Idaho has been home to women pioneers, educators, civic leaders, elected officials, physicians, attorneys, businesswomen, writers, artists, innovators and more. The courage and skills of Idaho women are among our state’s enduring strengths. Women shape the history and future of our great state and nation. In recognition of March as Women’s History Month, here are some examples of the many women who enrich Idaho’s heritage:
- Sacagawea was born in 1788 in what is now Idaho. She served as a guide to the Corps of Discovery led by Captains Lewis and Clark. She assisted the exploration party by digging roots and other types of foods, showing the men how to make leather clothes and moccasins, and saving important papers from a capsized canoe.
- Polly Bemis was born in 1853 in China and was smuggled to the U.S. where she was sold as a slave in San Francisco for $2,500. Her buyer ran a saloon in the Warren mining camp in Idaho. Eventually, she bought her freedom and ran a boarding house in Warren. She and her husband, Charlie Bemis, were among the first pioneers to settle the Idaho Territory, specifically along the Salmon River.
- Margaret S. Roberts, from Hailey, was active in the suffragist movement. Roberts was appointed the librarian of the Idaho Traveling Library in 1905—a position she held throughout her life. She served as Vice President of the National Council of Women Voters and as Idaho’s Chairman of the National League of Women Voters. In 1943, she was appointed the Idaho State Historical Society head of wartime operations.
- Gracie Bowers Pfost, who was born in Arkansas in 1906 and moved to a farm near Boise a few years later, was the first woman to represent Idaho in the U.S. House of Representatives. She ran as a Democrat for the U.S. House of Representatives in 1950, but lost to John T. Wood, the Republican incumbent. In 1952, she ran again and, this time, was elected. She served five terms (1953-1963) and played a key role in making Alaska the 49th state.
Additionally, when presenting the Spirit of Freedom: Idaho Veterans Service Award annually, I get to hear about Idaho women who have served our country and veterans. For example, I wrote about 2011 Spirit of Freedom Award recipient Janie Schaut’s, of Emmett, reflections on her experiences serving as an Army nurse during the Vietnam War that movingly captured the selflessness of our nation’s veterans. I also had the honor of recognizing 2016 Spirit of Freedom Award recipient Erin Smith, of Boise, who was the first female armor enlisted soldier in the nation to graduate from the U.S. Army’s M1 Armor Crewman School.
Idaho has also been home to outstanding athletes, who have worked hard to rise to the tops of their fields. Among them are Kristin Armstrong, who earned three Olympic gold medals in cycling; Stacy Dragila, who won the first gold medal in women’s pole vaulting in the 2000 Summer Olympics; and Gretchen Fraser, an alpine skier at the 1948 Olympics and the first American woman to win a gold medal at the Winter Olympics.
I also benefit greatly from the outstanding counsel of the women who make up more than half of my staff and head most of my offices across the state and in our nation’s capital. They help ensure that the interests of Idahoans are thoughtfully represented in the U.S. Senate.
These are just a few examples of the countless women making a difference across our state and nation. The determination, wisdom, know-how and encouragement of inspiring women are ever-present in our communities.