Gender: Female - Starting with W

Wair, Thelma Jean Mothershed

Thelma Jean Mothershed Wair made history as a member of the Little Rock Nine, the African-American students involved in the desegregation of Little Rock Central High School in 1957. The world watched as they braved constant intimidation and threats from those who opposed desegregation of the formerly all-white high school. Mothershed was a junior when she entered Central. Despite the fact that she had a cardiac condition since birth, she had a near perfect record for attendance. Thelma Mothershed was born on November 29, 1940, in Bloomberg, Texas, to Arlevis Leander Mothershed and Hosanna Claire Moore Mothershed. Her father was a psychiatric aide at the Veterans Hospital, and her mother was a homemaker. She has three sisters and two brothers. …

Walker, Hazel Leona

aka: Hazel Walker Crutcher
Recognized as the greatest amateur women’s basketball player of the 1930s and 1940s, eleven-time Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) All-American Hazel Leona Walker was the only woman ever to own, manage, and star for her own professional basketball team. For sixteen seasons, from 1949 to 1965, Hazel Walker’s Arkansas Travelers barnstormed the country playing only men’s teams under men’s rules and winning eighty to eighty-five percent of their games. Hazel Walker was born on August 8, 1914, on her family’s farm near Oak Hill (Little River County), nine miles from Ashdown (Little River County). She was the middle child and only daughter of Herbert S. Walker and Minnie L. Chancey Walker, both Arkansas natives of part Cherokee descent. Walker first played …

Walton, Alice Louise

Alice Louise Walton is the heir to the Walton family fortune; in April 2019, she was estimated by Forbes magazine to have a net worth of almost $46 billion, making her one of the richest women in the world. She is also well known as a philanthropist, having established the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville (Benton County). Alice Louise Walton was born on October 7, 1949, in Newport (Jackson County), the youngest of four children and the only daughter of Sam and Helen Walton. Sam Walton opened Walton’s Five and Dime Store in Bentonville and then created Walmart, which changed the retail industry worldwide. Alice Walton grew up in Bentonville, attending public schools there. After graduating from …

Walton, Helen Robson

Helen Robson Walton was a noted philanthropist. Her husband, Walmart Inc. founder Sam Walton, called her one of his best advisors. When ranked as one of the world’s wealthiest women and asked for a description of her work, she defined herself simply as “volunteer to community, state and nation.” Along with making large charitable donations in areas such as the arts, education, and organizations for families and children, she was the first woman to be named chairwoman of the Presbyterian Church (USA) Foundation. Helen Alice Robson was born on December 3, 1919, in Claremore, Oklahoma. She was the daughter of homemaker Hazel Carr Robson and banker/rancher Leland Stanford (L. S.) Robson. She had three brothers and a sister. The family …

Ward, Essie Ann Treat

Essie Ann Treat Ward, who is often referred to as “Grandma Moses of the Ozarks,” produced paintings that are fascinating examples of primitive art, a style of folk painting. From a field of one hundred and fifty folk painters, she was chosen one of the top ten in Arkansas, receiving recognition and appreciation in her native region and state. In 1970, she participated in the Smithsonian Festival of American Folklife in Washington DC. Today hundreds of her paintings in the Miranda and Hezzakiah series hang in public and private art collections around the world. Essie Treat was born on October 20, 1902, to Henry and Parthenia Treat in the community of Nubbin Hill (Searcy County). Her father was a farmer …

Warner, Julia McAlmont

Julia McAlmont Warner was an educator at Arkansas Female College in Little Rock (Pulaski County) and a leader of the Political Equality League, a women’s suffrage organization in Arkansas. Julia McAlmont Warner was born on September 1, 1860, in Hornell, New York, to Truman Warner and Myra Cordelia McAlmont Warner, both natives of New York. Her mother established the Arkansas Female College in 1872 and was an early supporter of women’s suffrage in Arkansas. In 1877, Julia McAlmont Warner began her career teaching at the Arkansas Female College at the age of seventeen and continued there for several years. She was fluent in several languages, including Latin, French, Spanish, and Italian. In 1911, a number of prominent women in the …

Warner, Myra Cordelia McAlmont

Myra Cordelia McAlmont Warner was a pioneer and noted educator of Arkansas youth who was integral to the creation and operation of the Arkansas Female College in Little Rock (Pulaski County). Myra McAlmont was born on July 4, 1832, at Hornell, New York, to Daniel McAlmont and Samantha Durham McAlmont. When she was about twenty, she came to Arkansas with her brother, Dr. John J. McAlmont, and his family. They settled first in Benton (Saline County), and she started a small private school. After about two years, her brother moved to Little Rock and opened a drugstore. She returned to New York. While in New York, she attended Albert University and graduated with bachelor’s and master’s degrees. She married Truman …

Warren, Joyce Elise Williams

Joyce Elise Williams Warren was the first Black female judge in the Pulaski County system and the first in Arkansas. She has also authored A Booklet for Parents, Guardians, and Custodians in Child Abuse and Neglect Cases (2003), which has been translated into Spanish and has been widely distributed in Arkansas and other states. She has appeared in several training videos and other videos concerning juvenile and domestic relations law and related issues. Joyce Elise Williams was born in Pine Bluff (Jefferson County) on October 25, 1949, one of two children of Albert Lewis Williams Jr. and Marian Eloise Longley Williams, both teachers. She attended Gibbs Elementary School and was one of ten Black students who integrated West Side Junior …

Warriors Don’t Cry

Melba Pattillo Beals’s Warriors Don’t Cry, published in 1994, is a first-person account of the desegregation of Little Rock Central High School in 1957. Melba Pattillo was born on December 7, 1941, in Little Rock (Pulaski County) to Lois Marie Pattillo, PhD, and Howell Pattillo. In 1957, she was one of the Little Rock Nine, nine Black students who volunteered to integrate Central High School. She spent her senior year, when Little Rock’s high schools were closed during what is known as the Lost Year, at a high school in California. After her marriage and divorce, Melba Pattillo Beals earned a BA in journalism from San Francisco State University, a master’s degree in journalism from Columbia University in 1973, and …

Wassell, Elizabeth McConaughey (Bettie)

Elizabeth McConaughey (Bettie) Wassell was the honorary state regent of the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR), a member of the Political Equality League, and the chairperson of the History Committee of the Arkansas Equal Suffrage State Central Committee. Bettie McConaughey was born on October 12, 1859, in Searcy (White County) to James W. McConaughey and Albina McRae McConaughey. Her parents were prominent social and cultural figures during the Civil War; James was a captain in the Confederate army, and Albina was the sister of Confederate general Dandridge McRae. McConaughey married Samuel Spotts Wassell on April 8, 1978. Samuel Wassell was a Cornell University graduate and attorney in Memphis, Tennessee, and later in Little Rock (Pulaski County). They had four …

Watson, Edomae Boone

Edomae Boone Watson was a prominent African-American civic and education leader in Jonesboro (Craighead County). In addition to being an educator in Jonesboro’s segregated and then integrated school system, she also played a pivotal role in developing the Head Start program in Jonesboro. She served in state and national organizations to secure funding to provide early-childhood education opportunities for low-income children in Jonesboro. Edomae Boone was born on April 2, 1907, near Augusta (Woodruff County). She obtained a high school diploma from Shorter College, then in Little Rock (Pulaski County), one of the few places in Arkansas that provided diplomas to black students. She received a bachelor’s degree in elementary education from Arkansas Agricultural, Mechanical, and Normal School in Pine …

Watson, Hattie Rutherford

aka: Harriet Louise Gertrude Rutherford Watson
Harriet Louise Gertrude (Hattie) Rutherford Watson was an educator, librarian, and prominent member of the social and education communities in Pine Bluff (Jefferson County). She and her husband, John Brown Watson, were activists for the African-American community during the early twentieth century. Hattie Rutherford was born November 23, 1885, in Rome, Georgia, as part of the black elite in the post-bellum era. She was the elder daughter of Samuel W. and Mary Anne Lemon Rutherford. Her father founded the National Benefit Life Insurance Company in 1898. Rutherford acquired an elementary education in the public schools of Atlanta and a high school diploma at Spelman Seminary. She completed her college work at Spelman College and was the only graduate from that …

Weaver, Emily

Emily Weaver of Batesville (Independence County) was a young woman who found herself caught up in the unorganized Civil War legal apparatus. Though charged by the Union as a spy and sentenced to hang, her case was eventually dropped for insufficient evidence. Emily Weaver was born to Abram Weaver and Mary Burton Weaver in Chester Valley, Pennsylvania. No birth date for her is given. In 1859, she, her mother, and six of her seven brothers moved to Batesville to be near relatives while Weaver’s father and oldest brother stayed behind to finalize business affairs for an eventual relocation to Memphis, Tennessee. The family stayed at Ninth and Main streets in a house she called “Pleasant Hill.” Weaver’s family was divided, …

Webb, Kathy Lynette

Kathy Webb—the first openly gay member of the Arkansas General Assembly—has had a long career in private business (most notably as co-owner of Lilly’s Dim Sum Then Some restaurant), philanthropy, and local and state government. She has also been a leader in the women’s rights movement. Webb, who battled breast cancer, served as the founding president of the Chicago-area Susan G. Komen Cancer Foundation. Kathy Lynette Webb was born in Blytheville (Mississippi County) on October 21, 1949. The youngest of three children—with a brother twelve years older and a sister nine years older—of Maurice Webb and Atha Webb, she graduated from Hall High School in Little Rock (Pulaski County) before going on to Randolph-Macon Woman’s College (now Randolph College) in …

White, Delores Brumfield

Delores Brumfield (Dee) White began playing in the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League (AAGPBL) as a young teenager in the post–World War II years, helping take the Fort Wayne Daisies to two league championships. She later taught physical education and was a coach at Henderson State University (HSU) in Arkadelphia (Clark County). Dee Brumfield was born on May 26, 1932, in Prichard, Alabama, to Earl Henry Brumfield and Miriam McKay Turner Brumfield. She had a younger brother and sister. Her father was an auto mechanic. Her mother was a homemaker until World War II, when she started as an office worker, eventually becoming an office manager for an insurance firm. Brumfield was an athletic girl who played in sandlot games …

White, Gay Daniels

Gay Daniels White was the wife of Frank White (who was the forty-first governor of Arkansas) and the state’s thirty-sixth first lady. Outside of politics, she has been best known for her love of Arkansas’s outdoors—hiking, camping, and canoeing—leading her to serve on the board of trustees of the Arkansas Nature Conservancy for a number of years. She has also publicly shared her experience of personal struggle and the role of faith in her life. Gay Daniels was born in Oakland, California, on March 7, 1947, to Russell and Nan Daniels. She was the youngest of three daughters born into a career U.S. Navy family. After her father retired from naval service, the family settled in Tulsa, Oklahoma, where she …

Whitfield, Inez Harrington

Inez Harrington Whitfield, noted for her community work in Hot Springs (Garland County), was nationally recognized for her paintings of Arkansas wildflowers. She was one of forty Arkansans to appear in American Women in 1935. The publication was a who’s who of female leaders in America. Inez Whitfield was born May 25, 1867, in German Flatts, New York, to James and Ida Dota Whitfield. She received her early education in Ilion, New York, and graduated in 1889 from Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts, with a bachelor of letters degree. After graduation, she taught at the Gardner Institute for Girls in New York City. Whitfield later left the school and formed the Whitfield-Bliss School for Girls in New York City with …

Whitman, Essie Barbara

Essie Barbara Whitman was a member of the renowned Whitman Sisters Company. The group of African-American sisters, who were entrepreneurs as well as entertainers, developed their own musical, dance, and comedy performing arts company. From 1901 to 1943, the group performed throughout the United States, becoming the longest-running and highest-paid act on the Theater Owners Booking Association (TOBA) circuit. Essie Whitman was born on July 4, 1882, in Osceola (Mississippi County) to the Reverend Albery Allson Whitman, who was a bishop in the Methodist Church, and Caddie A. Whitman; she was the second of four sisters who included Mabel (1880–1942), Alberta (1887–1963), and “Baby” Alice (1900–1969). Rev. Whitman, later known as the “Poet Laureate of the Negro Race,” is said to have taught …

Whitworth, Donna Axum

Donna Axum Whitworth was the first Miss Arkansas to win the title of Miss America. She retained the distinction of being the only Miss Arkansas crowned Miss America from 1964 until 1982, when Elizabeth Ward was crowned. Donna Axum was born in 1942 in El Dorado (Union County) to Idelle and Hurley B. Axum. Her father was a banker. She said she began entering beauty pageants because, as a young person, she had an inferiority complex about being too thin and not having “a figure.” She was determined to work at improving herself and enhancing her feeling of self-worth. She won her first title, Miss Union County, in 1958 as a high school senior in El Dorado when she was …

Wilkins, Gina Ferris Vaughan

Gina Ferris Vaughan Wilkins is the author of more than 100 books. A life-long resident of central Arkansas, Wilkins obtained a journalism degree from Arkansas State University (ASU) and worked in advertising and human resources until she sold her first book in 1987 to Harlequin. Gina Vaughan was born on December 20, 1954, in Little Rock (Pulaski County) to Vernon Vaughan, an electrician, and Beth Vaughan, an executive secretary. She has three younger brothers. In February 1972, she married John Wilkins, a wood turner. They have three children. When she sold her first book, he used his savings to buy her a typewriter. She returned the one she had borrowed from her mother-in-law. After graduating from ASU in May 1976, …

Williams, Ernest (Reported Lynching of)

On June 21, 1908, the Arkansas Gazette reported that an African-American man named Ernest Williams was lynched at Parkdale (Ashley County) by a group of Black women. The report, if true, would be a unique event, with female-led mobs being rare to nonexistent, especially among African Americans lynching a fellow Black person. However, there are reasons to believe that this report was false and, instead, part of a larger pattern of slandering local emancipation celebrations. The report in the Gazette is datelined June 20 from Hamburg (Ashley County) and relays the following information: “A mob of enraged negro women dragged Ernest Williams, negro, to a telegraph pole on the outskirts of Parkdale, a town in this county, and lynched him …

Williams, Lucinda

Lucinda Williams is one of America’s most critically acclaimed songwriters and recording artists, as well as the daughter of poet Miller Williams. She has won three Grammy Awards and is considered a leading light of the so-called “alt-country” movement. Her songs, with their simple chord structures and gorgeous melodies, incorporate elements of rural blues, traditional country, and rock and roll. They are distinguished by evocative, plain-spoken lyrics that investigate the human mystery. In 2002, Time magazine called her “America’s best songwriter.” Lucinda Williams was born on January 26, 1953, in Lake Charles, Louisiana. Her mother was Miller Williams’s first wife, Lucille Day. With her professor father moving from job to job, Williams grew up in southern towns such as Vicksburg, …

Williams, Sophronia Reacie

Sophronia Reacie Williams worked more than forty years as a nurse and nurse educator, becoming one of the first African-American nurses in hospitals and universities in Missouri, Ohio, and Colorado. Sophronia Williams was born on June 19, 1929, in Little Rock (Pulaski County), the second of six children of Leon Williams and Theessa Woods Williams. Her father was a minister at the Church of God in Christ congregation in Little Rock, as well as a school cafeteria cook. Williams attended segregated John E. Bush Elementary School in Little Rock and graduated from Dunbar High School in Little Rock in 1947. As a teenager, she worked at St. Vincent Infirmary in Little Rock as a hospital aide. Williams attended Dunbar Junior …