Wednesday, Jan. 21, 2009
K-State experts for Kansas Day:
BECAUSE 'WE CAN'T ALL BE AMELIA EARHART,' K-STATE RESEARCHER EXAMINES THE CONTRIBUTIONS OF EVERYDAY KANSAS WOMEN
MANHATTAN -- Amelia Earhart may be the most well-known woman from Kansas since the state was admitted to the union Jan. 29, 1861. After all, the Atchison native was the first woman to cross the Atlantic Ocean by airplane.
"But we can't all be Amelia Earhart," said Michaeline Chance-Reay, assistant professor of women's studies and secondary education at Kansas State University.
That's why Chance-Reay researches the lives of Kansas women who may not be as famous but whose contributions are no less noteworthy.
Kansas lays claim to first fully-trained female dentist in the world, Lucy Hobbs Taylor of Lawrence; the first female lawyer to appear before the U.S. Supreme Court, Nellie Cline of Larned; and the first female mayor in the United States, Susanna Madora Salter of Argonia.
Women in Kansas were even given an opportunity to make a mark in ways that women in other states weren't, Chance-Reay said.
"Before women got the right to vote in 1920, Kansas women could vote in school board elections -- but in those elections only," she said.
It is the achievements of everyday Kansas women that intrigue Chance-Reay. Her interest began with the first ladies of K-State and has continued with an interest in other women's contributions to the university, including university buildings named after women.
Whether a characteristic unique to Kansas and the Midwest or simply a consequence of the times in which they lived, Chance-Reay said that volunteerism seems to have shaped the lives of the K-State first ladies and other women.
"Because women could not hold positions of power and authority they made their contributions through volunteerism," she said.
The often-overlooked Kansas women Chance-Reay is researching now are the iconic Harvey Girls. It all started in Topeka when Fred Harvey began operating restaurants along railroad lines across America. Disheartened by the male waiters of the West who often showed up to work inebriated and unkempt -- or not at all -- it was suggested that Harvey begin hiring young women.
Beginning in Kansas, Harvey Girls meant young, single women who got to experience travel and adventure but in a safe and reputable environment. They lived in dormitories with a housemother, and rules of propriety were strictly enforced.
"The ones I interviewed really enjoyed their experience," Chance-Reay said. "It was liberating and romantic. Women in the West were in short supply, and hence men came to not only dine but also to court these females. The Harvey Girls sometimes get overlooked, but they are part of the history of Kansas, the West, U.S. tourism, hospitality management, women, the railroads, etc."