Starr Women’s Hall of Fame Welcomes Actor and Activist Geena Davis

Speaker celebrates the work of women at induction ceremony

The University of Missouri-Kansas City welcomed Geena Davis, actor and founder of the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media at this year’s Starr Women’s Hall of Fame event at the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts. She highlighted the institute’s influence on raising awareness of gender parity in conversation with Madeleine McDonough, moderator and chair of Shook, Hardy and Bacon.

The Starr Women’s Hall of Fame inducted eight women who have been catalysts for positive change in Kansas City and beyond at the event.

Alicia Starr, event co-chair, opened the celebration with Curt Crespino, UMKC vice chancellor of External Relations and Constituent Engagement, and highlighted the significance of the Starr Women’s Hall of Fame archives in honoring outstanding women who have had an influence on Kansas City, and preserving their stories and accomplishments to inspire future generations of women.

Lobby of Kauffman Center

Special guest and Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas recognized the significance of the inductees’ achievements and the importance of mentorship and recognizing the accomplishments of strong role models, noting that representation matters, and community-based recognition creates opportunities for women of all ages.

Toccara Cash (M.F.A. ’08),  award winning actor, voiceover artist and public speaker, noted the importance of highlighting women’s achievements in her introduction of Davis.

“It’s important to tell women’s stories. Women don’t get enough attention for their accomplishments.”

Davis became more aware of gender parity in media when her daughter was 2. Noting the lack of women characters in movies and television, she decided to act. Through research, she realized awareness was the key to change as much gender bias was unconscious.

“We need to take charge of the message,” she said.

Geena Davis signing book

Davis noted first steps included making information available. The Geena Davis Institute on Gender in the Media researches and shares data on unconscious gender bias to raise awareness and measure change, noting that media depiction of parity is often worse than reality. She cited statistics that media depicts of men in STEM roles in a 15-1 ratio to women; law is 13-1. She noted that the ratios are better in reality, and that the media is creating a reflection that is worse.

“The United States makes 80% of media worldwide,” she said. “We can influence parity. If it happens on screen, it will happen in real life,” Davis said.

In addition to Davis, previous speakers at the Starr Women’s Hall of Fame events have included First Lady Laura Bush and daughter Barbara Bush, Ashley Judd, “Good Morning America” host Robin Roberts and Chelsea Clinton, daughter of President Bill Clinton and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

2023 Starr Women's Hall of Fame Inductees

The Starr Women's Hall of Fame is held biannually at UMKC, and is dedicated to recognizing extraordinary Kansas City women and preserving the history of their accomplishments. These women are social reformers, volunteers, philanthropists, civic leaders, activists and educators. They are movers and shakers whose tireless commitment to community has made Kansas City a better place to live. This year’s inductees are:

Karen L. Daniel (MS ’81, accounting) is a recognized leader in Kansas City. The first African American woman to be a Major League Baseball owner since her addition to the Kansas City Royals ownership group in 2020, Daniel is retired executive director, CFO and president of Global Finance and Technology Solutions at Black and Veatch. She was the first African American female to chair the Kansas City Chamber of Commerce and has been a leader and advocate for restoration of the Liberty Memorial Tower at the National World War I Museum and Memorial. She has created a legacy fund for scholarships to support Black college students. President Barack Obama named Daniel vice chair of the Advisory Council on Doing Business in Africa in 2015.

Anita B. Gorman has been an advocate for area parks, recreation and conservation for six decades. She fought to save the Native American Hopewell archaeological site, which became a part of the Kansas City Parks system. In 1979, she was the first woman appointed to the Kansas City Parks and Recreation board. In this role she raised funds to establish a conservation center in the urban core of Kansas City. Gorman was the first woman to chair the Missouri Conservation Commission and helped establish the Missouri Conservation Heritage Foundation. She received the Pugsley Medal from the American Academy for Park and Recreation Administration in 2017 for her contribution to the promotion, development and conservation of public parks in the United States.

Lea Hopkins has been an advocate and activist for LGBTQIA communities for more than four decades. She co-founded the Christopher Street Association, a gay and lesbian advocacy organization, in 1977 and organized the first Pride parade in Kansas City in 1979. She founded the Kansas City Gay Injustices Fund, which provided legal support for LGBTQIA people who were arrested based on their orientation. She was a member of the inaugural leadership team of the UMKC Gay Students’ Union. Hopkins is an accomplished poet, watercolor artist and collagist.

Alice Kitchen (MPA ’89) has been a longtime advocate for human rights, healthcare and children and women’s issues. She is co-founder of the Women Quality Coalition and the Child Protection Center. A longtime director of social services at Children’s Mercy Hospital, she was a board member of the Kansas City Housing Authority who helped with neighborhood cleanups and worked to help young mothers obtain health insurance. She was honored by the White House as a Champion of Change for her work on education for the Affordable Care Act in 2015.

Margaret J. May, community activist and a leader for the Ivanhoe Neighborhood Council in Kansas City, Mo., served as the executive director of the Ivanhoe Neighborhood Council from October 2001 to December 2017. During her tenure, the council became a community development corporation that develops new housing and rehabilitates existing homes. The Downtown Council of Kansas City recognized May in their first class of Urban Hero Awards in 2005. She has served on the City of Kansas City Plan Commission and the Kansas City, Missouri Community Development Entity, which is now known as Alt Cap.

U.S Senator Claire McCaskill has dedicated her life to serving women, families and her community. An accomplished attorney, she was the first woman elected as Jackson County, Missouri prosecutor, and the first woman to be elected U.S. Senator from Missouri. In 2004, she defeated incumbent Governor Bob Holden in the Democratic primary, becoming the first candidate to defeat an incumbent Governor in a primary election in state history, although she lost in the general election. She served as a U.S. senator from Missouri from 2007 to 2019. During her term in the Missouri House of Representatives, she chaired the civil and criminal justice committees. She is currently a political analyst for NBC News and MSNBC.

Barbara Pendleton paved the way for Kansas City women interested in careers in finance. She started her career in banking as a messenger with City National Bank. She became chairperson of City Bank at Crown Center and retired as an executive vice president of United Missouri Bancshares, Inc. An active volunteer in community organizations, she was often the first woman member, officer or president. A founding board member of the Central Exchange, she also chaired the UMKC Women’s Center Advisory Committee. She worked for several mayors, including Mayor Kay Barnes, who appointed her to work on downtown Kansas City revitalization.

Freda Mendez Smith (BA ’80) is a champion and advocate for the Latino community in Kansas City. A current advisory board member for the Women’s Foundation of Kansas City, she has worked with MANA de Kansas City for four decades, serving as a board member of the national organization twice. Smith is an advocate and mentor to members of the Latino population who encourages people to become engaged in community service, including serving on local boards of directors. She has been a volunteer board member at many community organizations including the UMKC Hispanic Advisory Board, the UMKC Women’s Council, Greater KC Hispanic Heritage and Mattie Rhodes Center.

How the Starr Women's Hall of Fame archives work at UMKC

Published: Mar 22, 2023

Top Stories