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Meet the MI Women’s Hall of Fame Induction Class of 2019

by Lisa Diggs

The story of the progression of a place and its people is too often told only through the accomplishments of the men who helped build it. Even when gender roles prohibited women from serving in the military, holding office, or owning property, it did not stop them from contributing to the growth and evolution of our state. Since 1983, the Michigan Women’s Hall of Fame has sought to honor the contributions of our state’s female population, past and present. Here are the six latest inductees who will be honored in a ceremony at the TCF Center (formerly Cobo) in Detroit on November 7.

Honorable Lucille A. Watts (1920-2018)
Each year three women who figured prominently in the state’s history, but who have since passed away, are honored. Judge Lucille Watts began her career as a civil rights activist, most notably fighting for the rights and freedom of men who were arrested during what some call the 1967 Detroit Riots. She would go on to become the first black woman elected judge of the Wayne County Circuit Court in 1980.

Margaret Kirchner Stevenson (1920-1998)
Margaret (Peg) Kirchner Stevenson belonged to an exclusive group of World War II veterans. She was a member of the legendary Women’s Airforce Service Pilots (WASP). After Pearl Harbor, it became obvious that there were not enough pilots to fill the jobs required by the military in WWII so female pilots stepped forward. During the war WASPs flew over 60 million miles to deliver 12,650 aircraft. Peg was one of only seventeen selected for B-17 training, and one of only four WASPs selected for the B-17 Instructors Course. Completing that, she served as a B-17 test pilot for the flight engineering program and instructed cadets in meteorology and navigation. She was one of the first women to fly the compressurized bomber above a record 25,000 feet. The role of the female aviators was originally ignored, including denying them benefits. Finally, in 1984, Peg was awarded the World War II Victory Medal and the American Theater Ribbon/American Campaign Medal.  Unable to find a job in aviation after the war, she became an educator and spent 30 years with the Saginaw School District.

Martha Baldwin (1840-1913)
Born in Birmingham, Michigan in 1840, Martha Baldwin led a 26-year tenure in the Detroit Public School system as principal at Norvell School and founded the Ladies Literary Society, which created the Birmingham Public Library. She had a distinguished career teaching school in Franklin, Birmingham, and eventually Detroit. At one point she was principal of a school with 899 students, more than the entire population of Birmingham. While serving as a teacher she helped establish the Teacher’s Mutual Aid Association, the Detroit Principal’s Association, and helped write the Detroit Teacher’s Pension Law. Until that time, teachers had received no benefits of any type.

Dr. Terry Blackhawk
Founder of InsideOut Literary Arts Project, poet Terry Blackhawk started the grassroots group in 1995 to provide students with creative-writing programs led by professional writers. She has received multiple awards for her work including being a Kresge Arts in Detroit Eminent Artist Award nominee in 2009. Her latest book is entitled One Less River.

Vernice Davis Anthony, BSN, MPH
With a distinguished 50-year career in the worlds of healthcare and government, Vernice Davis Anthony has made her mark on our community. She served as a health officer on the city, county and state levels, and worked alongside elected officials to revamp indigent care funding and to boost access to quality healthcare for the under- and uninsured.

Gilda Z. Jacobs
It was primarily her work as a civil servant that earned Gilda Jacobs this honor. She became the first woman elected to Huntington Woods City Commission in 1971, serving from 1981 to 1994. She was the mayor pro tem of Huntington Woods in 1993–1994, and served as Oakland County Commissioner from 1995 to 1998. She was elected to the Michigan State House of Representatives in 1998, where she served for two terms. While in the House, she made history by being the first female floor leader. Jacobs served in the Michigan Senate from 2003-2010, where she was elected as chair of the Democratic Senate Caucus.

These six women will join 323 previous Hall of Fame honorees ranging from Sojourner Truth to truth-teller Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha of Flint. The induction ceremony will be taking place on Thursday, November 7 at TCF Center in Detroit. The festivities are open to the public. Tickets start at $175 and may be purchased online

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