March is Women’s History Month! In honor of all the fabulous women of West Virginia, we decided to do a little research into what Wild and Wonderful Women West Virginia has produced!
Hazel Dickens – Folk Musician
Born in 1925 in Montcalm, Mercer County into a mining family, Hazel Dickens is best known as a bluegrass singer and songwriter. The New York Times described her as an “advocate for coal miners and working people and a pioneer among women in bluegrass music.”
From the New York Times: “A reluctant feminist role model, Ms. Dickens said she was originally scared to write about issues like sexism and the oppression of women.
“I can remember the first time I sang ‘Don’t Put Her Down, You Helped Put Her There,’ ” she said in her 1999 No Depression interview. “I was at a party standing in the middle of all these men. It was here in Washington. Bob Siggins was playing banjo, and when I got done, everyone just looked at each other, and Bob said, ‘That’s a nice song, but I won’t be able to sing it.’ And I said, ‘Of course you can.’ ”” Read more about her here.
Listen to her song, Don’t Put Her Down, You Helped Put Her There.
Ada “Bricktop” Smith – Dancer, Jazz Singer, Vaudevillian
From our very own Alderson, Ada Smith was born in 1894. She was a dancer, jazz singer, Vaudevillian, and later owned nightclubs in Paris, Mexico City, and Rome. Her nickname “Bricktop” was given to her because of her red hair and freckles, inherited from her Irish father. She did brief appearances in films, including Woody Allen’s Zelig, Jack Jordan’s Honeybaby, Honeybaby. She wrote a biography titled Bricktop by Bricktop, with the help of James Haskins, detailing her roots and the forces that formed her uniquely brash character.
Check out a video of her performing!
Pearl S. Buck – Pulitzer Prize-Winning Author and Nobel Laurette
Born in 1892 in nearby Hillsboro, Pearl Buck is best known as the author of The Good Earth, a best-selling fiction in 1931 and 1932 and winning the Pulitzer Prize in 1932. Buck advocated for disadvantaged and disabled children, raising seven adopted children, and founding Welcome House, an adoption agency that considered Asian and Amerasian children who were thought to be unadoptable given tensions at the time. She was also active in the American civil rights movement and movement for equal rights for women.
Check out her foundation and plan a visit to nearby Hillsboro to visit her home.
Kathy Mattae – County Musician
Born 1959 in South Charleston. Country music singer with bluegrass and folk influences, her top hits include “Goin’ Gone,” “Eighteen Wheels and a Dozen Roses,” “Come From the Heart,” and “Burnin’ Old Memories.” She has been awarded the Minnie Pearl Humanitarian Award and the Harvard AIDS Institute Leadership Award for her involvement in HIV/AIDS charities. In 1991, she took part in Voices That Care, which was a multi-artist project to raise money for troops in the Gulf War.
Remember her song, Eighteen Wheels and a Dozen Roses?
Anna Jarvis – Founder of Mother’s Day
Born in 1864 in Webster, Taylor County. In 1908, shortly after her mother died, she held a memorial ceremony to honor her mother and all mothers at the Andres Methodist Episcopal Church, in Grafton, WV, marking the first official observance of Mother’s Day. She also participated in the women’s suffrage movement.
Mary Lou Retton – Olympic Gymnast
Born 1968 in Fairmont, Mary Lou Retton is the first American woman to win a gold medal in gymnastics. She also won silver for Team and Vault, and bronze for Uneven Bars and Floor Exercise, for a total of five medals, which was the most won by any athlete at the 1984 Olympics. She is the only American to ever win Olympic All Around Title. She was also Sports Illustrated Sportswoman of the Year in 1984.
Check out the video of her performance!
Jennifer Garner – Actress
Of course, the lovely Jennifer Garner is near and dear to our hearts! She is one of the best known living West Virginian women! Born 1972, Garner was raised in Princeton and Charleston. She is a well-known actress with such roles as the star of Alias, Elektra, and 13 Going on 30. She has acted in many movies and TV shows including Dude, Where’s My Car?, Mr. Magoo, Pearl Harbor, Catch Me If You Can, Daredevil, Catch and Release, The Kingdom, Juno, Arthur, Dallas Buyers Club, Miracles from Heaven, Nine Lives, and many more. She serves on the Board of Trustees for Save the Children, a charity which works to provide children a healthy start all over the world, including a focus on early education, fighting to end hunger, HIV/AIDS prevention and care, and disaster response. She also helped fundraise to aid flood recovery efforts last year.
Joyce DeWitt – Actress
Born in 1949 in Wheeling, Joyce DeWitt is best known for her role as Janet Wood in Three’s Company. She has worked with legislators at the Capitol Hill Forum on Hunger and Homelessness and has participated in several events fundraising to fight hunger.
Conchata Ferrell – Actress
Born 1943 in Charleston and attended WVU and Marshall. She is best known for her role on Two and Half Men, but has also starred in The Rockford Files, Cagney & Lacey, St. Elsewhere, Matlock, Who’s The Boss?, Murder She Wrote, Edward Scissorhands, Walker, Texas Ranger, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Touched by an Angel, Sabrina the Teenage Witch, Mr. Deeds, Judging Amy, and Grace and Frankie.
Lesli Kay – Actress
Born in 1965 in Charleston, She is known for her roles in As The World Turns and The Bold and the Beautiful. She is credited with having the first bat mitzvah (a Jewish ceremony marking coming to an age where one is responsible for their own actions) in West Virginia.
Phyllis Curtin – Opera Singer
Born in Clarksburg in 1921, she sang for the Metropolitan Opera. She traveled the world performing and teaching. President Gerald Ford invited her to sing at a White House dinner for a West German Chancellor. She retired from performing in 1984. She continued to teach for several years. In 2017, her portrait was hung in Branford College, one of the residential colleges of Yale; she was the first female portrait to be featured in this hall.
Check out her singing here.
Eleanor Steber – Opera Singer
Born in Wheeling in 1914, Eleanor Steber is considered one of the first major opera stars of the United States. She was one of the leading artists of the Metropolitan Opera from 1940 to 1961. She also made television and radio appearances and performed and recorded ballads. In her retirement, she established the Eleanor Steber Vocal Foundation with an annual contest designed to help young artists launch their careers.
Watch a performance here.