9 Places Where Women Made History
Women have shaped the United States in countless ways, yet only a fraction of mainstream culture recognizes their ever-present role in history. The National Trust for Historic Preservation is committed to sharing those stories through our Where Women Made History program, and have throughout the years, documented and shared the stories of remarkable individuals who have made a difference. Below is a list of nine women—and the places where they lived and worked—whose talents and accomplishments are worth further recognition.
Alice Austen (Clear Comfort)
Staten Island, New York
Photographer Alice Austen was a trailblazer who pushed the boundaries of gender roles and society expectations during the Victorian era. Her 86-year life spanned many historic events that she captured with her camera, representing street and private life through the lens of a lesbian woman.
In addition to being a photographer, she was also a master tennis player, avid bicyclist, gardener (founder of the Staten Island Garden Club), and the first woman in Staten Island to own a car.
Today, her legacy is celebrated at Clear Comfort, the Austen family home, a Victorian Gothic cottage on Staten Island that is now a museum and a member of the Historic Artists’ Homes & Studios program.
Susan La Flesche Picotte (Dr. Susan LaFlesche Picotte Memorial Hospital)
Dr. Susan La Flesche Picotte of the Omaha Tribe changed the face of medicine in America. The first Native American to earn a medical degree, she campaigned for public health of the reservation and championed building a hospital in Walthill, Nebraska, in 1913, making it the only one in the nation built on an Indian reservation without federal funds.
By 2018, many locals were unaware of the historic significance of the neglected building. The structure was in such need that it was designated as one of America’s 11 Most Endangered Historic Places that same year.
Since then, grants (including one from the National Trust’s Telling the Full History Preservation Fund) and private donations have saved the building. Restoration is ongoing and should be completed late 2023. Part of the building will include a museum, ensuring that Picotte’s story will not be forgotten.
Sumi Harada (Harada House)
Along with her siblings Mine and Yoshizo, young Sumi Harada was at the center of a landmark 1918 court decision confirming the citizenship of Japanese immigrants’ children and establishing their right to own property in California. But one victory wasn’t enough to upend decades of established animosity toward Asian immigrants; the U.S. government forcibly removed Sumi and her entire family, despite being U.S. citizens, to government “relocation centers” where they were incarcerated during World War II.
Harada chose to return to the family home in Riverside after the war. She welcomed displaced Japanese American families as a place to rebuild their lives. She lived there for the next 53 years, and the house passed to the Riverside Museum upon her and her brother’s death.
The National Trust included the Harada House, which had serious structural issues due to termite and water damage, on the 2020 America’s 11 Most Endangered Historic Places list.
Since the 11 Most designation, the Riverside Metropolitan Museum, who own the property, working with the City of Riverside, have effectively removed the threats to this nationally significant and incredible fragile historic site. In 2021, the state of California gave $7 million in funding to stabilize and restore the house, and successfully listed the house as a California State Historic Landmark.
Carrie Chapman Catt (The Hermitage Hotel)
A powerful force in the women’s suffrage movement, Carrie Chapman Catt stayed at Nashville’s Hermitage Hotel for six weeks in the summer of 1920—not because of the Beaux-Arts building’s gorgeous terra-cotta exterior and luxurious accommodations, but rather its proximity to the statehouse.
As president of the National American Woman Suffrage Association and founder of the League of Women Voters, Catt believed Tennessee was the most likely state to cast the crucial vote that would lead to the ratification of the 19th Amendment, which would make it illegal to deny the right to vote to any citizen based on their sex.
When the amendment was ratified on August 18, 1920, after Tennessee’s deciding vote, Catt received congratulatory telegrams from across the country at the hotel, now part of the Historic Hotels of America program.
Katy Griggs Camuñez (La Posta)
Mesilla, New Mexico
At only 25 years old, Katy Griggs Camuñez started La Posta de Mesilla, in New Mexico with four tables, dirt floors, and no running water. The year was 1939. It was a multi-generational affair with her mother and grandmother running the kitchen.
The restaurant is still thriving today. In 2021, it was awarded $40,000 from the Backing Historic Small Restaurants grant program created by the National Trust and American Express as a response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Historic restaurants face many challenges, but they anchor their communities by sharing cultural traditions and creating special places for gathering and celebrating together. Through the Backing Historic Small Restaurants Grant, the National Trust is ensuring we're protecting these places as well as the stories, memories, and traditions they've created.
Hear from the current owners about the restaurant's history and how they’ve used the grant.
Mary Cardwell Dawson (The National Negro Opera Company House)
Mary Cardwell Dawson, a classically trained opera singer, never achieved her dream of becoming a star on stage as she was hindered by racism within the opera world. However, she became the founding director of the National Negro Opera Company and was devoted to bringing opera to Black audiences across the country.
Also an extraordinary music teacher, she trained hundreds of Black youth to sing opera from a Queen Anne-style manor in Pittsburgh. Jonnet Solomon bought the house in 2000 and has been on a quest to preserve it ever since.
The National Trust named the National Opera House one of America’s 11 Most Endangered Historic Places in 2020, which sparked renewed interest in the building. Grants came in, including a 2021 National Trust’s African American Cultural Heritage Action Fund grant of $75,000. Individual donations have also supported the stabilization and restoration process. Solomon aims to create a museum in the house that will tell Mary Cardwell Dawson’s story so that her dreams live on.
Edith Farnsworth (The Edith Farnsworth House)
The Edith Farnsworth House, a National Trust Historic Site, was designed and built between 1946 and 1951 for prominent Chicago nephrologist Dr. Edith Farnsworth, as a weekend retreat where she could relax, write poetry, entertain friends, and enjoy nature.
She commissioned Mies van der Rohe to design and build the structure, a glass-and-steel house that became one of his most significant domestic projects in America.
In fall 2021, the National Trust officially rededicated the iconic site as the Edith Farnsworth House to elevate Edith’s story as a visionary and a patron of the arts, as well as to shed light on her fascinating life and legacy.
Nina Simone (Nina Simone's Childhood Home)
Tryon, North Carolina
Music legend Nina Simone was a singer, songwriter, and pianist whose talents included a wide range of genres spanning gospel, soul, folk, blues, jazz, R&B, and pop.
Additionally, she was a prominent civil rights activist who used her music to address racism and racial injustices.
Before becoming the High Priestess of Soul, Nina Simone was born and raised in Tryon, North Carolina. In this clapboard house, she was encouraged to find her voice—both in music and activism. Her childhood home was saved from demolition by four Black artists, with support from the National Trust’s African American Cultural Heritage Action Fund and other partners.
Loja Saarinen (Saarinen House)
Bloomfield Hills, Michigan
Saarinen House, a member of the National Trust’s Historic Artists’ Homes & Studios program, served as the home, studio, and garden of the Finnish-American Saarinen family, which included architect, designer, and painter Eliel Saarinen and textile designer Loja Saarinen.
Traditionally, the Cranbrook Center for Collections and Research, the stewards of the Saarinen House, have overlooked Loja, focusing on Eliel Saarinen in their tours and presentations of the home. However, there is a renewed interest in putting Loja Saarinen and her textiles in the spotlight.
Loja led her own studio, Studio Loja Saarinen, which produced rugs, curtains, and fabrics for use at Cranbrook and around the country. Additionally, she was the head of the Department of Weaving and Textile Design at Cranbrook Academy of Art.
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