president of the Arkansas Conference of the NAACP, Bates was very involved with integration. She became a mentor and caregiver for the Little Rock Nine during their long battle to enter Central High School. In fact, her house has been named a National Historic Landmark since it was used as a safe haven for the Little Rock Nine before and after school and as a headquarters during the entire integration process.

7. Hattie Caraway (1878-1950)

Though technically born in Tennessee, Hattie Caraway married her husband Thaddeus and settled in Jonesboro, Arkansas. During this time, Thaddeus served in the house of representatives and the senate on behalf of Arkansas. When he died in office in 1931, the governor appointed his wife, our lovely Hattie, as a temporary filler until the next elections. However, she surprised everyone by choosing to run for office after her temporary place holding. Winning by a long shot made Hattie Caraway the first woman elected to the senate. And she did it twice.

8. Lencola Sullivan (1957-present)

Lencola Sullivan, a former beauty queen from Morrilton, studied journalism at the University of Arkansas. In 1980 she was crowned Miss Arkansas and in 1981 she went on to compete in the Miss America competition. She became the first African American woman to win preliminary awards and the first to place in the top five. Sullivan paved the way for women of color to win the Miss America title in the past 20 years.

9. M. Joycelyn Elders (1933-present)

Joycelyn Elders gained her bachelor's degree in biology from Philander Smith College in Little Rock, a long way from her hometown of Schaal, Arkansas. After joining the U.S Army, she was trained as a physical therapist and continued her education to encompass a master's degree in biochemistry and a medical degree from the University of Arkansas. Former President Bill Clinton (as governor of Arkansas) named her the director of the Arkansas Department of Health. When Clinton became president, Elders served a time as surgeon general. Elders was the first African American to serve this position but, due to her strong opinions about sex education and a comment about masterbation, she was forced to resign.

10. Maya Angelou (1928-2014)

Arguably the most well-known Arkansan woman, Maya Angelou was raised in Stamps, Arkansas. Angelou was primarily a poet and civil rights activist but spent some time as an actress, too. Her most famous work, "I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings," is a staple in American literature. She also won a Pulitzer Prize and a Tony Award. She even presented an inaugural poem at Bill Clinton's inauguration in 1993. Basically, what didn't Angelou do?

What haven't women from Arkansas done?

Writers, actresses and civil rights activists, oh my! Arkansan women have proven time and time again that we are a force to be feared. It's time to say goodbye to the hillbilly stereotype and shout hello to strong role models. We may have southern accents and drink a little too much sweet tea, but we are not down for the count. As history shows, we a strong and capable and, honestly, who knows what's next?

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