National Women#039;s Month

Published 12:00 am Saturday, April 3, 2004

The questions were really very simple. Who is the American woman who has made the greatest contribution to society and who is the American woman you most admire?

But the answers didn't come so easily.

March is National Women's Month and the questions were posed in an effort to pin roses on some of the women who have influenced American society and left a positive impression on their countrymen.

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Most people needed a little time to consider the questions not often asked. And, too, "that's a long time and a lot of distinguished women.

But leave it to a history professor to support his "quick" choices with photos, textbooks and reasons a plenty.

Dr. Milton McPherson based his choices on disconnected events that have had an enormous effect on the lives of Americans today.

Of course, Queen Elizabeth I of England was not an American woman but that didn't keep him from paying her a great debt of gratitude.

"When Queen Elizabeth I came to power in 1558, England was a fifth-rate struggling country," he said. "Because she was considered by the Catholic Church to be illegitimate, she lived under the shadow of the dagger and poison of the Catholic Church. Every Catholic in England would have killed her in a second, if they could have. She raised England from a country of no consequence to a world power. England defeated the Spanish Armada and that determined that England would settle the New World and dominate our homeland."

McPherson said if Queen Elizabeth I had not been such an "enlightened" leader, this nation, as we know it, would not exist.

On American soil, McPherson said there is no doubt in his mind that Eleanor Roosevelt is the woman who has had the greatest influence on this country.

"Adlai Stevenson, former governor of Illinois and twice the Democratic Party's candidate for President, said that Eleanor Roosevelt walked like an angel in the dark places of the world," McPherson said. "I couldn't agree more. She was a champion for the downtrodden, the disadvantaged, the sick, the hungry. She fought for decency and justice and held out hope for all people. Eleanor Roosevelt was the greatest force of positive good ever in our country."

England and Eleanor aside, McPherson's personal favorite is Alice Roosevelt Longworth.

"Princess Alice was the first daughter of President Theodore Roosevelt and she was a dandy," he said. "She was a beautiful woman and the most popular lady in the country. She was independent and strong-willed. She drove around in a red Stutz Bearcat automobile and smoked cigarettes in public.

"President Roosevelt told her that he had better not catch her smoking in the White House, so she climbed up on the White House roof, lit up a cigarette and puffed away."

McPherson said Princess Alice was a spirited young woman and one that no one, not even the President of the United States, could control.

"She was on a train trip across the country and made her way to the last car on the train," he said. "She went out and stood on the steps, took a pistol out of her purse and shot at the telephone poles as the train went by."

President Roosevelt was asked if he couldn't control Princess Alice and he replied, "Not and run this country, too."

"You have to admire a woman like that," McPherson said. "She married a prominent Congressman from Ohio and continued to flaunt her independent ways around Washington."

However, it was not Alice Roosevelt Longworth, but a friend of hers, Consuelo Vanderbilt, that McPherson said made a lasting contribution to America.

"Our Constitution prohibits any title of nobility, but many of the wealthy families of our country wanted to married their daughters off to European nobility so that could have a title," McPherson said. "Consuelo was an exquisite lady and her mother wanted her to wear a title of nobility so she was married off to the Duke of Buckingham, a dried up little shrimp of a man."

McPherson said Consuelo stood at the altar with red, swollen eye because she loved someone else.

"After she and the Duke of Buckingham were married, her mother-in-law told her that it would be her duty to bear a son - a heir to the title," McPherson said. "She told her that otherwise, the little upstart, Winston Churchill, would inherit the title of Duke of Buckingham."

McPherson said if Consuelo had not produce an heir to the title, Churchill would have been the Duke of Buckingham and could not have been England's Prime Minister.

"Churchill saved us," McPherson said. "Had Churchill not been Prime Minister, England would have fallen to the hands of Hitler. England had nothing but the English Channel and Churchill, but he saved the world from Hitler and the Nazis. So, don't tell me that Consuelo Vanderbilt did not play an important role in our history."

However, it was McPherson's opinion that Eleanor Roosevelt had more impact on the lives of Americans than any other woman in history that was shared by many.

Betty Hobbs, quickly named Eleanor Roosevelt.

"She was a strong woman and initiated programs that have made the difference in many lives," she said. "She had a lot of influence then and now."

Hobbs name Lurleen B. Wallace as the woman she most admires.

"She was really a timid person but, contrary to that, she stepped up to the plate and served as governor in support of her husband," Hobbs said. "It was not her personality to be a public figure, but she assumed that role as governor. She was a kind, caring person and I admired her."

For Teresa Colvin, both questions were a tossup.

She chose Clara Barton and Helen Keller as the women who made the greatest contributions to American Society.

"Clara Barton for her spirit of independence at a time when most American women were expected to stay home. She founded the Red Cross," she said. "Even today, the American Red Cross is still doing its good works and serves as a memorial to its founder."

Colvin also mentioned the lasting and far-reaching influence of Helen Keller.

She couldn't decide on a "most admired" so she named three.

"Barbara Bush and Laura Bush have to be admired for their work with literacy and their shared loved of lifelong interest in reading," the children's librarian at Troy Public Library said. " They made literacy and the importance of reading their special projects as First Ladies."

Colvin also admires Condoleezza Rice as one who stands very strong on principles and is committed to President George W. Bush.

"Condoleezza Rice is a very sharp and well educated woman from Alabama," she said. "She is the youngest as well as the first female National Security Advisor and is one of the most influential women in our history."

Joel Williams, attorney, said Eleanor Roosevelt made the greatest contribution to society because she was bright, articulate and courageous. She was smart enough to know what to say and brave enough to say it.

The woman he admires most is Barbara Jordan.

"She was a black lady from Texas who was elected to Congress in the 1970's," he said.

"She was absolutely a genius … the most brilliant orator you've ever heard. Not only was she a woman, but she was a black woman from the South. While she was serving in Congress, she was probably the most respected member in Congress for a decade."

Another attorney Mike Dickerson of Enterprise said, "There are so many women, but I will say Betsy Ross. She was so influential to what our country is noted for. Now we're getting so patriotic toward our country and she contributed to the symbolism of what our country stands for.

As for the most admired, Dickerson said the women who serve in the hospice realm are unbelievable.

"Their capacity for compassion for their patients is truly amazing," he said. "I don't know how they can do it."

Betty Spann said Susan B. Anthony was one of the 19th century's most famous women's rights leaders.

"She was educated, involved in the temperance movement (founded the New York State Temperance Society), active in the abolitionist movement and was a representative for the American Anti-Slavery Society," Spann said. "Susan B. Anthony collected signatures for the 1854 petition requesting an expansion of the Married Women's Property Act in New York. Her likeness is on the 1979 silver dollar. Because of her, women's lives are changed."

The American woman Spann most admires is Helen Keller.

"She was an extraordinary example of the ability of humans to triumph over difficulties," Spann said. "Helen Keller proved that a person without hearing, sight or the ability to speak can acquire a college education and share in the history, culture and intellectual life of our country. She used her ability to communicate by inspiring afflicted people all over the world, in all walks of life."

Spann said Keller was an ardent supporter of women's rights.

"For millions of people, Helen Keller stands today as a beacon of hope - a very special woman whose destiny was to show others the way."

The collective minds of Mike Griffin, James O. Johnson, Dena Barnes, Lindsay Kimbro and Tammy Powell determined that Susan B. Anthony, the first woman to vote, and Helen Keller, were the contributed the most the American society.

"Rosie the Riveter" was not a woman but she was the essence of women, so she got a nod along with Anthony and Keller.

The group had little trouble deciding that Barbara Bush and Lurleen Wallace are the most admired among women.

Mary Ann Casey chosen Helen Keller as most influential and Barbara Bush as most admired.

Melinda Lyles said Harriet Beecher Stowe had the most impact on the country and Laura Bush is the woman she admires most.

Rosa Parks is the women Glenda Fayson admires the most and she believes that Corretta Scott King has had the great influence on American society.