March is National Women's History Month in the United States, a time when Americans honor the often-neglected contributions women have made to American history and contemporary life. The National Women's Hall of Fame is inducting 12 new members to coincide with the 2003 tribute.
The 2003 honorees include a long-distance swimmer, a photography pioneer and a native American who guided the Lewis and Clark Expedition at the turn of the 19th century.
The director of the National Women's Hall of Fame, Billie Luisi-Potts, says the institution strives to recognize both contemporary women and historic figures who have been overlooked. One such woman is Sacagawea, a native American who served as an interpreter for the explorers Meriwether Lewis and William Clark in their overland search for a route to the Pacific Ocean from 1803 until 1806.
"Sacagawea has often been overlooked when the tales of Lewis and Clark are told," said Ms. Luisi-Potts. "It was her knowledge and heritage that really made it possible for the expedition to secure horses at a very important time and to subsist on local indigenous plants. This is probably long overdue."
Two 20th-century women who broke ground for minority women in public life will be honored posthumously. Former California Congresswoman Patsy Mink, who died late last year, was the first Asian-American woman to serve in the U.S. House of Representatives and was instrumental in securing equal rights for women in education and sports. Patricia Roberts Harris was the first African-American women to serve as an ambassador and as a cabinet member. President Jimmy Carter first appointed her as Secretary of Housing and Urban Development in 1977 and then as Secretary of Health, Education and Welfare.
Among the best-known of the inductees is Dorothea Lange who paved the way for women photojournalists with her documentation of the poor during the economic depression in the 1930s.
Gertrude Ederle, 96, achieved international fame after she became the first woman to swim the English Channel in 1926. Billie Luisi-Potts says when she was growing up her father told her Gertrude Ederle proved women can do anything.
"She set a new time record that was the record that stood for male and female for the next 35 years. She had a swimming career that included 29 awards," said Ms. Luisi-Potts. "She is very interesting because in that swim of the channel she developed hearing impairments and she spent that latter part of her life teaching hearing impaired people to swim and developing specific techniques for being able to reach them and teach them those skills."
The 12 women will be inducted in October at the Hall of Fame in Seneca New York, the site of the first women's rights convention in 1848. The 2003 inductees are:
Linda G. Alvarado (1952-) Businesswoman.
Gertrude Ederle (1906-) Swimmer.
Martha Matilda Harper (1857-1950) Businesswoman.
Patricia Roberts Harris (1924-1985) Cabinet secretary.
Stephanie Kwolek (1923-) Chemist.
Dorothea Lange (1895-1965) Photojournalist.
Mildred Robbins Leet (1922-) Philanthropist.
Annie Sullivan Macy (1866-1936) Educator.
Patsy Takemoto Mink (1927-2002) Congresswoman.
Sacagawea (C. 1790 - ?) Shoshone guide.
Donna de Varona (1947-) Olympic swimmer.
Sheila Widnall (1938-) Scientist.