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The first woman pediatrician in Alaska (1954), Dr. Helen Whaley was a pioneer in championing medical and educational resources for all Alaska children, especially those with physical and developmental disabilities. Known as a brilliant clinician, she was tireless in the treatment and support of “her kids”. Dr. Whaley co-founded the Anchorage Pediatric Group (1956); founded the Alaska Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics (1965); and founded the Child Study Center in Anchorage, which provided diagnostic services for brain injured and handicapped children. The Whaley Center in Anchorage, a special education center for children with significant disabilities, is named in her honor.
Dr. Helen Whaley, who is described as “brilliant”, “formidable”, “deeply caring” and whose vision and energy added a new dimension to pediatric care in Alaska, was raised in a background of wealth, death and poverty – all before she was 12. Those who loved her believe these experiences made her the brilliant clinician she was. “She didn’t listen to what patients literally said,” her husband, Dr. Robert Whaley, comments, ”she listened for what they meant. She had learned early there was a significant difference.”
Her mother Helen, a “beautiful country girl” from the Midwest, was swept off her feet by the “dashing” Jack Stoddard, oil rich, destined to be mayor of Denver, Colo. Helen and her four younger brothers were raised with governesses – until she was 9 years old, and her father shot himself. He was broke. Her mother had no skills, The children were parceled off to relatives. Two year later, when Helen was 11, her mother died of breast cancer.
In l944, when Bob Whaley (also a pioneer physician in Alaska) met the 20 year-old Helen Stoddard in medical school, she was working her way through by “cleaning out tank cars, doing very rough work”. “We visited her uncle who had helped raised the children (two of her brothers had died tragically by then). He took me aside and asked, ‘She’s a girl; do you think she can really be a doctor?’ I told him no one could stop her.”
Robert and Helen married in l946, while both were in medical school.
Helen received her M.D. in 1950 from the University of California Berkeley and San Francisco. After a medical internship, she served her residency in pediatrics at UC San Francisco. She was chief pediatric resident at the University of Colorado, at Colorado General Hospital in Denver. Helen later studied neurology at Boston’s Children’s Hospital (l956) and pediatric neurology at Stanford University in l966. Dr. Helen Whaley earned her way to the top of her field during her years of practice in Alaska.
“You have no idea how hard she worked,” says Dr. Bob Whaley. “On top of the other hardships of her life, she had a learning disability. She was always just tremendously determined and she was completely dedicated to her kids.”
The Whaleys came to Alaska in the early l950s when Bob was drafted; Bob arrived in l953 and Helen in l954. The year she arrived, Helen volunteered as a pediatric consultant for the Alaska Native Hospital in Anchorage. She and Dr. John Tower, later joined by Dr. Harvey Zartman, continued a regular consultation service to the (then) Indian Health Service, providing pediatric expertise for the Native population of the entire state as well as to the children of Anchorage. Dr. Whaley and Dr. Tower co-founded the Anchorage Pediatric Group in l956.
The next 15 years were filled with immense energy and joy and lasting contributions. Helen Whaley became one of the pioneers in providing quality, state-of-the-art pediatric care to Alaska’s children. She served on the American Academy of Pediatrics Indian Health Committee. Her efforts in founding and directing the Child Study Center for brain injured and handicapped children led to in-state multidisciplinary diagnostic services. She directed the Alaska Crippled Children’s Treatment Center, which served all of Alaska.
Dr. Whaley is described over and over again as setting a very high standard of medical care for all of Alaska’s children. “For those of us who followed, her high standards of care set an example”, writes Dr. Elizabeth Hatton.
Then tragedy struck again. Helen was diagnosed with breast cancer. “She faced her final months with stoicism, and worked from home until a week before her death,” wrote Chris Tower Zafren.
Dr. Helen Whaley died in l971 at age 47. In 1973, the Helen S. Whaley School was constructed as a Special Education Center for Learner Assistance for students with significant physical and developmental disabilities.
Ada B. Wien was elected to be a delegate from Fairbanks to the Constitutional Convention. She was one of six women to serve as delegates. She was appointed to three Convention committees: Preamble and Bill of Rights, serving as Vice Chair, Resources, and the Advisory Committee on Committees. On Day 40 of the Constitutional Convention, she responded to a (male) delegates objection that she was being prompted on how to vote, by stating: “I would just like to go on record as saying I do my own thinking…”
A housewife, secretary and businesswoman, she is remembered every year when the University of Alaska Fairbanks awards a student the Noel & Ada Wien Memorial Scholarship.
Raised by an Episcopal clergyman and educated at a Quaker School, Caroline Wohlforth developed a deep understanding that “each person has some of God in them.” Caroline knew she was being educated for a reason and was expected to contribute to the betterment of the world. Later experiences in education, both her own and those of her children, led her to the realization that not all education is created equal. As a result, Caroline began her work to try to ensure the children of the Anchorage School District could enjoy the quality of education she experienced as a child.
As a parent to two children in the 1970s, Caroline volunteered in the Open Classroom in Juneau where her younger son, Charles, went to school. It was there she witnessed and supported the work of Shirley Campbell, who she describes as the “most brilliant teacher I have ever known.” Upon their return to Anchorage and with no similar options available, Caroline joined Wendy Baring-Gould and Una Tuck in an effort to create Chugach Optional School. As soon as the plans for Chugach Optional were in place, Caroline led a new group called the Committee for Alternate Secondary Education (CASE) to ensure that these children would have an equally innovative secondary school waiting for them upon completion of elementary school; the result was Steller Secondary. U.S. Sen. Mark Begich, a “proud” Steller graduate, states: “I am certain that education made a decisive difference in my life, allowing me to develop the entrepreneurial skills that led to my success in business and politics. Caroline Wohlforth certainly deserves some of the credit for my career as a mayor and now as a U.S. senator.” Caroline calls her role in the creation of Chugach Optional Elementary and Steller Secondary her “proudest achievement,” and added that she hopes (and believes) that the school district can now provide a broader variety of learning experiences to fit the needs of students than it would have without the examples of Chugach and Steller. Her service to Anchorage and Alaska, however, is not limited to public education.
To ensure that these schools would remain strong and to give something back to the Anchorage School District, she joined the ASD Board, first as an appointee and later as an elected member. She served as the president for two terms. Gov. Tony Knowles, then the mayor of Anchorage, noted: “As board president, she calmed the waters in conflict between the district and municipality, and brought about a new period of cooperation when these institutions were able to work together productively, pursuing a common goal of education of young Alaskans rather than a conflict of bureaucracies.”
Wohlforth went on to co-found KSKA public radio and KAKM public television, and was appointed to the Alaska Public Broadcasting Commission in 1980 by Governor Jay Hammond. She served on the boards of Planned Parenthood and Childcare Connection, now known as Thread, which supports quality child care. For more than 30 years, Caroline has volunteered for and led Fellowship in Service to Humanity (FISH), which provides food to those in need. She also volunteers for the Educational Center, a non-profit organization which produces experiential Christian education materials. The center was founded on the teachings of her father, Rev. Charles Penniman.
Her grace and wisdom are an example to many, including Father Chuck Eddy who wrote “If I were to pick a role model for the coming generation, I would pick Caroline Wohlforth.”
Fewer than 10 years after statehood, the Air Force brought the Wolf family to Anchorage’s Elmendorf Air Force Base. Patricia Ann Brauman Wolf was raised in New York with the many cultural amenities it has to offer, and earned a degree in English from Johns Hopkins University. She wasn’t quite sure what to make of this frontier town. Pat was not an outdoors person, let alone a hunter or fisher, but she and her husband, Dr. Aaron Wolf, nonetheless decided to make it their home.
Pat’s first job was with Army Kirshbaum, a local artist and gallery owner. She became interested in learning more about Alaska, and pursued studies at Alaska Methodist University for more education in Alaska Native Art, Native studies and anthropology. Pat studied under Saradel Ard, who became her long-time friend and mentor. Shortly after the Anchorage Museum opened, Pat began volunteering there as a docent.
In 1973 Pat received a Rockefeller Fellowship in Museum Education and Programs at the DeYoung Museum Art School in San Francisco, Calif., and interned at the Oakland Museum. In 1974 the position of curator of education came open at the museum in Anchorage. Pat applied and her life-long career with the museum began. In 1987 she became the director and chief executive officer of this institution which she, helped with her able staff, grew to become one of Alaska’s top 10 tourist attractions.
During her tenure there, Pat participated in three expansions of the museum’s physical facilities. She played a lead role in expanding the museum’s educational programming, quadrupled the collections, and organized numerous exhibitions highlighting Native art and Alaska artists. She encouraged the creation of many outstanding temporary exhibitions of Alaska materials and brought world class exhibits such as A T-rex Named Sue, which attracted more than 135,000 visitors to the museum in just three months.
Through her formidable fund-raising skills and broad smile, Pat helped to raise nearly $150 million in private and public funds for the museum while she served as CEO. She also facilitated the founding of the Anchorage Museum Foundation which generated an endowment fund that now contributes substantially to the museum’s bottom line every year.
Pat Wolf forged a relationship with the Smithsonian resulting in the first regional office of that institution’s National Museum of Natural History Arctic Studies Center which is housed at the newly expanded Anchorage Museum at Rasmuson Center. As stated by Aaron Crowell, the Arctic Studies Center’s Alaska director, “The partnership . . . is unprecedented in terms of the significance of the collection, the duration of the loan, and the collaboration with Alaska Native advisors who selected and interpreted the objects.” In 2007, the Smithson awarded her their highest recognition, the Smithson Medal, in recognition of her long-standing efforts to create a venue for the Smithsonian in Alaska.
Through the years Pat sought to make the museum not only an outstanding institution for Alaska art, history and, most recently, science but on a local level, she promoted accessibility of the museum’s facilities as the “community’s living room.” It is used by groups, individuals and businesses, is a gathering place for local cultural and artistic endeavors, and is where high school proms, weddings and art classes for children take place.
Because of Pat Wolf, the Anchorage Museum became, “a home for dozens of multi-cultural activities where people of all ages can explore their own traditions and share their customs with the community,” said Susan Churchill, executive director of the Anchorage Bridge Builders program.
At the announcement of her retirement, Anchorage Museum Association board chair Joe Griffith said: “With her dedication to the museum, Pat has led our community to an awareness and appreciation of art and culture rarely seen in other communities the size of Anchorage. The legacy from her truly exceptional career is an institution uniquely positioned to serve the people of Anchorage for decades ahead.”
“Anchorage is a better, richer community because of Pat Wolf’s more than three decades of public service,” said Mayor Mark Begich. “Her inspired leadership and ability to dream big helped build a museum of wonder that would be the envy of any city.”
A woman of The Feminine Mystique era, Pat was able to structure her life in such a way as to successfully pursue her profession, and, with the support of her husband Aaron, raise a family of three children: Jonathan Paul, Lisa Ellen and Alaska-born Laurie Beth. She also was a role model for many in her community. In 2003 the YWCA recognized her as a Woman of Achievement.
Retired from the Anchorage Museum in 2007, Pat continues her involvement as proprietor for a consulting firm, Museumomentum, writing grants and developing plans for local museums and libraries.
A life-long Alaskan, Gertrude Wolfe worked tirelessly for the betterment of the people of Hoonah and for all Tlingit, Haida and Tsimshian people of Southeast Alaska. She was a certified village health aide, member of the Hoonah School Board, active with her local chapter and the statewide Alaska Native Sisterhood, and a member of the boards of local and regional Native health corporations. With each activity, Wolfe held top leadership positions. With the Alaska Native Sisterhood, she served as grand president. Wolfe was instrumental in starting the Southeast Alaska Regional Health Consortium in 1975, a vital, nonprofit tribal health organization of 18 communities serving Tlingit, Haida and Tsimshian people. The organization promotes healthy lifestyles, has a traditional foods program, and provides health services today.
Hoonah, 40 air miles west of Juneau, is only accessible by boat or plane. Most of the 750 residents engage in commercial fishing and some logging, but must rely heavily on subsistence hunting and fishing for their livelihoods. More than half of the community’s population is Tlingit. The “village by the cliff” was founded in 1880. The first cannery opened in the town in 1912. In 1944 a fire destroyed much of the town. Wolfe came to the rebuilt community with her husband Wilfred “Bill” Wolfe Sr. She started working as a health aide in 1954, before there was an organized program, and when a program was initiated Wolfe was one of the first in the state certified. Wolfe was a leader as Federal Indian policies changed and the Southeast Native people fought for their land, improved education and medical care.
Wolfe was born in Sitka and was a member of the Coho Clan. When she retired after 34 years as a Certified Health Aide Provider in Hoonah in 1988, a wing of the Hoonah medical center was dedicated as the Trudy Wolfe Clinic. After her formal retirement Wolfe continued her many civic activities in Hoonah, Sitka and Juneau. The Alaska Legislature passed a proclamation honoring her in 2007 and that same year she was inducted into the Sheldon Jackson Hall of Fame. A wife, mother of six of her own children and foster mother to a number of others through the years, health care provider, midwife and community activist, Wolfe is a role model for many women. Marlene Johnson, colleague and long-time friend, describes Wolfe as a hardworking, common-sense person, concluding: “Trudy had a commitment to young people, education and health. I don’t know how you can get much better than that.” Johnson noted that on more than one occasion when there was a community potluck Wolfe would bring eight dishes — hers, her husband’s and one for each of her six children.
Ginny landed, literally, in Alaska on a very cold New Year’s Day 1947. She had learned to fly through the Civil Pilot Training Program in college, and was ferrying a war-surplus plane to Fairbanks. During World War II, she enrolled in the Women Air Force Service Pilots (WASP) and ferried all types of military planes throughout the lower 48 states. Soon after her arrival in Alaska, she started to fly tourists from Fairbanks to Kotzebue.
In 1952, she co-founded Camp Denali, which initiated eco-tourism in Alaska, with husband Morton Wood and friend, Celia Hunter. Ginny and Celia operated Camp Denali until 1975. In 1960, she helped organized the Alaska Conservation Foundation in Fairbanks to present an authentic Alaska voice on conservation issues. Ginny’s written and spoken testimony on the local, state and national levels contributed to the successful effort to establish the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (initially Range) and the continuing efforts to preserve it as wilderness. She was deeply involved in the d-2 land selections and in campaigns to stop Project Chariot, the Rampart Dam and other projects which would destroy Alaska’s wild places. She was a founding member of the Northern Alaska Environmental Center and a longtime columnist for its newsletter.
Ginny received many honors, among them the Sierra Club’s highest award, the John Muir Award in 1991 and the Alaska Conservation Foundation’s Lifetime Achievement Award in 2001. On the occasion of the latter award, former Gov. Jay Hammond called her and Celia “the grand dames of the environmental movement.” In 2010, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service awarded its Service Citizen’s Award to Ginny. In making the award, the acting director of the Fish and Wildlife Service cited her “remarkable foresight”, which led to “Alaska’s most treasured places (remaining) untrammeled.” In 2009, Congress awarded its Congressional Gold Medal of Honor to the 300 or so surviving WASPs, the first time their wartime service had been recognized and honored on a national level. In 2002, she had received the Alaska-Siberia Lend-Lease Award for her flying efforts during World War II.
Ginny was a committed, persistent, eloquent voice for conservation values and environmental issues in Alaska. She was not afraid to speak for those values in the face of hostile opposition. She did her homework. She was an eloquent writer. Her independent lifestyle, from building cabins, flying in the bush, guiding in the Brooks Range and ANWR, combined with her advocacy for wilderness values, has inspired and served as a role model for legions of women.
Perhaps this statement from her congressional committee testimony in support of creating the Arctic National Wildlife Range in 1960 best summarizes Ginny’s values and foresight: “The wilderness that we have conquered and squandered in our conquest of new lands has produced the traditions of the pioneer that we want to think still prevail: freedom, opportunity, adventure, and resourceful, rugged individuals. These qualities can still be nurtured in generations of the future if we are farsighted and wise enough to set aside this wild country immediately, and spare it from the exploitations of a few for the lasting benefit of the many.”
Kaye, Roger. Last Great Wilderness: The Campaign to Establish the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Fairbanks: University of Alaska Press, 2006.
Miller, Debbie S. Midnight Wilderness. Portland, Oregon: Alaska Northwest Books, 2000.
Ross, Ken. Environmental Conflict in Alaska. Boulder: University Press of Colorado, 2000.
Dr. Rosita Kaahani Worl, whose Tlingit names are Yeidiklats’okw and Kaa.hani, is of the Ch’áak’(Eagle moiety of the Shangukeidi (Thunderbird) Clan from the Kawdiyaayi Hít (House Lowered from the Sun) of Klukwan, and a Child of the Sockeye Clan. Worl is a self-proclaimed feminist who has made many contributions to increase awareness about Alaska Native cultures and subsistence economies. She has authored numerous publications on Alaska Native issues and cultural practices including subsistence lifestyles, Alaska Native women’s issues, Indian law and policy and southeast Alaska Native culture and history.
Born in a cabin on a beach without the benefit of a physician, Worl was raised insoutheast Alaska by her grandmother, aunt and mother, and commercial fished with her uncle in Kake. “Females back then weren’t allowed to participate in fishing activities,” Wohl explained. At age six, Worl was taken to the Haines House to learn English and to be “civilized” and “Christianized.” She was there for three years before her mother was able to take her home to live with her 12 brothers and sisters. Looking back on the experience, “I learned how to interact with non-Natives,” Worl said, “but my mother always instilled in me that I had a responsibility to the people.”
At age 13 Worl was told she would be the bride in an arranged marriage but the family agreed she should first finish high school. After high school, Worl ran a program that recruited Alaska Natives for higher education and in essence, she said, “I recruited myself.” Worl started college by taking one class at a time. “School wasn’t easy because there were so many (English) words I didn’t know. I had to look them up andometimes I had to read things three times before I understood what I was reading. I had a sociology instructor who mentored me, but I really had to work hard. I was already a mother of three and my kids and I studied together.”
Worl received her bachelor’s degree from Alaska Methodist University and her master’s and doctorate’s degrees in Anthropology from Harvard University. In academia, she has served as the social scientific researcher at the University of Alaska Arctic Environmental Information and Data Center and is currently an assistant professor of anthropology at the University of Alaska Southeast. Worl has done extensive research throughout Alaska and the circumpolar Arctic. She conducted the first social scientific study projecting socio-cultural impacts of offshore oil development on the Inupiat and she has studied traditional aboriginal whaling, which gave her the privilege of being one of the first women allowed to go whaling. Worl also served as a scientific advisor to the U.S. Whaling Commission and has conducted research on seal hunting in Canada for the Royal Commission on Sealing. She served on the National Scientific Advisory Committee and the National Science Foundation Polar Programs Committee. Worl also served as special advisor to the Honorable Thomas Berger of the Alaska Native Review Commission and studied the impacts of ANCSA.
Currently, Worl is the president of the Sealaska Heritage Institute, which is dedicated to preserving and maintaining the Tlingit, Haida and Tsimshian cultures and languages; and a board member of Sealaska Corporation. Worl also serves on the Alaska Native Brotherhood Subsistence Committee and the Central Council of Tlingit and Haida Indians Economic Development Commission.
On a state and national level, Worl serves on the board of directors of the Alaska Federation of Natives and chairs the Subsistence Cultural Survival Committees, the National Museum of American Indians and the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act National Committee. She was special staff assistant for Native Affairs to Alaska Gov. Steve Cowper and served as a member of President Bill Clinton’s Northwest Sustainability Commission. Worl was appointed to the National Census Board focusing on American Indian issues and is a founding member of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian. She also served as a member of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History Arctic Committee.
In addition to her plethora of academic and professional accomplishments, Worl is the recipient of numerous honors, including a Ford Foundation Fellowship (1972-1977), International Women’s Year Conference (1977), the Gloria Steinem Award for Empowerment (1989), Women of Hope (1997), Outstanding Contribution, Alaska Native Heritage Center (2000), Human Rights Award, Cultural Survival (2002), Women of Courage Award (NWPC (2003), Native People Award Enhancing the Native Alaskan Community, Wells Fargo (2004), National Museum of the Indian Smithsonian Institution Honor (2006), University of Alaska Southeast Commencement Speaker (2006), Distinguished Service to the Humanities Award (2008) Governor’s Award for the Arts & Humanities, Solon T. Kimball Award for Public and Applied Anthropology, American Anthropological Association (2008), Lifetime Achievement Award, Central Council of the Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska (2011) and the Alaska Federation of Natives Citizen of the Year Award (2011). Worl is also one of 11 American Indian women activists represented in a national poster campaign called “Women of Hope,” which highlights their contributions to their people and society. Worl said, “I continue every morning to implore my ancestors to bestow on me the qualities of an Elder – to be kind, compassionate and to do the right thing.”
Harriman Expedition Retraced, site Index, Rosita Worl, Anthropologist.http://www.pbs.org/harriman/current/2001_part/worl.html
Dr. Rosita Worl’s Curricula Vita provided by Sea Alaska Heritage Institute with permission from Dr. Worl. (2012)
Dr. Rosita Worl’s bio provided by Sea Alaska Heritage Institute with permission from Dr. Worl. (2012)
Raised in New Mexico, Esther came to Alaska in 1963 with two babies and her husband Bill Wunnicke, an engineer with USGS. She had a law degree from George Washington University, where she had been the first woman to serve on the Law Review. She devoted the next 30 years to leading organizations that actively managed the land and resources of Alaska and advocated on behalf of Native land rights. In 1982, Governor Sheffield appointed Esther the Commissioner of the Department of Natural Resources, where she served as the “land lady” of Alaska’s 104 million acres of land.
After retiring from public employment, she initiated a citizen organization named “Alaska Common Ground,” whose purpose is to collect and disseminate information on Alaska public policy issues and to promote citizen understanding through forums and reports. Esther has mentored hundreds of women as they began their own careers in natural resource management in Alaska.