While she was putting her 11 younger siblings to bed, word reached the house: The British were burning Danbury, Conn., 25 miles away. Sixteen-year-old Sybil's father was colonel of the local militia and his men lived throughout a wide area around their hometown of Fredericksburg, N.Y. The responsible young patriot knew what to do. Convincing her father to let her go, Sybil rode her horse 40 miles that dark April night in 1777 to sound the alarm. The men she roused from sleep arrived just in time to drive the British back to Long Island Sound. Although her midnight ride occurred two years after Paul Revere's, Sybil Ludington's covered almost twice the distance.
Almost 230 years later, the space shuttle Discovery was in a controlled freefall at 17,000 mph, many miles above the Earth, upside down and backwards, with outside temperatures reaching 3,000 degrees Fahrenheit. At Mach 25, Cmdr. Eileen Collins flipped the 4.5 million-pound craft back over and executed a few turns to slow to speeds required for landing 28 minutes later on a three-mile runway in the California desert. Fifteen minutes and 1,000 miles out, she and her crew were hurtling 10,000 mph through Earth's atmosphere. One minute before touchdown, Discovery was dropping at a rate seven times steeper than that of a commercial airliner. Sixty seconds later, Cmdr. Collins completed the 114th space shuttle mission, her second as commander. Collins' comment to the press: "It's just been a wild ride."
I suspect Sybil Ludington may have had a similar sentiment when she returned home that chilly April night two centuries earlier.
These accomplishments represent just two remarkable examples of American women in history, and Idaho has its own (continually growing) list of accomplished women.
You've undoubtedly heard of Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony, pioneers in women's suffrage. Did you know that Abigail Scott Duniway, a rancher from Arco, was elected vice president of the National Woman Suffrage Association in 1884? In 1896, Idaho was the fourth state to grant voting rights to women.
Many of us know Clara Barton, the founder of the American Red Cross. What many may not know is that six female yeomen in the Navy Nurse Corps in World War I were Idahoans.
In Idaho, more than half of privately held businesses—over 74,000—are either majority or 50 percent women-owned. In fact, the financial savvy of Idaho's women goes back many years. In the 1880s, May Arkwright Hutton became a wealthy investor during early mining years of Coeur d'Alene and the Silver Valley. A fiery advocate for women's rights, May circulated her message to men in an unorthodox manner: "Clap 'em on the back, pass out cigars, and swap stories with 'em."
On the other end of the personality spectrum, but no less possessed of incredible inner strength and conviction, Idahoan Eliza Spaulding survived the Northwest wilderness to establish formal education in Idaho in 1836.
Sacajawea is perhaps Idaho's most famous woman. Kidnapped from her Lemhi Shoshone tribe, she passed back through Idaho, assisting Lewis and Clark on the Corps of Discovery's journey to the Pacific Ocean. Her strength, patience and knowledge saved both the lives of the men and the expedition itself.
Idaho women have a remarkable legacy. Those who don't make the history books are no less noteworthy than those who do. If you could ask any of these women, "famous" or not, about their life experiences, the words of Cmdr. Collins might echo clearly: "It's just been a wild ride." March is Women's History Month and a great time to appreciate our tremendous legacy.
March is Women's History Month
U.S. Sen. Mike Crapo, a Republican from Idaho Falls, is the junior senator for Idaho. (March is National Women's History Month. This year's theme, "Women: Builders of Communities and Dreams," honors the spirit of possibility and hope set in motion by generations of women in their creation of communities and their encouragement of dreams.)