Celebrating Women’s History Month in the Willamette Valley

By Matt Wastradowski

Women have been making history in the Willamette Valley for generations and this March we will be celebrating their accomplishments all throughout the valley.

Abigail Scott Duniway, for instance, spent a portion of her life in the late 1800s running a hat shop in Albany—but would become most famous for helping Oregon women win the right to vote in 1912. Minnie Hill, meanwhile, was born in Albany—and, in 1886, became the first female steamboat captain west of the Mississippi River. And Silverton’s own Thelma Payne became the first Oregon woman to compete in the Olympics—and the first to win a medal—when she earned a bronze medal in a springboard diving event at the 1920 Olympic Games in Belgium.

In the decades since Oregon’s founding, countless women have broken through barriers and risen to incredible heights all over the state—including the Willamette Valley. Those achievements have been recognized in mobile apps, museum exhibits, and more. So, in recognition of Women’s History Month, here are a few great ways to learn more about some of the impactful women who’ve been pioneers and change-makers in the Willamette Valley.

Downtown Albany, Oregon
Albany’s downtown is full of architectural beauty and rich history. Learn more with the Albany Explorer App.

Learn About the Pioneering Women of Benton County Through the Albany Explorer App

The Albany Explorer app has long been a great resource for iOS and Android users to learn more about the historic community in the heart of the Willamette Valley. Visitors can use the app to glean travel information, find great hotel deals, discover their next favorite restaurant, and learn about Albany’s rich history.

And during Women’s History Month, users can also find out about pioneering women who’ve called Albany home, as well. Those women include Bessie Wyatt Hale, who operated a shoeshine parlor in Albany between 1939 and 1971; Hale was believed to have been the first woman on the West Coast to make her living shining shoes. The app also honors Capt. Minnie Mae (Mossman) Hill, who in 1886 earned her licenses as a steamboat pilot on the Columbia and Willamette rivers—becoming one of only three licensed female pilots in the United States.

Exhibits at the Benton County Museum
The Picturing Women Inventors exhibit is on display at the Benton County Historical Society in Philomath.

“Picturing Women Inventors” Looks at the Vital Contributions of Impactful Women

When most of us think of inventors, we picture the likes of Ben Franklin, Thomas Edison, or Alexander Graham Bell—but women all over the world have changed our lives with groundbreaking inventions for generations. 

And those women get their due in the “Picturing Women Inventors” exhibit, on display at the Benton County Historical Society’s Philomath Museum through May 7, 2022.

The exhibit was developed by the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service and the United States Patent and Trademark Office; it was originally designed with posters that explored the lives and inventions of 19 decorated American women, but the Benton County Historical Society added another 21 women inventors, as well as artifacts from its collection to tell their stories.

The exhibit touches on the contributions of several important women—including Cynthia Breazeal (who has done pioneering work around integrating social robots into our everyday lives), Grace Hopper (an early computer programming pioneer), Dr. Patricia Bath (who developed a new device and technique for eye surgery), and Ellen Ochoa (who was the first Hispanic-American woman to go to space—and whose inventions increased the ability to capture and analyze imagery in space on Earth). Admission to the exhibit is free.

Museum Exhibit Reflects on a Century of Suffrage in Lane County

The League of Women Voters was founded in 1920 to fight for suffrage—and has since expanded its mission to cover a wide range of related issues, from registering voters to increasing voting rights.

With such a storied history and an important mission, it’s no wonder the group’s work was immortalized in the exhibit “Equality & Nothing Less: 100 Years of the League of Women Voters”, which debuted in 2020 at the Lane County History Museum in Eugene.

The exhibit, which was developed with the Lane County chapter of the League of Women Voters and remains on display today, celebrates and examines the history of the impactful nonprofit. It does so through election-related artifacts, some dating back 100 years, and a historical look at the suffrage movement in Lane County. Admission is currently free, but check the museum’s website to see if an entry fee has been reinstated.