New exhibit pays tribute to Pennsylvania women who were ‘Game Changers’

By: - April 1, 2019 6:30 am

First Lady Frances Wolf in front of the “Game Changers: Pennsylvania Women Who Made History” exhibit at the Governor’s Residence. (Capital-Star photo).

After Gov. Tom Wolf assumed office in 2015, First Lady Frances Wolf took note of the distinct decorations lining the walls of her husband’s Capitol office: portraits of his male predecessors.

“And I thought, ‘What about women of Pennsylvania?'” the first lady said in a recent interview with the Capital-Star. “It just started asking the question.”

That question has blossomed into an exhibit at the Governor’s Residence in Harrisburg that highlights 32 Pennsylvania women who were “Game Changers.” The women featured range from the instantly recognizable — like actress-turned-princess Grace Kelly and opera singer Marian Anderson, both of Philadelphia — to names left out of mainstream conversations about the commonwealth’s history.

Names like Gloria Casarez, a civil rights leader who died at age 42 after serving as Philadelphia’s first director of LGBT affairs, and Grayce Uyehara, a social worker who led the fight to have the U.S. government formally apologize for Japanese internment during WWII.

The exhibit was designed with input from two staff members from Gov. Wolf’s office, the Pennsylvania Historical & Museum Commission, the Pennsylvania Commission for Women, and the Distinguished Daughters of Pennsylvania.

Photos of the "Game Changers" exhibit
(Capital-Star photo by Sarah Anne Hughes)

It’s an important year for women in Pennsylvania. In June, the commonwealth will celebrate the 100th anniversary of its ratification of the 19th Amendment, which gave women the right to vote — more than a year before Congress did the same, in August 1920.

“We looked at it as an opportunity for a year of celebration,” Andrea Lowery, executive director of the Pennsylvania Historical & Museum Commission, said of the occasion.

Lowery said the commission, which is headquartered inside the State Museum in Harrisburg, reached out to roughly two dozen historians and academicians seeking women who have “really contributed to changing the game on a statewide or national level.”

The resulting list was 145 names long, a pool whittled down by a panel based on the diversity of the women, their areas of contribution, and their location.

Dana Brown, a Commission for Women member who provided input for the exhibit, said she lobbied for “even greater inclusion and diversity within the ‘Game Changers’ exhibit because we know historically women of color and other underrepresented groups are not identified as leaders.”

“We don’t even know their names,” said Brown, who heads the Pennsylvania Center for Women and Politics at Chatham University in Pittsburgh.

Indeed, Lowery said one of the joys of putting the exhibit together was showcasing “women who we don’t know as well.”

Women like Josie Carey, the host of a pioneering children’s TV program that gave “Mister” Fred Rogers his start.

“It’s usually the man who is remembered,” Lowery said. “The woman is the partner in the background, even if she made significant contributions.”

First Lady Wolf said portraits of Pennsylvania women who are currently making history will be added to the Residence’s halls at some point this year.

She also imagines that more women will be added to the collection, either through expansion or portrait rotation.

“This isn’t the end of it,” Wolf said.

The exhibit is on view at the Governor’s Residence Tuesdays and Thursdays between 9:30 a.m. and 2 p.m. Reservations are required.

After December, “Game Changers” will be moved to the State Museum.

Below is full list, provided by the governor’s office, of the women featured in the exhibit.

Sadie T. M. Alexander (1898–1989), born in Philadelphia, economist/attorney, first African American woman to practice law in Pennsylvania, appointed by Truman to the President’s Committee on Civil Rights.

Marian Anderson (1897–1993), born in Philadelphia, singer, first African American to perform at the New York Metropolitan Opera, delegate to the United Nations Human Rights Committee.

Ernesta Ballard (1920–2005), lived in Philadelphia, horticulturalist/feminist, director of the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society, active in the women’s liberation movement.

Florence Knoll Bassett (1917–2019), lived in East Greenville, architect/furniture designer, headed Knoll Planning Unit that designed corporate headquarters, launched KnollTextiles that created functional fabrics in the Modernist style.

Genevieve Blatt (1913–1996), born in East Brady, politician/judge, first woman to win statewide elected office in Pennsylvania as secretary of internal affairs, as a Commonwealth Court judge she wrote the legal opinion that gave girls equal access to interscholastic high school sports.

Louise Tanner Brown (1883–1955), lived in Scranton, businesswoman, civic leader in Scranton’s growing African American community in the early 20th century, operated the G.W. Brown Trucking Co. and made it a success.

Pearl Buck (1892–1973), lived in Bucks County, author, first woman in the U.S. to receive the Nobel Prize for literature (The Good Earth), established the interracial adoption agency Welcome House.

Josie Carey (1930–2004), born in Pittsburgh, TV host/lyricist, star of Children’s Corner, pioneered quality television for children.

Rachel Carson (1907–1964), born in Springdale, marine biologist/author/conservationist, helped launch the modern environmental movement with her book Silent Spring.

Gloria Casarez (1971–2014), born in Philadelphia, civil rights leader/LGBT activist, Philadelphia’s first director of LGBT affairs.

Helena Devereux (1885–1975), born in Philadelphia, educator, pioneer in special education, created Devereux Stone to work with intellectually disabled children.

Mira Lloyd Dock (1853–1945), born in Harrisburg, botanist/environmentalist, first woman appointed to a Pennsylvania government agency (the State Forestry Reservation Commission).

Crystal Bird Fauset (1894–1965), born in Philadelphia, politician/legislator, first African American woman elected to the Pennsylvania House of Representatives, founded the Colored Women’s Activities Club to register and mobilize black women voters.

Barbara Gittings (1932–2007), lived in Philadelphia, civil rights leader/LGBT activist, co-organized the campaign that led to the declassification of homosexuality as a mental disorder.

Martha Graham (1894–1991), born in Allegheny City, dancer/choreographer, revolutionized modern dance, founded the Martha Graham Studio.

Elsie Hillman (1925–2015), born in Pittsburgh, political activist/philanthropist, chaired national and statewide presidential campaigns, created the Pennsylvania Center for Women and Politics.

Grace Kelly (1929–1982), born in Philadelphia, Academy Award–winning actress/princess of Monaco, supported cultural and charitable initiatives.

Stephanie Kwolek (1923–2014), born in New Kensington, chemist, developed the strong lightweight synthetic fiber Kevlar that is used in bullet-proof vests, airplanes, suspension bridges, and undersea optical fiber cables.

Daisy Lampkin (1883–1965), lived in Pittsburgh, suffragist/activist, a major figure in the NAACP, stockholder and vice president of the Pittsburgh Courier newspaper for the black community across the U.S.

Elizabeth Ruddy Lynett (1902–1959), born in Scranton, journalist/publisher, investigative reporter for the Scranton Times and later its copublisher.

Sophie Masloff (1917–2014), born in Mt. Lebanon, politician, Pittsburgh’s first woman mayor who championed policies to lower taxes and stem population decline in the city.

Min Matheson (1909–1992), lived in Wilkes-Barre, labor organizer for the International Ladies’ Garment Workers’ Union who unionized 168 factories and 11,000 workers.

Daisy Myers (1925–2011), lived in Levittown, integration pioneer, she and her family were the first black residents of the white suburban development of Levittown, exercising their right to home ownership amid harassment in one of the defining episodes of the postwar Civil Rights movement.

Violet Oakley (1874–1961), lived in Philadelphia, artist, created the murals in the Pennsylvania State Capitol, the first American woman to receive a public mural commission.

Mary Brooks Picken (1886–1981), lived in Scranton, fashion expert/author, founded the Women’s Institute of Domestic Arts with the mission to guide women to economic self-sufficiency through entrepreneurship.

Jeanette Reibman (1915–2006), lived in Allentown, politician, state senator who championed educational opportunities, the Equal Rights Amendment, and environmental and consumer protections in Pennsylvania.

Helen Richey (1909–1947), born in McKeesport, aviator/pilot, broke numerous aviation records, the first female commercial airline pilot in the U.S.

Jennie Bradley Roessing (1881–1963), born in Pittsburgh, activist, president of the Pennsylvania Women’s Suffrage Association who led the statewide campaign to pass a women’s suffrage bill in the Pennsylvania State Legislature.

Ida Tarbell (1857–1944), born in Amity Township, journalist/lecturer, pioneer of investigative journalism, one of the Progressive Era muckrakers who sought to reveal corruption in business and politics with an eye toward reform.

Grayce Uyehara (1919–2014), lived in Philadelphia, social worker/activist, founding member of the Japanese American Citizens League who led the lobbying initiative that resulted in the U.S. government’s formal apology for the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II.

Ora Washington (1898–1971), born in Philadelphia, athlete, black women’s tennis star who won eight national championship titles from the American Tennis Association, played basketball for the Philadelphia Tribunes.

Frances Anne Wister (1874–1956), born in Philadelphia, historic preservationist, organized the Philadelphia Society for the Preservation of Landmarks, laid the groundwork for a survey that was the basis of the first federal preservation program.

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Sarah Anne Hughes
Sarah Anne Hughes

Associate Editor Sarah Anne Hughes covers the governor and Pennsylvania's agencies. Before joining the Capital-Star, she was the state capitol reporter for Billy Penn and The Incline, and a 2018 corps member for Report for America. She was previously managing editor of Washington City Paper, editor-in-chief of DCist, and a national blogger for The Washington Post.