With the 15th anniversary of the Connecticut Technology Council's Women of Innovation Awards upon us, we decided to catch up with six past honorees to see how they’re continuing their mission.
It’s been a long, slow burn, but more and more women are being recognized for their hard work and equal footing alongside men for having built this nation.
The first International Women’s Day was held on March 19, 1911, when millions of men and women across Europe rallied in the streets for fair wages and against discrimination. The day was later moved to March 8 after women in Russia were given the right to vote in 1917. In the U.S., President Jimmy Carter declared a National Women’s Week in 1980 to coincide with the March 8 international celebration. Then, after years of support and encouragement for honoring women’s achievements from governors, city councils, school boards, and Congress, March was officially declared Women’s History Month in 1987.
In Connecticut, there are numerous stars who’ve blazed trails in government, the arts, education, and more. Here are 31 — one for each day of Women’s History Month — of the many women representing our state in history-making ways.
1: Marian Anderson (Danbury)
She was the first black person to perform with the Metropolitan Opera. Anderson delivered a showstopping performance at the Lincoln Memorial in 1939, invited by Eleanor Roosevelt, and sang the national anthem at John F. Kennedy’s 1961 inauguration. Originally from Philadelphia, Anderson made Danbury her home for nearly 50 years.
2: Margaret Bourke-White (Darien)
Known to many as “Maggie the Indestructible,” she was the first female American war journalist and the first Western photographer allowed into the Soviet Union. A photographer for Life magazine, her photo of Fort Peck Dam in Montana graced the publication’s first cover.
3: Adrianne Baughns-Wallace (Bloomfield)
First female television anchor in Connecticut and first African-American television newscaster in New England. In 1981 she was recognized as the Most Watched Woman in Connecticut, and in the same year, the Jaycees honored her as Woman of the Year.
4: Elizabeth Hart Jarvis Colt (Hartford)
First woman in America to establish a major art collection. She was married to Samuel Colt, and became one of the wealthiest women in the country after his death. Known as “The First Lady of Hartford,” she helped found and presided over many organizations, including the Union for Home Work, the Hartford Decorative Arts Society, and the Hartford Soldiers’ Aid Society.
5: Martha Coolidge (New Haven)
The filmmaker (and distant relative of President Calvin Coolidge) took her place in the director’s chair when few other women were doing so. Her Hollywood breakthrough was the 1983 teen comedy Valley Girl, in which Nicolas Cage got his start. Two years later came Real Genius, the first starring role for Val Kilmer. After more film and Emmy Award-winning TV work, Coolidge became the first woman president of the Directors Guild of America in 2002, a role in which she advocated for more female representation behind the camera.
6: Prudence Crandall (Canterbury)
Abolitionist and teacher, Crandall was designated the state’s official heroine in 1995. She founded academies for women, including “Young Ladies of Color” in Canterbury — the first academy in New England for African-American women and girls.
7: Edythe Gaines (Hartford)
Gaines was the first African American, and first woman in Connecticut, appointed superintendent of public schools in 1975. She was also the first woman to be elected chair of a Harvard University alumni association.
8: Ella Grasso (Windsor Locks)
First woman in the nation to be elected governor (1974), capping a 20-plus-year winning streak since first being elected to the General Assembly (1952). In 1955 Grasso was the first woman elected floor leader. From 1958-70, as Connecticut’s secretary of the state, she turned the office into a “people’s lobby” in which ordinary citizens could air grievances or seek advice. During this period, Grasso became the first woman to chair the Democratic State Platform Committee.
9: Kristen Griest (Orange)
Capt. Griest is one of two first women, along with Shaye Lynne Haver, to graduate from the Army’s prestigious Ranger School (2015) and was ranked 34th on Fortune magazine’s 2016 list of the World’s Greatest Leaders list. She also became the Army’s first female infantry officer.
10: Mary Hall (Marlborough)
Hall became the first female lawyer in Connecticut in 1882. Her admittance to the Connecticut Bar launched the nationwide decision to permit women to practice law.
11: Jahana Hayes (Waterbury)
In January she was sworn in as the first African-American woman and African-American Democrat to represent Connecticut in Congress. Hayes has been honored as both a state and National Teacher of the Year, and, in a nice coincidence, celebrates her birthday on March 8, International Women’s Day.
12: Katharine Hepburn (Hartford and Old Saybrook)
With her fierce sense of independence and style, Hepburn became the first leading lady in Hollywood to eschew the norm and wear trousers on screen. Her defiance set in motion the epitome of a “modern woman’s” style in 20th-century America.
13: Mary Goodrich Jenson (Wethersfield)
Jenson became the first female pilot in Connecticut, at 20 years old, in 1927. She was also the first female reporter of the Hartford Courant to receive her own column, and the first woman to fly solo to Cuba.
14: Emeline Robert Jones (New Haven)
As the first woman to practice dentistry in the U.S., she worked on the teeth of Connecticut residents before the Civil War. After her husband died in 1864, she supported herself and her two children by traveling across Connecticut and Rhode Island with her portable dentist’s chair, then established a practice in New Haven until 1915 when she retired.
15: Mary Kies (Killingly)
Inventor and first woman in the U.S. to receive a patent in her own name, signed by President James Madison in 1809. Kies created a new technique of weaving straw with silk and thread to make hats.
16: Clare Boothe Luce (Greenwich)
Luce first found success on Broadway with her play The Women in 1936. She went on to write and produce several other commercial successes before heading to England to write first-hand accounts of the war in Europe. Luce later blazed trails for women in politics as the first woman to represent Connecticut in the U.S. House of Representatives, and the first American woman appointed to a major ambassadorial post abroad (Italy).
17: Dollie McLean (Hartford)
In 1971, McLean became thefirst person to initiate the acquisition of works by African-American artists at Hartford’s Wadsworth Atheneum, and the first to mount exhibitions of African, Puerto Rican and African-American art in 1972 as part of the Artists Collective, now a premier multi-arts institution. In 2010, Michelle Obama awarded the Artists Collective a national distinction for its work serving Hartford’s youth in conjunction with the President’s Committee on Arts and Humanities.
18: Constance Baker Motley (New Haven)
Motley was the first African-American federal court judge, and, as an activist and lawyer, was instrumental in arguing the Brown v. Board of Education case, with Thurgood Marshall, in 1954.
19: Denise Nappier (Hartford)
Nappier earned three firsts when she was elected state treasurer in 1998: the first African-American woman to hold statewide office; the first woman elected as Connecticut’s treasurer; and the first African-American woman in the nation to be elected treasurer. Nappier is also known for her commitment to financial literacy education and making college more affordable for Connecticut students. This past January she completed 20 years and five terms as state treasurer.
20: Martha Parsons (Enfield)
After nearly 20 years with Landers, Frary & Clark, Parsons became an executive secretary in 1912 of the then-$2 million manufacturing corporation, making her the first female business executive in Connecticut to earn her position by merit.
21: Alice Paul (Ridgefield)
Dedicating her life to the equality of women and one of the leaders of the suffrage movement, Paul was the founder of the National Women’s Party in 1917, and in 1923 introduced the first Equal Rights Amendment in Congress.
22: Ellen Ash Peters (West Hartford)
Originally from Germany, Peters became the first female lawyer appointed to the Yale Law faculty, before becoming the first female justice of the state Supreme Court in 1978. Then, in 1984, she was elevated to chief justice, the highest position in the state’s judiciary. Peters was also the first recipient of the Ella T. Grasso Distinguished Service Medal.
23: Rosa Ponselle (Meriden)
At age 21, in 1918, Ponselle debuted as the first American soprano to sing at the Metropolitan Opera without European experience or formal training. Between 1935-36, her performances as Carmen were the first to be broadcast live on the radio from the Met and noted by The New York Times as the “hottest tickets in town.”
24: Anika Noni Rose (Bloomfield)
In 2009, the Tony Award-winning actress of TV, film and stage voiced the first black Disney princess in The Princess and the Frog,breaking a 72-year streak of white-only princesses.
25: Maria Sanchez (Hartford)
Known as “La Madrina,” or “the godmother” of Hartford’s Puerto Rican community, Sanchez opened Maria’s News Stand in the 1950s as a meeting place for women to discuss politics. In 1988, she became the first Hispanic woman elected to the Connecticut General Assembly.
26: Julia Evelina Smith (Glastonbury)
One of five extraordinary sisters dedicated to social causes, Smith was a women’s suffrage and education activist and author. With a working knowledge of Latin, Greek and Hebrew, and eight years of work, Smith became the only woman in history to have her translation of the Bible from its original languages published. It came out in 1876.
27: Betty Tianti (Killingly)
A woman of many firsts, Tianti devoted her life to the labor movement. She started working as a machine operator at the American Thread Co. in Willimantic in 1956, and was quickly promoted to machine fixer, the first woman to hold that position. In 1967 she became the first woman deputy director of the Textile Workers Union of America Committee on Political Education. She later became the first woman agent of the State Board of Labor Relations, and the nation’s first woman president of a state AFL-CIO.
28: Antonina Uccello (Hartford)
After four years on Hartford’s City Council (1963-67), and chairing several committees, Uccello quickly climbed the political ladder. In 1967 she not only became the first woman mayor of a Connecticut municipality and Hartford’s first Republican mayor since World War II, but the first female mayor of a U.S. state capital.
29: Florence Wald (Branford)
A nurse and former dean of Yale’s School of Nursing,Wald led the founding of Branford’s Connecticut Hospice, in 1974, the first program of its kind in the country. She also worked to make hospice care available to those in prison. When she died in 2008 at 91, there were nearly 3,000 hospice programs in the country.
30: Mabel Osgood Wright (Fairfield)
Founder and first president of Connecticut Audubon Society and Birdcraft Museum and Sanctuary in Fairfield, the first bird sanctuary of its kind. She wrote Birdcraft, the first accessible bird manual.
31: Chase Going Woodhouse (Sprague)
After serving as an economics professor at Connecticut College, she won a two-year term as secretary of the state in 1940. Then, in 1946, she was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives, becoming only the second woman to represent the state in Congress and the first from the Democratic Party. In the 1970s she became the first chairperson of the Connecticut Committee on the Status of Women.