Women Making History: Rev. Dr. Peggy S. Bosmyer

In 1977, Peggy S. Bosmyer was ordained an Episcopal priest at Little Rock’s Trinity Cathedral.  Not only was she the first woman in Arkansas to be ordained to a full priesthood in the Episcopal Church, she was the first woman south of the Mason-Dixon line.

Born in Helena, she was a graduate of the University of Arkansas and Virginia Theological Seminary.  She served as a deacon at Grace Episcopal in Pine Bluff before serving as a curate at Little Rock’s St. Mark’s Episcopal.  In 1976, the Episcopal Church approved the ordination of women to the priesthood. It was after that she was able to be ordained in 1977.  Her ordination was front page news in the Arkansas Gazette.

Following ordination, she was appointed Vicar of Little Rock’s St. Michael’s Episcopal Church, then a part-time position. She also served as a program director for the Diocese of Arkansas, which included oversight of Camp Mitchell.  In 1985, Rev. Bosmyer was appointed full-time Vicar of St. Michael’s.  Nine years later, she left Little Rock to be a professor on the faculty of the School of Theology at the University of the South.  While there she served as Co-Vicar of St. James at Sewanee. She also received her Doctor of Divinity from the University of the South in 1999.

Rev. Dr. Bosmyer returned to Little Rock in 2001 to be Vicar of St. Margaret’s Episcopal Church.  She held that position until her death in December 2008 from pancreatic cancer.  She is interred at the columbarium of St. Margaret’s.  She was survived by her husband of 24 years, Reverend Dr. Dennis Campbell, and four children.

She was not only one of the first female Episcopal priests in the U.S, she was on the forefront of women serving as ordained priests and preachers in mainline denominations.  Certainly her ordination was not without controversy. There are still those who disagree with women serving as priests (though likely few remain within the Episcopal church).

The legacy of Rev. Dr. Bosmyer continues today with the women serving as rectors, vicars, priests in charge, and associate rectors throughout the state of Arkansas.  While Arkansas has not had a woman serve as Bishop, Rev. Dr. Katherine Jefferts Schori served as Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church from 2006 to 2015.

Women Making History: Florence Price

Florence Price was the first African-American female composer to have a symphonic composition performed by a major American symphony orchestra.

In 2016, when Robinson Center reopened, a new atrium was named in her honor. It is adjacent to the ballroom named after her childhood friend Dr. William Grant Still.  Having a space named after Price at Robinson is especially appropriate since one of the first concerts given there in 1940, by contralto Marian Anderson, featured songs written by Price.

Florence Price was born in Little Rock on April 9, 1887, to James H. Smith and Florence Gulliver Smith. Her father was a dentist in Little Rock, while her mother taught piano and worked as a schoolteacher and a businesswoman.

As a child, Florence received musical instruction from her mother, and she published musical pieces while in high school. She attended Capitol Hill School in Little Rock, graduating as valedictorian in 1903. Florence then studied at the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston, Massachusetts, In 1907, she received degrees as an organist and as a piano teacher.

After graduation, Florence returned to Arkansas to teach music. After stints in Cotton Plant, North Little Rock and Atlanta, GA, Smith returned to Little Rock in 1912 to marry attorney Thomas Jewell Price on September 25, 1912. Her husband worked with Scipio Jones.

While in Little Rock, Price established a music studio, taught piano lessons, and wrote short pieces for piano. Despite her credentials, she was denied membership into the Arkansas State Music Teachers Association because of her race.

The Prices moved to Chicago, Illinois, in 1927. There, Price seemed to have more professional opportunity for growth despite the breakdown and eventual dissolution of her marriage. She pursued further musical studies at the American Conservatory of Music and Chicago Musical College and established herself in the Chicago area as a teacher, pianist, and organist. In 1928, G. Schirmer, a major publishing firm, accepted for publication Price’s “At the Cotton Gin.” In 1932, Price won multiple awards in competitions sponsored by the Rodman Wanamaker Foundation for her Piano Sonata in E Minor, a large-scale work in four movements, and her more important work, Symphony in E Minor.

The latter work premiered with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra on June 15, 1933, and the orchestras of Detroit, Michigan; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; and Brooklyn, New York, performed subsequent symphonic works by Price. This was the first time a black woman had presented her work on such a stage. In this regard,

Price’s art songs and spiritual arrangements were frequently performed by well-known artists of the day. For example, contralto Marian Anderson featured Price’s spiritual arrangement “My Soul’s Been Anchored in the Lord” in her famous performance on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington DC on Easter Sunday, April 9, 1939. European orchestras later played Price’s works.

This national and international recognition made her more popular back home, and in 1935, the Alumni Association of Philander Smith College in Little Rock sponsored Price’s return to Arkansas, billing her as “noted musician of Chicago” and presenting her in a concert of her own compositions at Dunbar High School.

In her lifetime, Price composed more than 300 works, ranging from small teaching pieces for piano to large-scale compositions such as symphonies and concertos, as well as instrumental chamber music, vocal compositions, and music for radio. Price died in Chicago on June 3, 1953, while planning a trip to Europe.

Women Making History – Jeannette Edris Rockefeller

Jeannette Edris Rockefeller only lived in Arkansas for about fifteen years. But her impact on the cultural life of Little Rock and all of Arkansas continues to be felt today.

Born and raised in Seattle, as a young mother she met Winthrop Rockefeller while both were in New York.  He moved to Arkansas in 1953; after their 1956 marriage, she joined him. They split their time between Little Rock and Petit Jean.

In 1959, she was asked to become involved in plans for a new art museum in Little Rock.  She became a tireless advocate and fundraiser for the new Arkansas Arts Center.   In 1960, she assumed the role of president of the Arkansas Arts Center Board of Trustees, a position she held until 1968.  During that time period she oversaw the planning, construction and opening of the building.  She also invited Townsend Wolfe, who she had met when he taught some classes at the Arts Center, to apply to become the museum’s first executive director.

From 1967 to 1971, she was First Lady of Arkansas.  In that capacity, she supervised renovation of the Governor’s Mansion and started the tradition of displaying art on the walls.

Shortly after her 1971 divorce from Rockefeller, she relocated to California.  She continued to be a supporter of the Arts Center.  One of the galleries in the Arts Center is named in her honor.  In addition, one of the sculptures on the lawn of the Arts Center, Standing Red, was dedicated in 1970 in recognition of her service on the Arts Center Board.

CALS Butler Center presents Page Harrington “Women’s Suffrage and Race Relations: A Divided Legacy” today at Noon

Today (March 29), Page Harrington will present the 2019 Betsey Wright Distinguished Lecture on the topic “Women’s Suffrage and Race Relations: A Divided Legacy.”  The event is co-sponsored by the CALS Butler Center for Arkansas Studies and the Arkansas Women’s History Institute.

The program begins at 12 noon at the Ron Robinson Theatre on the CALS Library Square campus.

As the Centennial of the 19th Amendment approaches in 2020, promoters and writers of history must be aware that an authentic narrative of the suffrage should be inclusive and respectful of the roles of all who worked to ensure women’s suffrage. Women and men of color worked for women’s suffrage for more than 70 years in multiple organizations. Some of the organizations were integrated and open to all, while others supported a culture of racial bias.

How, then, can today’s audiences interpret an accurate and honest representation of the campaign for suffrage without focusing on applying negative labels to any individual or organization? The centennial is an opportunity to reframe the public narrative of suffrage in a relevant and racially transparent way. Learn techniques and resources to navigate the politically divisive rhetoric and find the honest and productive tone for your community, organization, or historic site or project.

Page Harrington is a consulting public historian specializing in early 20th Century women’s history. As President of Page Harrington & Company, LLC, she advises museums on creative and practical strategies to integrate women’s history into existing museum interpretation, exhibits, and programs. Harrington’s forthcoming book, INTERPRETING THE LEGACY OF SUFFRAGE AT MUSEUMS AND HISTORIC SITES, will be released in fall of 2019.

Harrington is the former Executive Director of the National Woman’s Party at the Belmont-Paul Women’s Equality National Monument, the founding Co-Chair of the Women’s History Affinity Group for the American Association for State and Local History, and Co-founder of the Women’s Vote Centennial Initiative. She also served on the Scholar Committee to advise the U.S. Congressional Commission on their exploratory study for an American Museum of Women’s History. Harrington holds two master’s degrees from the University of San Diego: one in Public History & Historic Preservation and the second in Non-Profit Management & Leadership.

The Betsey Wright Distinguished Lecture focuses on matters of politics, government, and public policy of special interest to women. It pays tribute to the long political career and advocacy work of Betsey Wright, who served as chief of staff for Governor Bill Clinton for seven years and as deputy chair of the Clinton 1992 Presidential Campaign. She also served as executive director of the National Women’s Political Caucus and as campaign manager for Bill Clinton’s successful gubernatorial campaigns in 1982, 1984, and 1986.

Women Making History: Dr. Raye Montague

In February 2017, Raye J. Montague, RPE was recognized on “Good Morning America” for her work as a pioneering scientist. She was not only the first woman to design a U.S. Naval ship using a computer, or the first African American to do so, she was the first PERSON to do so.

She began a career in Washington, DC with the United States Navy in 1956 and retired in 1990 after serving in numerous leadership roles during her tenure of thirty-three and one-half years. Her work designing the FFG-7 Class in the early 1970s revolutionized naval ship design.  She also served as the first female Program Manager of Ships in the US Navy and was the first female professional engineer to receive the Society of Manufacturing Engineers Achievement Award.

Throughout her career she received many honors, and was often the first woman of any race to achieve statuses in the engineering profession.

In 2006, she returned to Arkansas.  She is involved with numerous civic activities including mentoring students in the sciences at UA Little Rock and also eStem Public Charter School.  She was inducted into the Arkansas Black Hall of Fame in 2013.

Dr. Montague died in October 2018. She will posthumously receive the Fribourgh Award from UA Little Rock later in 2019.  In her honor, Mayor Frank Scott Jr. declared today (March 28, 2019) as Dr. Raye Jean Montague Day.

Women Making History: Gretchen Hall

Gretchen HallAt the 2019 Governor’s Conference on Tourism, Gretchen Hall was named Tourism Person of the Year.  This is just the latest honor for her.  In 2017, she was the first woman to solely receive the Downtown Little Rock Partnership’s Top of the Rock Award.

As the President and CEO of the Little Rock Convention and Visitor’s Bureau, she leads a staff that not only brings conventions and tourists to Little Rock, but also creates opportunities for local residents to enjoy their city more.

From 2014 to 2016, she actively oversaw the deconstruction and reconstruction of Robinson Center Performance Hall. Taking a New Deal era assembly hall and making it into a state-of-the-art performance facility was not an easy task. Gretchen and her team have worked with the architects, engineers, designers and consultants to make it happen.

Gretchen joined LRCVB in 2001 and worked her way up through the organization.  In May 2011, she was named to her current position.  Since that time, the LRCVB has undertaken numerous efforts to enhance Little Rock including a new amphitheatre in Riverfront Park, enhanced programming at the River Market, and increased financial support of cultural organizations.  She has worked to improve not only the meeting space available for conventions, but also to enhance the dining and lodging scenes in Little Rock.  In addition, she helped lead the effort to see the additional penny of the hotel tax be dedicated to support the Arkansas Arts Center and MacArthur Museum of Arkansas Military History.

Women Making History: Charlotte Stephens

Charlotte Andrews Stephens was the first African American teacher in the Little Rock School District.  Between 1910 and 1912, when an elementary school for African Americans was named after her, she became the first woman to have a public building in Little Rock named after her.  For nearly fifty years, Stephens Elementary (which is now in its third building) would be the only LRSD building named after a woman.

Born into slavery, Charlotte Stephens was educated first by her father who ran a private school in what is now Wesley Chapel UMC.  At the age of 15, she started teaching at the Union School to finish out the term of a white teacher who had become ill.  She taught for 70 years, retiring at age 85 in 1939.

From 1870 to 1873, she attended college at Oberlin College, though not always every semester. (It is possible she was the first African American woman from Arkansas to attend college, but that cannot be verified.)  During her career with the LRSD, she taught students in all grades. She was twice principal of Capitol Hill School, and later headed the high school Latin Department.  At the time of her retirement, she was librarian of Dunbar High School.

The land on which Stephens Elementary now sits was once owned by Charlotte Stephens.  She donated the land and attended the 1950 dedication of the second Stephens Elementary.  That building was torn down in 1994 to make way for the current Stephens Elementary.  Some of her grandchildren attended the dedication of the new and current Stephens Elementary.