Tahlequah native Wilma Mankiller made history when she became the first female Principal Chief of the Cherokee Nation. Mankiller was an activist for Native American and women’s rights, and she strove to bring improved health care and educational opportunities to the Cherokee Nation. Mankiller received numerous honors for her accomplishments including induction into the Oklahoma Hall of Fame in 1994 and being awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1998.
Bethany High School graduate, Dr. Shannon Lucid became a NASA astronaut in August 1979. She participated in several space flights, including a record-breaking 14-day mission that was recognized as the most successful and efficient Spacelab flight flown by NASA. Dr. Lucid was the first woman to hold an international record for the most flight hours in orbit by any non-Russian, and, at one point, held the record for the most flight hours in orbit by any woman in the world. She has also been recognized by Discover magazine as one of the 50 most important women in science.
Clara Luper received her bachelor’s degree from Langston University in 1944 and her master’s degree from the University of Oklahoma in 1951, becoming the first Black graduate student in the OU History program. Luper went on to become the adviser for the Oklahoma City NAACP Youth Council. The Youth Council staged a “sit-in” at Oklahoma City’s Katz drugstore in 1958, launching a national sit-in movement to demonstrate against segregation. She continued her non-violent activism, participating in marches, demonstrations and was jailed numerous times for her Civil Rights work.
Maria Helen Alvarez began her broadcasting career at a Tulsa radio station. After working as a radio newscaster, Alvarez soon began to see the potential in television. So, she began courses in electronic engineering and acquired an FCC license to build a TV station. As a 30 year old, she converted a tractor shop into the “nation’s largest TV broadcast center at the time” and started Tulsa’s first television station, KOTV. Alvarez was the first female CEO in television and was also one of the original financial backers for the Disneyland Hotel in California.
Wilma Rudolph was born prematurely on June 23, 1940, in St. Bethlehem, Tenn. She weighed 4 1/2 pounds. The bulk of her childhood was spent in bed. She suffered from double pneumonia scarlet fever, and later she contracted polio. At the 1960 Rome Olympics, Rudolph became “the fastest woman in the world” and the first American woman to win three gold medals in one Olympics. She won the 100- and 200-meter races and anchored the U.S. team to victory in the 4 x 100-meter relay, breaking records.
Shannon Miller is one of the most decorated American gymnasts in history, winning 59 international medals, 49 national medals, nine world championship medals, and seven Olympic medals throughout her storied career. Born in Rolla, Missouri, Miller burst onto the international scene at a young age, winning two silver medals at her first world championships in 1991. She carried that momentum to the Olympic Games Barcelona 1992, winning five medals, two silvers, and three bronzes as the most decorated U.S. athlete. She was one of two female gymnasts to compete in every final at the Games.
Attorney and federal judge Vicki Miles-LaGrange, the first woman U.S. Attorney in Oklahoma, was born in Oklahoma City on September 30, 1953, the daughter of educators. Selected for American Legion Auxiliary’s Girl State, Miles-LaGrange was prohibited from serving as governor at the national convention because of her race. This early experience with racism shaped her career and led to her fight for equality for all Americans. In 1974 Miles-LaGrange graduated from Vassar College and, in 1977, Howard University School of Law. She worked at the U.S. Department of Justice until her return to Oklahoma City in 1983. n September 1994 Pres. William J. Clinton nominated Miles-LaGrange to the post of a federal judge for the Tenth Circuit, a nomination the U.S. Senate confirmed in October of that year. The appointment made Miles-LaGrange the first African American federal judge in the six-state district. Judge Miles-LaGrange also has served as a trustee of Vassar College and the board of Jack & Jill of Oklahoma City.