The Founding of the National Women’s Hall of Fame

On October 13th, 2018, the National Women’s Hall of Fame celebrated its 50th anniversary. Founded in 1968 and incorporated in 1969, the Hall was the result of hard work and determination on the part of its founders: Ann A. Bantuvanis, Helen Barben, Joseph Coffee, Mary Curry, Elizabeth Delavan, Joseph Doyle, Shirley Hartley, Patricia Jenks, Marilyn Marks, Elizabeth Mayer, Helen Miller, Louise Olmstead, Lillian Oliver, Shirley Patterson, Margaret Rapp, John Rosenkrans, Caroline Sanderson, and Meredith Steen. But where did it all begin?

In 1968, Shirley Hartley was working as Executive Secretary for the President of Eisenhower College, John Rosenkrans, when conversations between the two sparked the idea for the Hall. After retiring, Hartley continued to pursue the project. She felt that Seneca Falls, the birthplace of the U.S. women’s rights movement, was the perfect place to honor America’s exceptional and distinguished women.

NWHF PlaqueIt was then that Hartley pulled together a list of friends, associates, and potential donors and invited them to attend a “Founder’s Tea” to be held at the old Armitage in Seneca Falls in October of 1968. This gathering was meant to mimic the meeting of suffragist trailblazers Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Lucretia Mott, Martha Wright, Mary Ann M’Clintock, and Jane Hunt, who convened over a cup of tea in 1848 when first exchanging ideas concerning what would eventually become the Declaration of Sentiments.

Approximately 25 people attended the 1968 Founder’s Tea and together crafted the Hall’s first mission statement: “…to honor in perpetuity those women, citizens of the United States of America, whose contributions to the arts, athletics, business, education, government, the humanities, philanthropy, and science, have been the greatest value for the development of their country.”

Soon thereafter, Hartley trademarked the name “Women’s Hall of Fame” and obtained articles of incorporation. She also opened the Hall’s post office box, which is still in use today.
The Hall’s first Induction Ceremony took place on August 23rd, 1973. The 20 Honorees included: Jane Addams, Marian Anderson, Susan B. Anthony, Clara Barton, Mary McLeod Bethune, Elizabeth Blackwell, Pearl Buck, Rachel Carson, Mary Cassatt, Emily Dickinson, Amelia Earhart, Alice Hamilton, Helen Hayes, Helen Keller, Eleanor Roosevelt, Florence Sabin, Margaret Chase Smith, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Helen Brooke Taussig, and Harriet Tubman.

Today, with more than 275 Inductees, the Hall continues to grow and honor its original mission. Now transitioning into its new home at the historic 1844 Seneca Knitting Mill, the Hall will embed itself further within the deep history of Seneca Falls.

(L-R) Hall supporter and attendee at the Founder’s Tea: Doris Walsh, and Hall Founders: Elizabeth Delavan, Shirley Hartley, and Ann Bantuvanis.

(L-R) Hall supporter and attendee at the Founder’s Tea: Doris Walsh, and Hall Founders: Elizabeth Delavan, Shirley Hartley, and Ann Bantuvanis.