21 noteworthy women from the Berkshires

When thinking of noteworthy women from the Berkshires, a handful immediately come to mind: Mum Bett, Susan B. Anthony, Edith Wharton, Stephanie Wilson, Stacy Schiff, Elizabeth Banks, Jane Swift and Martha Coakley.

Look a little deeper and you'll find dozens of women from the Berkshires who have left their marks on the world. But these women, and their contributions, are often overlooked, forgotten or reduced to historical footnotes. In honor of Women's History Month, we've chosen 21 women — some pioneers, others creators and all change-makers in their own rights — we believe are worthy of being remembered, of being more than a footnote.


Section editors: Jennifer Huberdeau, Lindsey Hollenbaugh
Design: Becky Drees
Writers: Katherine Abbott, Meggie Baker, Heather Bellow, Margaret Button, Benjamin Cassidy, Jenn Smith

The Pioneers

A pioneer develops or is the first to use or apply a new method, area of knowledge, or activity. These women were "firsts" in many fields. From architecture to medicine, they changed not only the landscapes of their professions, but often did so in fields mainly dominated by men.

The 'Pioneer of Women Geologists'
Florence Bascom was highly encouraged to attend college in an era when it wasn't common. She would become a trailblazing geologist, … Read More
An advocate for early cancer screenings
Dr. May Edward Chinn advocated for medical equity, including improving access to care for people of low-income backgrounds and … Read More
Anything but by the book
Born in Dalton on June 21, 1855, Mary Salome Cutler Fairchild is noted for her establishment and teaching in the field of library … Read More
A medical pioneer for women, prevention
Dr. Seraph Frissell dared to go where few women did in her day - not only did she earn a college degree, but she went on to become a … Read More
Cutting down the 'boys' treehouse club'
She was the first woman to have tenure in Columbia University's English department. And after 32 years there, Carolyn Gold Heilbrun … Read More
'The lady who invented sitcom'
The comedy of trivial day-to-day events — a lost set of keys, a misplaced letter or the wrong caption under a newspaper photograph … Read More
Making room for women in architecture
If Phyllis Birkby had listened to her high school career counselor, she might have had a different path."Well, Miss Birkby, it appears … Read More
One of the first black woman filmmakers in the country
On summer days in 1916, Madame Toussaint Welcome would have seen young men in uniform marching a few blocks south of her brownstone. … Read More

The Changemakers

Change-makers get it done. From building institutions from the ground up for future generations to enjoy, to taking the fight against sexual discrimination out of the boxing ring and into the courtroom, these women stormed conventional wisdom and didn't take "no" for an answer.

A true fighter against sexual discrimination

When the first-ever U.S. Olympic Trials for Women's Boxing were held in February 2012, the woman who paved the way for the historic event was ringside. Local boxer Gail Grandchamp won the right for …

A socialite who tackled social issues
As members of Washington D.C.'s elite society, sisters Josephine Porter (Boardman) Crane and Mabel Thorp Boardman were expected, as … Read More
'Boundless energy' used to create lasting institutions
If it wasn't for a wedding gift, we might not have Hancock Shaker Village to appreciate today.Amy Bess Williams Miller was gifted a … Read More
A passionate music patron, who wouldn't take no for an answer
Gertrude Robinson Smith was a woman who knew how to get things done.In the 1920s, she and a friend took it upon themselves (literally, … Read More

The Creators

A creator is a person who brings something into existence. These women created with words and fabrics to give life to something new and beautiful that had a lasting affect on society, whether through the standardization of how a dancer's tutu is made to the slicing words of an abolitionist's call to action.

From Russia with needle and thread
In 1951, a legendary costume designer who had once smuggled her family's jewels out of Bolshevik Russia by sewing them into a hat … Read More
No man could quell this pen
"Scorn, derision, insult, menace — the handcuff, the lash — the tearing away of children from parents, of husbands from wives — … Read More
Did author Anna Helen Crofts exist? Check her gravestone
Anna Helen (Crofts) McCuen lived a secret literary life. It was so secret, that her achievements, including co-authoring a short story … Read More
A designer who understands a woman's shape
If you've ever enjoyed one of designer Nicole Miller's carefully constructed creations, you might have General Electric to thank for … Read More
A prolific writer ahead of her time
Edith Wharton may be the Berkshires' most famous female novelist, but she is not the county's most pioneering one.That distinction … Read More

The Devoted

Being devoted is dedicating yourself to a cause, enterprise or activity, often with complete conviction. And conviction, often in the face of extreme adversity, is something all of these women share.

A (possible) saint for terminal cancer patients
The Berkshires may one day be able to claim a Catholic saint was born here.Mother Mary Alphonsa, founder of the Dominican Order of St. … Read More
One of 'America's Most Inspiring Rabbis'
At the foot of Mount Greylock, a round building with a wall of windows looks out at the the stone path of a labyrinth in the grass. … Read More
A hero to some, betrayer to many
On a train ride from Albuquerque to New York City, in August 1945, a Russian spy averted detection by handing the stolen plans she had … Read More
'One of the state's most gracious citizens'
Genevieve L. Hutchinson claimed to have only walked a small portion of the Appalachian Trail, herself, picking wild flowers once on … Read More

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