HERstory: influential women from Louisville


Piper Hansen

Because March is Women’s History Month, the RedEye staff is celebrating by commemorating famous and influential women from all around Louisville.  

Anne Braden (1924-2006)
Born in 1924, Anne Braden became a civil rights activist. Through her leadership in the desegregation of Louisville, she was charged with sedition. Later she became a journalist and an educator of racial and gender equality. In Martin Luther King Jr.’s 1963 Letter from Birmingham Jail, he called Braden one of his five Southern white allies. In 1954, Braden and her husband Carl, bought a house for a young black family. Braden kept fighting for a comprehensive community with equal rights and representation until her death in 2006. Historians are still calling Braden one of the greatest figures of all time. The University of Louisville commemorated the Anne Braden Institute for Social Justice Research in her honor in 2007.

Anne Braden speaks to Shawnee students about racism and the civil rights movement on February 10, 2003. Screen capture from video shot by James Miller. Used with permission.

Diane Sawyer (1945-    )
Diane Sawyer got her start as the editor-in-chief of her school newspaper at Seneca High School when she was growing up in Louisville. She is now a ABC News anchor and has become one of the most respected broadcast journalists in the United States. Some of Sawyer’s most famous and recognized stories include her continued investigations about incarceration in America, sex trafficking and female soldiers. Sawyer has interviewed Hillary Clinton about her job as the Secretary of State, Barack Obama as he and his administration bombed Syria, Malala Yousafzai and Bruce Jenner about the transgender community across the youth of America. In 2015, Sawyer and David Muir, another ABC News anchor, led the channel to win the Edward R. Murrow Award for Overall Excellence in Television

Diane Sawyer interviews a soldier after his deployment in Syria. Photo courtesy of WikiMedia Commons.

Heather French Henry (1974-    )
In 2000, Heather French Henry was crowned as Miss America. Since, Henry has used her fame and her national recognition to advocate for American veterans. During her tour as Miss America 2000, Henry spoke to veterans and began to create the Heather French Foundation for Veterans. The goal of the organization is to provide services and support to American veterans. Henry has also created her own fashion line. She has also written various children’s books about the work and lives of American veterans.  

Mildred and Patty Hill (1859-1916, 1868-1946)
Sisters Mildred and Patty Hill grew up in Anchorage and gained their fame from creating the song “Happy Birthday to You.” Patty Hill is the founder of the now known as the National Association For the Education of Young Children. Founded in 1926, it has helped disabled and unfortunate children get a fair education. Mildred and Patty were both advocates for the education of children and loved to sing and incorporate music in their education. Mildred is often called the composer of the happy birthday song because she created the melody in “Good Morning to All,” which eventually became the melody for the happy birthday song. After both of their deaths, the sisters were admitted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1996.

Sue Grafton (1940-    )
Author of the Kinsey Millhone Alphabet Series, Sue Grafton’s work has been published in 26 countries and in 26 languages. She graduated from the University of Louisville in 1961 with a bachelor’s degree in english literature. Her first book was published in 1982 and has been inspiring young female mystery writers ever since. Grafton has earned many accolades: she was named a Grand Master by the Mystery Writers of America and a New York Times best-selling author; she won two Anthony Awards, the Ross McDonald Award, and several others.

Anna May Hutchison (1925-1998)
Anna May Hutchison “Hutch” was a female baseball player for the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League on the Racine Belles. Hutchison played from 1944 to 1949. She led the Belles team to championship in 1946. After her baseball career, Hutchison became a golfer and Bowler. In 1988, she gained a permanent display at the Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum.  

Carrie Marcus Neiman (1883-1953)
American businesswoman Carrie Neiman was born to two German Jewish immigrants. With no formal education, she taught herself by reading magazines and newspapers from around the Louisville community. In 1899, her older siblings and her travelled to Dallas where she got her first job as a saleswoman at A. Harris and Company. After meeting her husband, they began working together at his sales firm before selling the business to begin Neiman Marcus, a luxury department store. Her husband handled the financial side of the business while she selected the garments and designers to distribute to her customers in Dallas. Before Carrie died in 1953, she finally agreed to have more storefronts outside of Dallas.

Mary T. Meagher (1964-    )
Known as “Madame Butterfly,” Mary T. Meagher established the world record for the 200 and 100 meter butterfly in 1981 at the U.S. Swimming National Championships. She held the title for over two decades and attended the 1984 and 1988 Olympic Games. She was awarded three gold medals at the 1984 Summer Olympic Games in Los Angeles. In 1991 the Mary T. Meagher Aquatic Center was founded in Crescent Hill.