The new Arkansas Women’s Hall of Fame inducted its first members, 11 women and one group, during a ceremony Thursday night at the Statehouse Convention Center in Little Rock.
The inaugural event, put on through partnership between the North Little Rock Chamber of Commerce and Arkansas Business Publishing Group of Little Rock, drew about 700 attendees.
Organizers plan to induct new honorees each year. Nominees are not limited to a certain field or accomplishment and can include pioneers, philanthropists, educators, entrepreneurs, athletes, artists, business leaders and political figures.
During the ceremony, a short video clip recapped the each of the women's significant accomplishments. Those who were able took the stage to accept their awards. Most historical inductees had family members present to accept the honor on their behalf.
One of the contemporary honorees, Dr. Mary Good, founding dean of the College of Engineering and Information Technology at the University of Arkansas Little Rock, spoke about a childhood being raised by parents who treated her as a person, and not a girl.
A former political appointee who once worked in the U.S. Department of Commerce, Good also talked about some of the first efforts to provide venture capital to startup companies in Arkansas. That led to comments about the Little Rock Tech Park, a project she helps oversee as a member of the park's Authority Board.
"We're beginning once again to grown our own, which is what must happen to succeed," Good said.
Alice Walton, founder of Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, was the final inductee at the ceremony.
An heiress to her late father's vast Wal-Mart fortune, Alice Walton has brought iconic works of art to the multimillion-dollar art museum she conceived and built: the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville.
"[The Hall of Fame] is really important for this state, for women — golly I can't even believe what I've seen tonight," she said during her acceptance speech.
"We are here to salute women who have made an incredible difference," Gov. Asa Hutchinson said during the ceremony.
His wife, Susan Hutchinson, is an ex-officio member of the hall's board of directors. She has said that recognition of Arkansas' women leaders is "certainly long overdue."
"We will not run out of women to honor," she said during last night's event.
A selection committee chose the inductees from 73 nominees based on their contributions to the state and their respective fields. The first class of contemporary inductees are:
- Mary Ann Ritter Arnold, the first woman mayor of Marked Tree and the former president of agribusiness and communications firm E. Ritter & Co.
- Betty Bumpers, former Arkansas first lady who led a statewide immunization program for childhood vaccinations.
- Hillary Rodham Clinton, former Arkansas first lady, first lady of the U.S., U.S. senator from New York, and U.S. Secretary of State.
- Dr. Mary Good, founding dean of the College of Engineering and Information Technology at the University of Arkansas Little Rock, and former under secretary for technology for the Technology Administration in the U.S. Department of Commerce.
- Johnelle Hunt, co-founder of publicly traded J.B. Hunt Transport Services Inc. of Lowell, one of the largest transportation and logistics providers.
- Dr. Edith Irby Jones, medical doctor, educator, philanthropist who was the first African American to attend and graduate from the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences.
- Alice Walton, founder and board chairman of Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville.
Historic inductees are:
- Daisy Bates, civil rights activist, writer and publisher who played a leading role in the desegregation of Central High School in Little Rock.
- Hattie Caraway, the first woman elected to the U.S. Senate.
- Hester Davis, a leader in the development of cultural resources management legislation and programs who blazed a trail for women in archeology.
- Roberta Fulbright, a prominent Fayetteville business leader and former publisher of the Northwest Arkansas Times who championed the University of Arkansas, fought corruption and advocated for women’s equality.
The AWHOF honored one organization, the Women’s Emergency Committee to Open Our Schools (WEC), a Civil Rights-era committee formed in Little Rock in response to Gov. Orval Faubus’ efforts to close the city’s four public high schools.
Profiles of all the inductees along with a special digital version of the publication are available here.