Well Behaved Women Rarely Make History, Volume XIX

Tuesday, February 17, 2009
Meet Elizabeth Wanamaker Peratrovich. Yesterday, Alaskans celebrated her day, February 16th, in honor of her civil rights work.

A native Alaskan, her Tlingit name was Kaaxgal.aat, and she was of the Lukaax.adi clan of the Raven moiety.

An educated woman, she attended the Western College of Education in Bellingham, Washington, where she met and married her husband, Roy Peratrovich in December, 1931.

The moved to Juneau in 1941 when Roy became Grand President of the Alaska Native Brotherhood, and at the at the same time Elizabeth served as Grand President of the allied Alaska Native Sisterhood. Once there, they began to complain and lobby for the removal of signs in business establishments revealing blatant discrimination against Alaska's Native people such as "No Natives Allowed." She and her husband also experienced housing discrimination during their move.

After years of working with Governor Ernest Gruening and Congressional Representative Anthony J. Dimond, the bill was finally passed in 1945, after Elizabeth's testimony provided the key impetus for the legislators.

In 1988, February 16th became "Elizabeth Peratrovich Day," in honor of the anniversary of the signing of the Anti-Discrimination Act in 1945. This law was the first equal rights law in the United States, and Mrs. Peratrovich was the driving force behind it.

Mrs. Peratrovich died in 1958 of cancer.

One wonders what Mrs. Peratrovich would have thought about the election of President Obama. Based on her testimony before the legislature, I can only believe she would be very, very pleased.

Thank you for your work, Mrs. Peratrovich, on behalf not only of your brothers and sisters, but of all oppressed people. Ill-behaved, indeed.


H/T to Alaskan Hot Chick Tania.

2 comments:

Tania said...

Thanks Janiece.

When civil rights leaders are recognized in Alaska, other more notable national and international figures always manage to overshadow her, and that annoys me.

This is my favorite anecdote/quote, it sums up everything she was working for so very well:

"Asked by Senator Shattuck if she thought the proposed bill would eliminate discrimination, Elizabeth Peratrovich queried in rebuttal, "Do your laws against larceny and even murder prevent those crimes? No law will eliminate crimes but at least you as legislators can assert to the world that you recognize the evil of the present situation and speak your intent to help us overcome discrimination."

Janiece Murphy said...

You're welcome, Tania.

I enjoyed learning about her, and was pleasantly surprised to learn that Alaska's law was the first anti-discrimination law in the U.S.

I don't imagine that she suffered fools gladly, based on the references you sent, which makes her my kind of gal.