Collection Spotlight: Alaska Women’s Commission Records

Although Women’s History Month has come to a finish, we wanted to dig into one more collection which focuses on women in Alaska; the records of the Alaska Women’s Commission did not disappoint.

The Alaska Women’s Commission (AWC) stemmed from the creation of the Alaska Commission on the Status of Women, which passed in 1978 as Alaska Statute 44.19.165.  The statute outlined the purpose of the commission as “…to implement the recommendations contained in the preliminary study on the status of women in Alaska which was mandated by the Ninth Legislature, Second Session, under Chapter 99 SLA 1976, and improve the status of women in Alaska by conducting further research and by making and implementing additional recommendations on the opportunities, needs, problems, and contributions of women in Alaska including, but not limited to 1) education, 2) homemaking, 3) civil and legal rights, and 4) labor and employment.”

Office of the Governor, Alaska Women’s Commission (RG53), Publications and Reports (SR640), AWC Poster (AS8528)

The AWC took on a variety of issues affecting women conducting studies, publishing in-depth reports, hosting conferences in rural areas, providing resources and publications, and producing and backing legislation in the interest of women from all backgrounds and from all regions of Alaska.

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The Alaska Women’s Commission records not only record the administrative history of the commission but also offer a view into the issues affecting women during that time on a state and national level.  Photographs, public service announcements, speeches, correspondence files, legislative files, committee meeting packets, and annual reports are just some of the resources available in the AWC records.


“Many outstanding women have helped to shape Alaska by contributing their talents and skills.  To honor these women and to provide visible role models for tomorrow’s leaders, I have established the Alaska Women’s Hall of Fame.  These awards will acknowledge the achievements of true pioneers like Lisa Starr Rudd, whose unwavering belief in women’s equality led to the creation of the Alaska Women’s Commission. To memorialize her achievements, the Women’s Hall of Fame is dedicated to her.”  – Governor Steve Cowper

Established in 1988 during the 10th anniversary of the AWC, the Alaska Women’s Hall of Fame went on to induct leaders such as civil rights activist Elizabeth Peratrovich, health care professional Arne Beltz, activist and educator Lucy Frey, and mayor and activist Lillie Hope McGarvey.  In box AS 9427 theirs are just a few files among dozens of biographic profiles on the women who have helped shape the history of Alaska.

File folders in Alaska Women’s Commission box AS 9427

These folders include biographical sketches, subject files, photographs, news clippings, and other materials compiled from the State Archives and Library’s Historical Collections as well as from other archives across the state like the University of Alaska’s Archives and Special Collections.  Below are peeks into the files of Mary Antisarlook, Marie Drake and Elinor Dusenbury, Della Keats, and Nell Scott, and represent a sample of materials you might find in these folders.

Mary Antisarlook pioneered reindeer herding at the turn of the 20th century.  [AS 9427]
Marie Drake authored the official Alaska Flag Song, while Elinor Dusenbury composed the music to accompany Drake’s words.  [AS 9427]
Della Keats dedicated her life to medical practice and traditional healing.  [AS 9427]
Nell Scott became the first woman elected to serve as a Territorial Representative in 1937.  [AS 9427]
In a letter to Governor Hickel in 1991 Mary McClinton and Carol Mikon, Chair and Vice Chair of the AWC, stress the importance of the commission, its effectiveness and inclusiveness, and their intention of “minimizing the use of state dollars and pursuing efforts to increase the independence and decrease long term dependence of women on state services.”  While the AWC was ultimately consolidated with the Alaska Commission on Children into the Alaska Human Relations Commission in 1993, during their existence they branched out, helping communities establish local councils and commissions on a regional scale in places like Juneau, Sitka, Anchorage, Utqiaġvik (formerly Barrow), and Fairbanks, some of which still exist today.

If you’re interested in digging further into the Alaska Women’s Commission records (RG53), you can visit us at the Alaska State Archives, located on the second floor of the Father Andrew P. Kashevaroff Building in downtown Juneau, Alaska.  We’re open to the public Tuesday – Friday from 10a – 4p*.

*Summer hours begin April 30th.  The Archives will be open Monday – Friday, 10a – 4p.

Caption reads: “Gov. Hammond signs a proclamation designating the week of March 8-14 as Women’s History Week. From left are: Emma G. Widmark, grand president, Alaska Native Sisterhood; Jean Munro, representative, Future Homemakers of America; Blanche L. McSmith, representative, National Council of Negro Women; Donna Flint, representative, Soroptimists International of Juneau; Chottie Angst, representative, League of Women Voters; Caren Robinson, director, AWARE, Inc.; Barbara A. Dale, vice chairwoman, Commission on the Status of Women; Susan Clark, representative, American Association of University Women; and Laraine L. Glenn, representative, Girl Scouts.” Photo credit: Chuck Kleeschulte. [AS 8536]

Willard L. Bowman Speeches Digitized

HOT OFF THE PRESS… or in this case, the scanner!

Willard L. Bowman (1919-1975) served as Director of the Alaska State Commission for Human Rights from its inception in 1963-1970, when he ran, and won, a seat in the Alaska House of Representatives.  Bowman was a widely recognized human and civil rights leader and one of Alaska’s first African American legislators.  His influential words are now available to read online at Alaska’s Digital Archives.

To view Willard L. Bowman’s speeches visit Alaska’s Digital Archives at:

The following excerpt is from one of Willard Bowman’s speeches as Director of the State Commission for Human Rights given in December of 1964, just shy of a year and half after the Commission was created by the 1963 Legislature.

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“Let’s now turn to the question of the human rights picture in Alaska.  As I said before, our agency has been in existence barely 18 months, yet this has been long enough for us to have gathered enough data and statistics to be able to make one statement of fact.  In no city of any size in Alaska, have we found where equal opportunities exist in employment or housing for the Alaska Native, the Negro, and to a lesser degree, other highly visible minorities.

This comes as no shock to the minorities involved, for being the victims they are for the most part well aware of the block put in their road; nor should it be a shock to those of you who work in the field.  For those who make up that mass of faceless humanity called the General Public, it evidently does come as a shock.

In the past year our office has accepted many invitations to speak to civic, religious, and labor groups, and without fail after each talk one of the first questions asked is “But really there isn’t much discrimination in Alaska is there?”

We have heard many proposed reasons for this in equal job opportunities or in equal housing opportunities, they run the gamut from “cultural disadvantages” on the one hand, down to the earthy “drunkenness” on the other extreme, but I say most of it is plan garden type discrimination.

Do you want proof?  Let’s belabor the point by my indicating specific reasons why I can make this statement.  What city do you wish to start with?  Since we are meeting in Juneau, let me tell what I know about it, while I hope none of you are on the Juneau Chamber of Commerce.

Here we have a city which is not only the capitol of Alaska, but is boasting of it’s being the third largest, with a population according to the 1960 census of almost 10,000 people in the greater Juneau area.  Naturally this has increased in four years.

But what of the minorities?  Where do they live?  Where do they work?  How do they live?  The racial climate of any city can be seen, you don’t have to ask.

Walk the streets of Juneau, and observe as I have.  You will find that except for isolated instances the Native, though ranking high in percent of total population, is not represented in the work force of this city, bit it in service, professional, or construction.  Shall we go into housing, or is the less said about that the better?  As for Negros, they are not strong enough in number to constitute an argument one way or the other, yet they too suffer.”

You can read this speech in full on Alaska’s Digital Archives at:

For other speeches by Bowman, visit the Alaska Digital Archives at:


Elizabeth Peratrovich Day: February 16

In 1988 the Alaska State Legislature established February 16 as Elizabeth Peratrovich Day in honor of a woman whose tireless work on civil rights issues for Alaska Natives led to the passage of the Anti-Discrimination Act.

House Bill 14, Chapter 2, an Act, known as the Anti-Discrimination Act, was approved on February 16, 1945 as part of the Seventeenth Regular Session, Territorial Legislature of Alaska. The Anti-Discrimination Act is considered a landmark piece of Civil Rights legislation in Alaska. This document comes from the Sessions Laws of Alaska, 1945, pages 35-36 and can be viewed at

Elizabeth and her husband, Roy Peratrovich, both served as Grand Presidents of the Alaska Native Sisterhood (ANS) and Alaska Native Brotherhood (ANB) and were leaders in addressing civil and human rights for Alaska Natives.  The Alaska State Archives has digitized and made available online materials documenting their efforts in the form of 65 pages of correspondence and documents from Governor Ernest Gruening’s papers between 1943 and 1946, the period when Elizabeth and Roy were serving the ANS and ANB.

Included in these papers is the 19-page legal opinion by the Attorney General about segregated schooling in Alaska in response to Roy Peratrovich’s letter requesting a legal explanation of segregated schooling.

Letter from the Attorney General, 1943.
The 1943 legal opinion of the Attorney General of Alaska, Henry Roden, regarding segregation of schooling, page 1 of 19.


To read the full opinion and other papers and correspondence concerning Elizabeth and Roy Peratrovich from Governor Ernest Gruening’s papers visit Alaska’s Digital Archives at

Happy Elizabeth Peratrovich Day!