National Women’s History Month: Midwesterners make their mark

National Women's History Month

Willa Cather’s books were based on life in Nebraska

Throughout history, women have achieved several accomplishments that many believed were “man’s work.” How about setting records as an airplane pilot? Writing award-winning books? Running a successful newspaper? These were achieved by women with Midwestern backgrounds.

March is National Women’s History Month. I thought it’d be interesting to spend some time throughout the month recognizing the accomplishments of women from our region. As the father of two young, successful women – and the husband of a woman with a lot of energy and drive in making social media successful for our blog – I take special joy in seeing women achieve success.

Amelia Earhart was born and raised for part of her life in Atchison, Kansas. Earhart went on to set records for a female pilot, as well as all pilots. She set a speed record of 181.18 mph over a 3K course. She set the mark for female pilots with an altitude record by flying at 14,000 feet. She was the first female pilot to fly across the Atlantic Ocean.

Earhart’s childhood home still exists in northwestern Kansas. She and her sister lived with their maternal grandparents for several years. The home has been turned into a museum. Sitting along a bluff not far from the Missouri River, it gives a look into the early life of one of America’s pioneering pilots.

National Women's History Month

Amelia Earhart’s childhood home in Atchison, Kansas

Amelia Earhart’s love of flying is displayed throughout the house. Several rooms have items related to her flying days, including plane models, mannequins dressed her Earhart and head busts. Clothes worn by actress Hilary Swank in the movie “Amelia” are on exhibit.

National Women's History Month

Dressed as Amelia Earhart

Earhart and her co-pilot lost radio contact and their plane disappeared over the Pacific Ocean. It has never been recovered, though attempts continue to locate it.

Before Earhart’s time, a young girl grew up in the south central Nebraska community of Red Cloud. She dabbled in writing, eventually becoming a Pulitzer Prize-winning author. Willa Cather based several of her books on her hometown. While fiction, her books usually were based on actual people she knew in Red Cloud.

National Women's History Month

Cather’s favorite flower – the Hollyhock – is abundant at the first Cather home

Her books included “O! Pioneers,” “My Antonia” and “The Song of the Lark.” The University of Nebraska graduate won the Pulitzer for “One of Our Own.”

Cather’s family lived in a couple of houses in Red Cloud. They rented the house she grew up in. Her bedroom on the second floor is sealed off and you can view through Plexiglass. Her brothers slept in a nearby room that resembled a dormitory room.

National Women's History Month

Willa Cather’s bedroom

The Second Cather Home, which was bought by her parents after Willa had moved way, is now a bed and breakfast. We had the pleasure of staying there one weekend. It was impressive to know that we were in the same house where Cather spent time during her many visits.

National Women's History Month

The second Cather home. We stayed here during our Red Cloud visit.

Red Cloud is filled with historical signs and points of interest related to Cather’s life or her books. The community is proud of their best-known resident.

Born in Alabama, Mildred Brown came to Omaha in 1937, along with her husband, to work at a local newspaper. In 1938, the couple founded the Omaha Star, the city’s African American newspaper.

National Women's History Month

Mildred Brown’s bust honors her accomplishments at a park near her newspaper building

The couple divorced in the mid-1940s. She maintained ownership of the newspaper. She was believed to be the longest serving owner of an African American weekly newspaper in the United States. She remained active until her death in 1989.

Brown was active in the Civil Rights movement in Omaha. She became involved with the DePorres Club, a group of high school and Creighton University students. The organization led a sit-in at a local café, among other civil rights movement actions.

National Women's History Month

Omaha’s African American newspaper

Brown – because of her Civil Rights accomplishments – was named as Goodwill Ambassador to East Germany in the 1960s by President Lyndon B. Johnson.

Many women have enjoyed major success in their lives and professions. We applaud them. We hope young girls look to these figures as role models to help achieve their goals. Enjoy National Women’s History Month.

For more information on the history month, please visit The National Women’s History Project at  www.nwhp.org.

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