May 23, 2024


Science It Works

Singer, songwriter Carole King and ‘Educated’ author Tara Westover among influential Idaho women

No list of incredible Idaho women is complete without a discussion of Sacagawea, the Shoshone teen who helped guide the Lewis and Clark expedition in 1805.

Technically, this list doesn’t include Sacagawea. It focuses on Idaho women alive between 1920 and 2020, as the USA TODAY Network marks the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment when women in the U.S. gained the legal right to vote. In commemoration, the USA TODAY Network is naming 10 American women from all 50 states and the District of Columbia who’ve made significant contributions to their respective states and country as Women of the Century.

Even without Sacagawea, the list is rich with Idaho women who also trod adventurous paths. The 10 who made the list are American women with a record of outstanding achievement in arts and literature, business, civil rights, education, entertainment, law, media, nonprofits and philanthropy, politics, science and medicine and sports.

At its heart, the list honors the lasting legacy of the state’s suffragettes, who ensured that Idaho women had the right to vote in state and local elections beginning in 1896, blazing a path for other American women. The list started with more than 40 recommendations from historians, community experts and journalists. Throughout the process, it was clear: It would be difficult to winnow the list to just 10 women.

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Many women stood out, even if they didn’t make the final list. They include business leaders like Lisa Grow, the first woman to serve as president and CEO of Idaho Power. And another first: Lisa Sánchez, the first Latina elected to the Boise City Council. There are civil rights advocates like Marilyn Shuler and Idaho Purce.

Idaho also has a rich literary tradition, and the entire list could populate with famous authors who have ties to the state: Carol Ryrie Brink, Marilynne Robinson and Laura Thatcher Ulrich. Or musicians, like folk singer Rosalie Sorrels and fiddler Jana Jae. Idaho women like Bethine Church and Edwina Allen also have a long history of protecting the state’s environment; such women could have filled the top 10 as well.

Ultimately, though, the list had to be narrowed to 10. Consider it a conversation catalyst to discuss the contributions of Idaho women to the state’s past and future legacy. This year, the Idaho State Historical Society will continue that discussion, with its Idaho Women 100 program.

Who is your Woman of the Century? Did we miss a woman you think should be on our list? We’d like to hear from you.

Kristin Armstrong

Olympic gold medal cyclist

(1973- )

Kristin Armstrong
Kristin Armstrong

Kristin Armstrong, who won her third Olympic gold medal a day before her 43rd birthday, is the most decorated U.S. women’s cyclist of all time. With that win, she also became the oldest female cyclist in history to win an Olympic medal. “I think that for so long we’ve been told that we should be finished at a certain age,” she said in 2016 after winning a gold medal in the time trial in the Summer Olympics. “And I think that there’s a lot of athletes out there that are actually showing that that’s not true.”

Armstrong is the only female U.S. athlete to win the same event, the time trial, in three consecutive Olympic Games. She took home the gold medal in Beijing in 2008, in London in 2012 and in Rio de Janeiro in 2016.

Born into a military family, Armstrong spent her early childhood in Tennessee and California before attending high school in Japan. Armstrong graduated with a degree in exercise physiology from the University of Idaho. She lives in Boise, where she was the community health manager for St. Luke’s Boise Medical Center and now owns multiple locations of Pivot, a gym and lifestyle center.

Beverly Bistline

Veteran, legal pioneer and philanthropist


Beverly Bistline
Beverly Bistline

Known in later life for her philanthropy, including a political science scholarship at Idaho State University, Beverly Bistline was also a World War II veteran and legal pioneer.

A graduate of the University of Idaho, Bistline enlisted during World War II in the WAVES corps of the U.S. Navy in which women served in a range of roles including aviation mechanics, control tower personnel, intelligence work and clerical jobs. She served as a flight attendant on military flights out of Washington, D.C., and Honolulu, Hawaii. After the war, she worked in her father’s law office in Pocatello before attending law school at the University of Utah. She was the 26th woman admitted to the Idaho Bar.

Bistline lived in California for more than a decade before returning to Idaho in 1969, when her father died unexpectedly during a court hearing. She took over his law practice, running it until her retirement in 1994. Bistline served from 1974 to 1976 as a Democrat in the Idaho House of Representatives.

Bistline believed that the artistic growth of a community is as important as its economic growth. A foundation she established in honor of her parents continues to support the arts in Idaho with grants to artists and local arts-related community organizations.

Cherie Buckner-Webb

First Black woman to be elected to the Idaho Legislature

(1951- )

Cherie Buckner-Webb
Cherie Buckner-Webb

Cherie Buckner-Webb is the first and, so far, only Black lawmaker to be elected to the Idaho Legislature, a reflection of her family’s many groundbreaking contributions to the state. She is a fifth-generation Idahoan; her paternal great-grandfather arrived in Idaho in 1905 to establish St. Paul’s Baptist Church in Boise at a time when few Black people lived in the Northwest.

Buckner-Webb served from 2010 to 2012 in the state House of Representatives. She was elected to the state Senate in 2012 and will serve through the end of her current term this year.

She has a long history of community and human rights activism. In 1971 she picketed the YMCA for refusing access to young Black men in the federal Job Corps program. More recently, she supported legislation to update Idaho’s non-discrimination law to include gender identity and sexual orientation.

Buckner-Webb, who has a master’s degree in social work, owns an executive coaching and consulting business that also helps organizations develop diversity curriculum and training. A mainstay of local organizations, she has been a member of the board of the St. Luke’s Hospital Women’s Forum, the Northwest Area Foundation, the Idaho Black History Museum, the Andrus Center for Public Policy, the Women and Children’s Alliance and the Idaho Human Rights Education Center.

An accomplished gospel, jazz and blues vocalist, Buckner-Webb in 2004 received the Governor’s Award for Excellence in the Arts from the Idaho Commission on the Arts. She was the winner of the 2019 Woman of the Year award from the Idaho Business Review. That year the Idaho State Historical Society also honored her with an Esto Perpetua Award for creating the Idaho Black History Museum in her great-grandfather’s former church.

Carole King

Grammy Award-winning singer and songwriter

(1942- )

carole king
carole king

Carole King’s vast contribution to the American songbook began at age 17 when she and her then-husband wrote “Will You Love Me Tomorrow” for the Shirelles. Since then, more than 1,000 artists have recorded songs she wrote or co-wrote, resulting in more than 100 hit singles. Among them were Aretha Franklin’s version of “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman” and James Taylor’s rendition of “You’ve Got a Friend.”

King’s 1971 solo album, “Tapestry,” won four Grammy awards. Its iconic songs include “I Feel the Earth Move” and “It’s Too Late.” The album sold more than 25 million units worldwide, making it the best-selling album by a female artist for 25 years. King was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1987. “Tapestry” was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 1998, and King was awarded a Lifetime Achievement Grammy in 2013. She received the Kennedy Center Honors in 2015 and was the first woman to be awarded the Library of Congress Gershwin Prize for Popular Song.

King was born in New York City but has lived on a ranch near Stanley since the early 1980s. She has long been a high-profile environmental activist for her adopted state, including advocating for Idaho’s wild areas in the Northern Rockies Ecosystem Protection Act.

Cecilia Violetta Lopez

Rising opera star

(1981- )

Cecilia Lopez
Cecilia Lopez

Cecilia Violetta López, a rising opera star, is the daughter of migrant farmworkers originally from Mexico. She got her start as a musician singing at rodeos, weddings and quinceañera parties, both in her hometown of Rupert and in Mexico.

She attended the University of Nevada Las Vegas, where she majored in music education and began to perform in operas. She joined the Metropolitan Opera for their 2015 production of “The Merry Widow.” In 2016, she made her Carnegie Hall debut with Antonio Vivaldi’s “Gloria.” Her signature role is Violetta in “La traviata.”

Named as a rising star by Opera News, López’s love of music began as a child. In the summer, she hoed beets with her parents to earn extra money for her family. To pass the time, her mother would sing ranchera and mariachi songs.

“It was during those long hours where my mother planted the musical seed in me and taught me and my older brother songs that she knew and grew up with,” López said in an interview with the Times-News of Idaho. “My mother had no formal musical training but I can proudly say that I looked up to her back then for being a beautiful, wise and strong woman and for being so knowledgeable about music.”

Barbara Morgan

First educator-astronaut to reach orbit

(1951- )

Barbara Morgan
Barbara Morgan

Barbara Morgan, in August 2007, became the first educator-astronaut to reach orbit when she flew on the shuttle Endeavour.

She began a teaching career on the Flathead Reservation and then moved to McCall to teach elementary school. In July 1985, Morgan was
selected for the NASA Teacher in Space Program. Morgan was the backup to Christa McAuliffe, who was killed in 1986 in the Challenger space shuttle explosion.

Morgan also served on the National Science Foundation’s Federal Task Force for Women and Minorities in Science and Engineering. After her 2007 NASA mission, she became a Distinguished Educator in Residence at Boise State University. Now retired, in 2017, Morgan became the first recipient the Idaho Medal of Achievement.

“We can never predict the future, but we can help shape the future,” Morgan said in a interview. “And if we want that future to be bright and open-ended and be one of lifelong learning, we’ve got to keep reaching for the stars.”

Margaret Roberts

Librarian, historian and Idaho suffragist advocate


Margaret Roberts
Margaret Roberts

Margaret Roberts known as the state’s “Petticoat Governor,” was a librarian and historian who was active in the suffragist movement in Idaho and nationally.

In 1905, she was appointed the librarian of the Idaho Traveling Library, a position she held for much of her life. Roberts organized efforts to send an Idaho delegate and banner to the 1913 Women’s Suffrage Parade in New York. The Idaho State Historical Society holds in its collection the hand-painted silk banner used in the event.

Roberts served as vice president of the National Council of Women Voters and as chairwoman of the Idaho chapter of the National League of Women Voters. In 1943, she served as head of wartime operations at the Idaho State Historical Society. She was the first woman to hold the position.

Roberts was also active in the Idaho Republican Party and the Columbian Club, one of Boise’s oldest service organizations. She is credited with founding the state’s first free kindergarten in 1893.

Louise Shadduck

Journalist and politician


Louise Shadduck
Louise Shadduck

Louise Shadduck, known as the “Lioness of Idaho” for her fierce love of the state, had a long career in journalism and politics.

Shadduck, the author of five books of nonfiction, worked as a reporter for the Coeur d’Alene Press in the 1930s and was a correspondent for the Spokesman-Review.

After reporting on the Republican political convention in Chicago in 1944, Shadduck shifted to politics. She was the first woman to serve as the state’s secretary of commerce and development, a role she used to promote Idaho as a tourist destination. Her influence and political connections drew the National Girl Scout Roundup and the World Boy Scout Jamboree to Idaho in 1965 and 1967, quadrupling tourism to the state.

She also lobbied for the successful passage of hate crime laws that led to the dismantling of a compound owned by white nationalists who arrived in northern Idaho in the 1980s.

Shadduck never attended college, but in 1969 received an honorary law degree from the University of Idaho. She was president of the Idaho Federation of Press Women, and from 1971 to 1973 she was president of the National Federation of Press Women. She also was executive director of the Idaho Forest Industry Council. She was honored in 2000 by the Idaho Humanities Council with the Outstanding Achievement in the Humanities award.

Amy Trice

Activist and chairwoman of the Kootenai Tribal Council


Amy Trice
Amy Trice

Amy Trice, an indigenous rights activist in northern Idaho, declared symbolic war on the U.S. government in 1974. It was at the height of the grassroots movement to bring attention to Native American issues. At the time only 67 members of her tribe remained, many of them in poverty near Bonners Ferry, Idaho.

In what Trice called a “war of the pen,” the tribe sent a letter with their demands to President Gerald Ford and the Bureau of Indian Affairs. When their requests went unanswered, tribal members stood along U.S. Highway 95 at Bonners Ferry, charging a 10-cent toll. State and federal law enforcement descended on the town, fearful of a repeat of the violence the previous year in South Dakota when activists with the American Indian Movement occupied Wounded Knee for 71 days.

The Idaho conflict was peaceful – Trice once joked that all she had was a flyswatter – and she led a delegation to Washington, D.C., for negotiations. As a result, the Kootenai Tribe of Idaho received federal recognition and 12.5 acres of land. The tribe has since expanded its landholdings. The Kootenai Tribe signed a gaming compact with the state of Idaho in 1993 and opened a casino in 1995.

Trice, who was the subject of the 2010 documentary “Idaho’s Forgotten War,” remained a tribal leader. “We got our dignity back. That was what the war accomplished,” she told the Idaho Statesman in 2008.

Tara Westover

New York Times nonfiction best-selling author

(1986- )

Tara Westover
Tara Westover

Tara Westover is the author of “Educated,” a 2018 memoir about growing up in a survivalist family in rural southern Idaho. The book sold more than 4 million copies and spent more than two years on the New York Times nonfiction best-seller list.

An older brother taught her to read, but Westover’s father opposed public school and most health care, and the rest of her education was erratic. As a child, she spent most days working in her father’s junkyard or stewing herbs for her mother, a midwife and herbalist. Westover’s memoir chronicles how she overcame the violence of her childhood, including injuries from working in the junkyard and an abusive older brother.

Westover first set foot in a classroom at age 17, which was the first she learned of historical events like the Holocaust and the American Civil Rights movement.

“There were things that were hard about my life,” she told Boston radio station WBUR. “There were moments I didn’t know if I was going to be OK. But I was OK. And now I think to wish I had a totally different life would just be to almost wish I didn’t exist.”

Westover’s memoir chronicles how she left behind the Mormon faith of her upbringing and how, often with the help of kind teachers, she evolved into a voracious learner who pursued higher education for a decade. She graduated magna cum laude from Brigham Young University in 2008 and won a Gates Cambridge Scholarship. She earned a master’s degree from Trinity College in Cambridge in 2009 and a doctorate in history in 2014 and was a visiting fellow at the Harvard Kennedy School Shorenstein Center.

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Special thanks to Maria Andrade of Immigrant Justice Idaho; Jerry Brady, former publisher of the Idaho Fall Post Register; Melissa Davlin of Idaho Public Television; and Janet Gallimore and HannaLore Hein of the Idaho Historical Society for helping to choose the women on this list.

Sources used in the Women of the Century list project include newspaper articles, state archives, historical websites, encyclopedias and other resources.

Corrections and Clarifications: A previous version of this story misspelled Marilyn Shuler’s last name.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Women of the Century Idaho list: 10 influential women in state history