WEBSTER COUNTY, KY (3/14/12) – Governor Steve Beshear joined the Kentucky Commission on Women today to honor three distinguished Kentucky women for their illustrious careers and significant contributions to the Commonwealth.
Willa Beatrice Brown, Crit Luallen and Joan Riehm were inducted into the “Kentucky Women Remembered” exhibit. As part of the honor, their portraits will be displayed alongside past inductees in the state Capitol.
“These honorees have made a meaningful difference throughout their years of service and have paved the way for the success of Kentucky women, both now and in the future,” Gov. Beshear said. “Jane and I are proud to recognize these individuals for this distinction and hope their influence and achievements will continue to be appreciated and acknowledged for years to come.”
The honor comes posthumously to Brown and Riehm. Brown was the first African-American woman to be licensed to fly in the United States. Riehm served for 15 years as the first female deputy mayor of Louisville. Luallen worked for six Kentucky governors and recently completed her second term as Kentucky state auditor.
“Kentucky Women Remembered,” overseen by the Kentucky Commission on Women, began in 1978 and consists of portraits depicting outstanding women in Kentucky’s history. The exhibit found a permanent home in the Capitol in 1996 after many years of traveling around the state.
Thousands of visitors to the Capitol view the portraits each year and learn about the heritage and contributions of women in Kentucky.
The Kentucky Women Remembered Committee selects up to three Kentucky women annually to become part of the exhibit. Nominees must have been born in or spent a significant part of their lives in Kentucky and may be living or deceased.
“For years, many contributions women have made in the fabric of Kentucky history have gone unnoticed and unrecorded,” said Eleanor Jordan, executive director of the Kentucky Commission on Women. “This annual ceremony and recognition of women’s history month is our way of writing some of those women back into history and highlighting how significant their roles have been to the Commonwealth.”
With the three current inductees, the exhibit boasts 65 portraits of outstanding women in Kentucky.
Willa Beatrice Brown
(Barren County, 1906-1992) In an era harsh for both women and African- Americans, Willa Beatrice Brown sought great challenge. Influenced by aviatrix Bessie Coleman, Brown began flight lessons in 1934 at Chicago’s Aeronautical University. In 1937, she received both a master’s degree from Northwestern University and her pilot’s license – making her the first African-American woman to be licensed to fly in the United States.
In 1939, she received her commercial pilot’s license, making her the first African-American woman to make a career of aviation and the person most responsible for preparing blacks for World War II. Brown became the first African-American officer in the Civil Air Patrol in 1941, and the U.S. government named her federal coordinator of the Chicago Unit. She was the first woman in the U.S. to have both a mechanic’s license and a commercial pilot’s license. In 1942, she became a training coordinator for the Civil Aeronautics Administration and a teacher in the Civilian Pilot Training Program.
Brown trained more than 2,000 black pilots, nearly 200 of whom became the squadron at Tuskegee Institute, better known as the legendary “Tuskegee Airmen.” In 2002, she was named one of the Women in Aviation’s 100 Most Influential Women in Aviation and Aerospace. In 2003, Brown was inducted into the Hall of Fame in Kentucky’s Aviation Museum.
(Franklin County, 1952- ) Descended from two Kentucky governors, Crit Luallen places public service in the highest regard. She has served Kentucky with distinction, honor and integrity as a public servant for more than two decades. Her career encompasses the positions of state budget director, secretary of the Finance and Administration Cabinet, secretary of the Tourism Cabinet, commissioner of the Kentucky Department of the Arts, and special assistant to Kentucky Gov. Martha Layne Collins.
She was also president of the Greater Louisville Economic Development Partnership and served as secretary of Kentucky Gov. Paul Patton’s Executive Cabinet for seven years before being elected twice as Kentucky auditor of public accounts. As auditor, she uncovered millions of dollars in government fraud and questionable expenditures, leading to the criminal prosecutions of 32 individuals and referral of more than 200 cases to law enforcement agencies for criminal investigation. She has made it her mission to reach out to women and minorities to encourage their involvement in public service.
As one of few Kentucky women ever elected to statewide office, she sets the standard with her personal values, ethics, sense of accountability and principled decision-making for other aspiring women to emulate if they are interested in making a difference in the Commonwealth and the nation.
(Jefferson County, 1945-2008) Joan Riehm’s distinguished career in communications, public service and civic affairs spanned more than three decades – beginning as a journalist at The Courier-Journal in Louisville and culminating in her 15 years of service as deputy mayor of the city of Louisville. She was the first woman to serve in that position. Riehm was particularly passionate about women’s issues, education, the environment and the beautification of Louisville. She recognized that advancing the quality of life for women was crucial to Louisville’s future.
Riehm was one of the driving forces behind Benchmark 2000, a community-wide effort to document the status of women and girls in Jefferson County at the millennium. Her efforts led to the creation of the nationally acclaimed Women 4 Women organization in Louisville. Riehm co-founded the Leadership Kentucky program, and her legacy of mentorship led to the creation of the Joan Riehm Women’s Leadership Fund. She was recognized nationally as an expert on local government reorganization.
The watercolor portraits of the three inductees were painted by Carla Canonero Phillips, of Frankfort, who is the fifth artist commissioned for the Kentucky Women Remembered exhibit. For more information on the Kentucky Commission on Women and to view the portraits, http://women.ky.gov/2012KyWomenRemembered.htm.
During the induction ceremony, Gov. Beshear proclaimed March as Women’s History Month.
“Kentucky women have played and continue to play a critical economic, cultural and social role in every sphere of life of the Commonwealth, by constituting a significant portion of the labor force working inside and outside of the home,” Gov. Beshear said. “Each year since 1987, March has been designated as Women’s History Month in our nation, and it is a time for all Kentuckians to learn more about the invaluable role women have had in the creation of our history.”
Information provided by the office of Gov. Steve Beshear
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