Hall of Fame
The Starr Women's Hall of Fame recognizes Kansas City women who have made our community a better place to live and preserves the history of their accomplishments. By sharing their stories, the Hall of Fame encourages and inspires women everywhere.
Marjorie Powell Allen*
Philanthropist and community organizer
Marjorie Powell Allen had the heart of a social reformer and the talent for attracting other women to her ideas for making Kansas City better. Her special interest was philanthropic groups that could bring together indigent women with the well-to-do women who could provide opportunities and services.
Allen founded the Women's Foundation, in part to bring other women into the donor fold, and the Women's Employment Network, which aids women in their quest for financial independence. She helped create the Central Exchange network for working women. She was the first woman to chair the Greater Kansas City Community Foundation and the University of Kansas City Trustees, and she was voted Philanthropist of the Year by the Greater Kansas City Council on Philanthropy in 1988. She also provided funds for Powell Gardens.
Journalist and civil rights activist
Lucile Bluford left her mark on Kansas City in two respects - as a reporter and a civil rights pioneer. Her 70-year career inspired countless other women to pursue careers in journalism and social justice.
Bluford served as editor and publisher of The Call newspaper, one of the oldest African-American newspapers still in publication. Under her leadership, The Call became a voice for the civil rights movement. She also served on the national board of the NAACP for many years. With the help of the NAACP, she sued the University of Missouri to enroll in its Graduate School of Journalism. Her efforts led to the establishment of a School of Journalism at the historically black Lincoln University in Jefferson City.
Myra J. Christopher
During her 30 years as director of the Center for Practical Bioethics, Myra J. Christopher has helped change the way communities care for the terminally ill. Striving to make changes in the host of problems encountered by the sick, the shunned or the dying, Christopher won over many groups and allied herself with them – including the National Institutes of Health, the American Bar Association, state medical boards, health care professionals and consumers.
For her efforts, Christopher has been recognized with the UMKC Alumni Achievement Award, Greater Kansas City Council on Philanthropy Nonprofit Professional of the Year, and a Tuskegee Institute award for working to improve end-of-life care for African-Americans. Though she has made way for a successor at the Center for Practical Bioethics, Christopher holds the Kathleen M. Foley Chair in Pain and Palliative Care and maintains an active advocacy schedule.
Community and arts advocate
Bunni Copaken is a founding board member of the Kansas City Friends of Alvin Ailey (KCFAA) and a longstanding member of the Kansas City Repertory Theatre Board of Directors. She shares the belief of renowned dancer Alvin Ailey that the arts break down artificial barriers between people and unite communities. She also envisions the arts as a vehicle to promote racial understanding and inclusivity, which led her to create opportunities for people from disparate backgrounds to meet, connect and create together. She was instrumental in creating the KCFAA AileyCamp, now replicated in 10 cities nationwide, an award-winning day camp built on the philosophy that the skills needed to learn dance are the same skills needed for broader success in life. Copaken is also a founding member of the Women’s Foundation and a past president of the Junior League of Kansas City, Missouri. Her work to promote equity, inclusion and opportunity for women has left an indelible mark in Kansas City.
Sister Rosemary Flanigan
Teacher and civil rights activist
Sister Rosemary Flanigan is one of the revolutionary “Sisters of Selma” or the “Selma Six,” a group of Catholic nuns who led a civil rights march across the Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama. Her impact, however, extends far beyond that day.
For nearly two decades, Flanigan worked to elevate the rights of patients, establishing ethics committees in hundreds of hospitals across the country. Thousands of students also know her as a teacher. Flanigan taught English and philosophy in Kansas City
schools for more than 30 years, instilling in her students the importance of a virtuous life. Flanigan has spent her life affirming the dignity of all human beings. Her students, remember her not just for the lessons she taught, but for the way she lived her life — with humility and virtue.
Dr. Alice Berry Graham*
Co-founder, Children's Mercy Hospital
At a time when few women practiced medicine and even fewer specialized in children’s care, Dr. Alice Berry Graham and her younger sister, Katharine, dedicated their lives to taking care of poor and sick children in Kansas City. “The Berry sisters,” as they are affectionately known, founded Children’s Mercy Hospital in 1987 and managed it for the rest of their lives. They also began a nursing school and encouraged women to fight for an equal place in the medical community.
Graham was not only a dentist, but also a master fundraiser and community organizer. She personally worked with hundreds of groups that contributed to Children’s Mercy’s success. Admirers describe Graham as gentle and diplomatic, working tirelessly to raise money and friends for the hospital.
Shirley Bush Helzberg
Shirley Bush Helzberg's generous spirit and compassion have made her a good neighbor to all of Kansas City.
Helzberg is a tireless friend of the arts, devoting time and funds to organizations such as Starlight Theatre, the Heart of America Shakespeare Festival, the Kansas City Ballet and the Kansas City Symphony. She currently chairs the board of trustees of the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art. In 2013, UMKC and its Conservatory of Music and Dance conferred the doctor of musical arts honoris causa on Helzberg for her many contributions to music.
In 2000, Helzberg turned her attention to revitalizing the Crossroads Arts District. She has renovated several historic structures in the area, including the Webster School and Vitagraph buildings. In 2011, the nearby Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts and its breathtaking Helzberg Hall opened their doors to worldwide acclaim.
Community activist and political leader
Mamie Hughes has made her mark on the Greater Kansas City community as a tireless advocate for cutting through racial and gender bias and discrimination. She has been a charter member of the Jackson County Legislature, former chair for the Mid-America Regional Council and founding member of the Central Exchange. She serves on the Council of Advocates for the Midwest Center for Holocaust Education. Hughes has been honored with the ATHENA Award from the Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce, the Hall of Fame Award from the Greater Kansas City Women’s Political Caucus and the National Medal of Honor from the National Society of the Daughters of the American Revolution. She was named to the Alumni Hall of Fame by Metropolitan Community College and among “Women Who’ve Changed the Heart of the City” by City Union Mission.
Dr. Patricia A. McIlrath*
Educator and theatre director
Dr. Patricia A. McIlrath (1917-1999) was a longtime chair of the Department of Theatre at UMKC, founder of the Missouri Repertory Theatre (now KC Rep) and progenitor of Kansas City’s status as one of the top professional theatre cities in the United States. During her time at UMKC, she opened auditioning to the community and directed racially integrated productions. She served on national and local boards, directed off- Broadway productions and created the Summer Repertory Theatre, which became the fully professional Missouri Repertory Theatre in 1966 (now the Kansas City Repertory Theatre). She elevated how women were viewed in the national theatre landscape. The majority of theatre companies in the Kansas City area trace their roots back to her mentorship and influence.
Civil rights and women’s activist
Janet Murguía, one of the nation’s most prominent civil rights leaders, has fought for equal rights throughout her career. As a legislative assistant to former Congressman Jim Slattery and deputy director of legislative affairs to President Bill Clinton, Murguía counseled and convinced U.S. leaders on the economic needs of minorities. Now, as president and CEO of UnidosUS (formerly the National Council of LaRaza), the largest Hispanic advocacy group in the United States, Murguía regularly appears before Congress to testify about issues affecting the Latino community, including education, healthcare, immigration and the economy.
Nell Quinlan (Donnelly) Reed*
Entrepreneur and dress designer
Nell Quinlan (Donnelly) Reed (1889- 1991) established the Donnelly Garment Company in 1919. For much of the 20th century it was the largest dress manufacturing company in the world — making more than 75 million dresses and employing about 1,300 people in Kansas City. In an industry dominated by men, Reed succeeded by combining high-quality design with state-of- the-art manufacturing technology at affordable prices. She was also a pioneer of employees’ rights and implemented many improvements in work conditions and compensation, including air conditioning, life insurance and pension plans. Reed twice received the Navy-Army “E” Production Award for making servicewomen’s uniforms during World War II.
Beth K. Smith*
Women’s and civil rights activist
Beth K. Smith (1921-2017) consistently worked to help women in Kansas City reach their full personal and professional potential. A co-founder of The Central Exchange and The Women’s Employment Network, Smith created organizations that aim to promote equity, inspire confidence and foster economic independence for women. She was instrumental in founding the Women’s Foundation of Greater Kansas City and the Midwest Center for Nonprofit Leadership. After receiving her M.P.A. from the UMKC Bloch School in ’76, Smith served as an adjunct professor at the school and established the Edward Smith internships to encourage students to pursue careers at nonprofits in Kansas City.
Dr. Linda Hood Talbott
Philanthropist and business executive
Dr. Linda Hood Talbott founded the Center for Philanthropic Leadership and is a founding member of the Greater Kansas City Foundation, Women’s Employment Network, Central Exchange and Women’s Foundation. Talbott became the first woman from Kansas City to sit on the board of a Fortune 1000 company when she was elected to serve on the Board of Directors of Kansas City Power & Light in the early 1980s. Talbott has established a number of scholarships at UMKC, her alma mater, and in 2015 announced her commitment to leave $1 million of her estate to the Honors College. She has been recognized by three U.S. presidents for her leadership in helping the elderly, youth and women of America.
First female mayor of Kansas City, Missouri
Kay Barnes believes in thinking creatively and acting assertively, behaviors she has followed faithfully and inspires in others. She was driven to public service from her earliest days as a classroom teacher and later at Cross-Lines Community Outreach. But she knew deep down that she could be more effective in a position where she could transform ideas into action.
From the 1970s through the 1990s, Barnes added to her résumé with advanced degrees, volunteering and civic roles. She was elected the first woman mayor of Kansas City in 1999. She led the effort to revitalize downtown with the construction of the Sprint Center, the Power and Light District and the new H&R Block headquarters. She served terms on the City Council and the Jackson County Legislature and is the founding director of the Center for Leadership at Park University.
Mary Shaw Branton*
Philanthropist and children’s advocate
Mary Shaw “Shawsie” Branton spent nearly 70 years as a community volunteer, donating her time to more than 60 nonprofit organizations.
In the 1940s, when children with disabilities were often shunned from society, Branton co-founded one of the first nursery schools for children with disabilities, now known as Children’s TLC. A decade later, she fought to integrate the school - prior to the landmark Supreme Court case of Brown vs. Topeka Board of Education. She also worked with Governor Kit Bond to bring the Parents as Teachers program to Kansas. The organization helps first time parents with their child’s development. Branton gave a lifetime of service to the Junior League of Kansas City, Missouri, and at age 73, became the first female Chairman of the Board of the Greater Kansas City YMCA.
Sarah Chandler Coates*
Civil and women's rights activist
From an early age, Sarah Chandler Coates pushed the boundaries of bravery, patriotism and what it means to be a woman. In 1856, Coates and other women in Kansas City sheltered an anti-slavery leader from pro-slavery ruffians, eventually helping him to escape. When the Civil War began, she offered the cellar of her home as an arsenal and her living room as a clinic for wounded soldiers.
Following the war, Coates personally founded nine women’s associations, including the Equal Suffrage Association of Kansas City. She was also one of the founding members of All Souls Unitarian Church, which is still active today. Throughout her lifetime, Coates fought for the freedom of all people, providing a shining example of how women can defend our nation’s values, even against great odds.
Mary Tiera Farrow*
Lawyer and political activist
Mary Tiera Farrow (1880-1971) is the founder of the first organization to welcome women in the legal field in Kansas City, the first female judge in the City of Kansas City, the first woman in the United States to defend a woman on trial for murder and the first woman to argue before the Kansas Supreme Court. She graduated from Kansas City School of Law (now UMKC School of Law) in 1901, at a time when women lawyers were rare. She found work with male attorneys, albeit with a meager salary, and through that opportunity became the first woman to argue a case before the Kansas Supreme Court. She started her own firm with a fellow law school alumna before getting her most famous case: defending a newly divorced wife and mother who murdered her ex-husband. The case received national media attention because Farrow was the first woman to defend a woman on trial for murder. Even after much success, she was barred from joining the all-male Kansas City Bar Association, so she and 20 other women co-founded
the Women’s Bar Association of Kansas City in 1917. She was appointed to the Kansas City Municipal Court in 1928, becoming the first woman judge in Kansas City. She later served women and veterans during and after World Wars I and II and retired after many years in legal aid with the Kansas City Welfare Department.
Writer and bullying-prevention activist
SuEllen Fried has dedicated her career to issues many people avoid - human aggression, hopelessness and despair. She has co-authored three books on bullying and founded BullySafe USA. Over the past 20 years, Fried has led empowerment sessions with 70,000 students in 36 states. She also created Reaching Out From Within, a prison rehabilitation program, and AileyCamp, a dance camp serving mostly female, at-risk students. Fried was the first woman elected as president of the Kansas Mental Health Association, and her chapter of Prevent Child Abuse America serves as a model nationwide.
Wherever she goes, Fried wears a POWER OF KINDNESS button. When she sees someone performing a kind act, she pins the button on him or her and makes a simple request: pass it on.
Philanthropist and civic leader
A Phi Beta Kappa with degrees in elementary education and English, Adele Hall's early aspirations included becoming a teacher. Instead, throughout her life her philanthropy had a broad focus – health, education, the arts, charitable organizations – but with an ongoing passion for the needs of children.
Among her many civic contributions, Hall served as board chair of Children's Mercy and the Greater Kansas City Community Foundation and served on the board of the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Pembroke Hill School, Salvation Army, Starlight Theatre and American Red Cross. On the national level, held leadership positions with the boards of the United Negro College Fund and the Points of Light Foundation. She was a co-founder of the Central Exchange and in 1990 was the first woman to be named Kansas Citian of the Year. She received the UMKC Chancellor's Medal in 1987 in recognition of her commitment and dedication to the university.
Laura Rollins Hockaday*
Journalist and champion of diversity
Laura Rollins Hockaday (1938-2017), longtime society editor for The Kansas City Star, transformed race relations by expanding the newspaper’s previously racially restrictive society page to be inclusive. When Hockaday took on the role of society editor, she developed new relationships and wrote stories about less-publicized individuals. Minority communities noticed the shift as the society pages became more integrated, featuring the organizational and philanthropic work of African American and Hispanic women in Kansas City. She believed society reporting should be a medium for bringing people together, instead of setting people apart. She opened the society pages for all to meet a diverse group of women heralded by their own ethnic communities. In recognizing and addressing the injustice in lack of coverage, she quickly and efficiently used her small part of the paper as the impetus for wider change for Kansas City as a whole..
Dorothy H. Johnson*
Civil rights activist
Dorothy H. Johnson was widely known as a civil rights activist, bridge builder and educator. Throughout her life, she was either writing about, serving or teaching about those on the fringe of society.
Johnson earned a bachelor's degree in journalism in 1937, and her reporting at the Kansas City Call newspaper brought minority news to light. After earning a master's in social work, she accepted university-level positions teaching and researching social work and medicine. She was director of Jackson County's Office of Health and Welfare; public relations expert for the Urban League; director of the community mental health program for Model Cities; and research associate for the Greater Kansas City Mental Health Foundation.
Many regional groups recognized Johnson, including the NAACP, Central Exchange, the Local Investment Commission (LINC) and UMKC, where a residence hall was named for her and her husband, Herman.
Mary Kay McPhee
Philanthropist and women's advocate
For five decades, Mary Kay McPhee has served more than 90 local, state and national organizations - often as chair or president - earning her a reputation as one of the region’s most prolific volunteer leaders.
McPhee has leveraged her personal influence to serve health-care organizations such as the American Medical Association Alliance, the Kansas City Free Health Clinic and the Good Samaritan project - the first nonprofit in Kansas City to support AIDS patients. She has also been a major supporter of education, helping establish the Herman Johnson African-American Scholarship Fund, championing the UMKC Women’s Graduate Assistance Fund, raising $1.1 million for an endowed professorship and helping create the Starr Education endowment. Her visionary leadership and commitment to helping others achieve their goals have resulted in an exceptional legacy that inspires all who work alongside her.
Mona Lea Perry
Advocate for American Indians
Mona Lea Perry has lent her voice to furthering civil rights and diversity inclusion for American Indians and all minority and ethnic groups, for more than 60 years. She worked as an employment specialist with the American Indian Center in Kansas City and has volunteered with a myriad of organizations, including the Homeless Service Coalition, Stand for Children and KC Harmony. Perry has received four certificates of service as a member of the Missouri Advisory Council for the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, and in 2014 was honored with the Martin Luther King Olathe Kansas NAACP Hero of Diversity Award.
Dr. Katharine Berry Richardson*
Co-founder, Children's Mercy Hospital
It is hard to imagine what kind of place Kansas City would be without Dr. Katharine Berry Richardson and her sister, Alice, who dedicated their lives to caring for the city’s most vulnerable members. “The Berry sisters,” as they are affectionately known, founded Children’s Mercy Hospital in 1987 and managed it for the rest of their lives. They also began a nursing school and encouraged women to fight for an equal place in the medical community.
Richardson, an expert surgeon, convinced other doctors to donate their time taking care of poor children. She also helped establish a training program for African-American doctors and nurses, to ensure African-American children received high-quality medical care. Richardson was a fierce innovator – always pushing for new research and innovative therapies to help children heal.
Martha Jane Phillips Starr*
Social Reformer and philanthropist
Martha Jane Phillips Starr was a legendary activist and philanthropist who blazed a trail for family issues, women's studies and women's rights. She was a catalyst for change and was on the leading edge of many social issues.
Starr's concern for families – and some of the strains they lived with – took her into areas that were controversial at the time and politely ignored, including birth control, divorce, unwanted pregnancy and family economics. She endowed a research professorship in human reproduction – the first of its kind in the country – and began a pilot project on marriage enrichment, which developed into UMKC's Family Studies Center. She also started the UMKC Women's Council and the Graduate Assistance Fund. Starr's projects led into one another, following her deep interests in women, marriage, children and education.
Sen. Yvonne Starks Wilson
Teacher and legislator
Sen. Yvonne Starks Wilson has served everywhere from elementary schools to the Missouri statehouse, but her mission has always been the same: helping young people succeed. For 35 years, Wilson served the Kansas City, Missouri School district as a teacher, principal and director of elementary instruction. She was the first African-American president of the Missouri Association of Elementary School Principals.
As a Missouri legislator, Wilson was a strong advocate for children and families, and has supported Kansas City community projects like the Spirit of Freedom Fountain and the Bruce R. Watkins Cultural Heritage Center. Wilson is a role model for all young women, showing them what is possible through hard work and a commitment to public service. Her work continues to make Kansas City a better place, each and every day.