Throughout Wichita’s history, women have played an important role. They have shaped the city in many ways and continue to be an invaluable part of why Wichita is the heart of the country.

Women’s History Month, which is celebrated in March, got its start in 1980 when President Jimmy Carter designated a Women’s History Week in early March. By 1987, Congress passed a resolution turning that weeklong celebration into a monthlong observance.

There are so many amazing female changemakers in Wichita – past and present – it’s difficult to list them all. So, we’ve compiled a list of some of the women who’ve made their mark on the city.

Women in Wichita’s History 

First on our list is Catherine Greiffenstein, a previous landowner who helped run the frontier trading post along with her husband in Wichita’s early days.

Catherine McCarty
Catherine McCarty
Credit: ​Wichita-Sedgwick County Historical Museum

One of the city’s first female entrepreneurs was Catherine McCarty. She purchased land and began a laundry service. Additionally, she was the only woman to sign Wichita’s founding charter in 1870. Also noteworthy, she is the mother of the famous outlaw, Billy the Kid.

Although she was not born in Kansas, this list wouldn’t be complete without prohibitionist Carry Nation. Nation brought Wichita to national attention after destroying the Eaton hotel bar with a hatchet in 1900. After watching her husband suffer and die from an alcohol addiction, she took it upon herself to crusade against alcohol. The Eaton bar was Wichita’s fanciest and most prominent at the time, making it the perfect target for Nation and her hatchet.

Olive Ann Beech
Olive Ann Beech
Credit: ​Wichita-Sedgwick County Historical Museum

Olive Ann Beech was the co-founder, president, and chairwoman of the Beech Aircraft Corporation. She founded the company in 1932 with her husband, Walter Beech, and three others. She has earned more awards than any other woman in aviation, and is often referred to as the “First Lady of Aviation.”

Olive Ann Garvey, a philanthropist and businesswoman, co-founded Music Theatre of Wichita and created The Center for the Improvement of Human Functioning, now the Riordan Clinic.  Garvey and Beech were the first women members of the Chamber of Commerce.

Born in Wichita in 1919, Mary Chance VanScyoc was one of the country’s first recognized female civilian air traffic controllers in the United States.

Mark Arts, the regional arts hub that started in November 1920 as the Wichita Art Association, was influenced heavily by many women: Maude Gowen Schollenberger, an arts supporter and long-time president of the Wichita Art Association from the 1930s into the 1960s; Olive Ann Beech, Gladys Wiedemann and Mary Robinson Koch, three philanthropists who were influential to the organization beginning in the 1960s. 

The Wichita Art Museum, which celebrated its 85th anniversary in 2020, was started by two women. Louise Caldwell Murdock, owner of an interior design company and widow of Wichita Eagle business manager and part-owner Roland P. Murdock, provided the seed money to start WAM’s collection when she died in 1915.

Hattie McDaniel
Hattie McDaniel
Credit: ​The Kansas African American Museum

Hattie McDaniel, a Wichita-born film actress, became the first African American to be nominated for, as well as the first African American to win an Oscar. In 1940, McDaniel received the award for Best Actress in a Supporting Role for her portrayal of Mammy in “Gone With the Wind.” She was honored with a star on the Walk of Fame in 1960. Be sure to visit a colorful memorial showcasing her life and career. Visitors can find it at 925 N. Wichita St., near 9th and Waco, across the street where she once lived.

Former President Barack Obama’s mother, Ann Dunham, was born in Wichita in 1942.

Actress Kirstie Alley, best known for her role as Rebecca Howe in "Cheers," was born in Wichita on Jan. 12, 1951.

Doris Kerr Larkins
Doris Kerr Larkins
Credit: ​The Kansas African American Museum

Parishioner Doris Kerr Larkins led the effort to protect the Calvary Baptist Church, now The Kansas African American Museum, from urban renewal’s wrecking ball. Larkins and many others went on to launch the First National Black Historical Society in 1973.

Professional basketball player Lynette Woodard was the first woman in history to play for the Harlem Globetrotters. She was added to the team’s roster in 1985 and played on the team for two seasons. Woodard went on to play overseas and in the WNBA (Women’s National Basketball Association). 

Joanna Gaines of HGTV’s “Fixer Upper” was born in Wichita in 1978. 

Janelle King from The Workroom
Janelle King | The Workroom

Influential Women in Wichita Today

Today, Wichita has many women-owned businesses, including some of its most beloved eateries. If you are visiting Wichita and are looking to support restaurants and specialty food and beverage shops in Wichita owned by women, here are several to choose from:

Kelsey Metzinger at Bungalow 26
Kelsey Metzinger | Bungalow 26

Museums and Attractions With Women at the Helm:  

  • Board & Brush: Wichita’s go-to for wood sign-making experiences
  • CityArts: Offers year-round art classes in digital arts, photography, fiber, silversmithing, glass fusing, glass blowing, painting, pottery and drawing
  • Dave & Buster's: Play hundreds of the hottest new arcade games at this American restaurant and sports bar
  • Frank Lloyd Wright's Allen House: One of iconic architect Frank Lloyd Wright’s prairie style masterpieces
  • Mid-America All-Indian Museum: Just steps from the Keeper of the Plains, the museum preserves the heritage of the American Indian and houses an impressive collection of art from the Keeper’s designer, Blackbear Bosin
  • mama.film: Showcases films to unite nurturers of all kinds, to reflect and ignite conversation
  • Mark Arts: Wichita's oldest cultural institution; a vibrant regional arts hub that provides opportunities to appreciate and create art
  • Old Cowtown Museum: A living history museum that immerses you in the sights, sounds and activities common to a Midwestern cattle town like Wichita
  • Orpheum Theatre: Opened in 1922 and hosts world-class entertainment from its historic stage
  • Paint the Towne: Offers guided painting experiences
  • The Kansas African American Museum: Celebrates the richness of the African American experience and its indelible influence on American culture, tradition, language, music and art
  • Wichita Art Museum: Home to an outstanding collection of American art from artist like Edward Hopper, Mary Cassatt, John Steuart Curry and Dale Chihuly.

Check out even more women-owned businesses in Wichita in this blog