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Idaho Women: Celebrating Women’s History Month

Statue of Sakajawea, to celebrate the history of Idaho women

By KATHLEEN MULROY

The Gem State has produced many strong, intelligent, active, and interesting women. In celebration of Women’s History Month, here are three Idaho women who have made a difference.

Betty Benson-Ward

Betty Benson-Ward, born in Boise, Idaho in 1914, is best known for having written the book Idaho Women in History, which was published in 1991. Benson-Ward worked for the Idaho Statesman Newspaper for 37 years, often supporting the U.S. women’s rights movement in her featured column. She was the first female president of the Idaho Press Club, and the first woman inducted into the Boise High School’s Hall of Fame. Benson-Ward received many accolades for her writing during her life, including being honored in 1971 by the National Federation of Press Women. She died in 2002.

Sacajawea

Sacajawea (or Sacagawea), born in the late 1780s, was a Lemhi Shoshone from an area near Salmon, Idaho. When she was about 12, she and several other girls were kidnapped by a raiding party from the Hidatsa tribe and taken to a village in North Dakota. 

About a year later, Sacajawea became one of the two wives of Toussaint Charbonneau, a Quebec trapper. Sacajawea was pregnant with her first child when Meriwether Lewis and William Clark arrived in 1804 looking for a guide for their expedition. They agreed to hire Charbonneau as an interpreter when they learned that Sacajawea spoke both the Shoshone and Hidatsa languages. 

Sacajawea traveled with the group for two years, acting as guide, interpreter, and peace ambassador. One of Sacajawea’s major contributions to the expedition occurred when she rescued important items that had fallen out of a capsized boat, including Lewis and Clark’s irreplaceable journals and records, books, navigational instruments, medicines, and other provisions; all while simultaneously ensuring her baby’s safety. In appreciation, Lewis and Clark named a branch of the Missouri River for her. Sacajawea died in 1812 at the age of 25, possibly of typhoid.

Margaret Ailshie

Margaret Ailshie, who was born in 1883, was the first female publisher for the Idaho Statesman Newspaper, from 1928-1959. She followed in the footsteps of her father, who had purchased the Statesman in the late 1880s. Under her leadership, the newspaper began publishing an evening paper and expanded its circulation significantly. Ailshie also travelled to Europe during World War I, where she served as a member of the Red Cross. She supported many Boise projects, including the development of the Julia Davis Park Pioneer Village, and the construction of Boise State University’s Bronco Stadium. Ailshie died in Boise in 1959. ISI

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