Thu, February 27, 2014

Beloved Historian Barbara Sweetland Smith Inducted into Alaska Women’s Hall of Fame

by J. Pennelope Goforth
Barbara Sweetland Smith joins the honored inductees of the Alaska Women’s
Hall of Fame Class of 2014 ( The Induction Ceremony will be held Friday, February 28, at Wilda Marston Theatre at Loussac Library in Anchorage. Doors open at 5:30 p.m., program starts at 6:00 p.m., and light snacks will be served.

Last year the Alaska Historical Society passed a resolution nominating Barbara Sweetland Smith, to the Alaska Women’s Hall of Fame for her life-long work in preserving Alaska’s Russian history and culture. As a member and consultant she served in many groundbreaking capacities for the society, among them initiating the respected Alaska History journal. A friend to all researchers and historians, she spent many years preserving early Russian iconography residing in the state’s Russian Orthodox chapels and cathedrals. Her expertise and dedication helped make possible the restoration and preservation of rare icons and historic Russian Orthodox churches in the Aleutian and Pribilof islands damaged during World War II. Among other things, Smith was instrumental in securing major funding to conserve, catalog and restore icons of the Holy Ascension Church in Unalaska, perhaps the largest single collection of pre-20th century art in Alaska.
Smith also curated major exhibitions for the Anchorage Museum of History and Art: “Russian America: the Forgotten Frontier,” “Heaven on Earth: Orthodox Treasures of Siberia and North America,” and “Science Under Sail: Russia’s Great Voyages to America 1728-1867.” These popular, world-class exhibits, some of which traveled the country, portrayed how the Russian presence has shaped Alaska’s history and cultures. She was also active in advocating for private, state and federal funding and support for archives, historical programs, and museums.
As a quiet but tireless humanitarian, Barbara served as president of the Anchorage Fellowship in Serving Humanity (FISH) for 28 years, working with the Food Bank of Alaska to provide food pantries for those in need. She also served as a board member and President of Soroptimists International of Anchorage, a group dedicated to improving the lives of women and girls locally and around the world, and as a board member of the national archives of the Episcopal Church.
She passed away last year, mourned by the many who knew her, and those who were touched by her long legacy of scholarship. Read her biography at
The Alaska Women’s Hall of Fame was initiated in 2008 by the Alaska Women’s Network and joined by several other women’s groups as part of the upcoming celebration of Alaska’s fifty years of statehood. This collaboration of the Anchorage YWCA, Zonta Club of Anchorage, Alaska Women’s Political Caucus, Anchorage YWCA, University of Alaska Anchorage, and Anchorage Commission on Women crafted the foundation. March was chosen as the annual date of the induction to coincide with Women’s History Month. Nominations were solicited from across the state.
On March 6, 2009, the website, which hosts the biographies of the honorees, premiered with 50 women inducted in to the Class of 2009. Among them historians, writers, community activists, Native leaders, dog mushers, lawyers, journalists, politicians, and educators. Their activities touched the lives of all Alaskans. In their various roles they helped to create the unique state we live in.
Political activist Evangeline Atwood, third-generation Alaskan born 1910, led the struggle for Alaska statehood.
Civil rights activist Elizabeth Peratrovich, born 1911, worked tirelessly to pass Alaska’s Anti-Discrimination Act in 1945, the first such law in the nation.
Historian and anthropologist Dr. Lydia Black, born in 1925 in Stalinist Russia, whose research and many popular books restored to Alaskan peoples important features of their history and culture.
Yu’pik traditional healer Rita Blumenstein, born on a fishing boat in 1936, is also a member of the International Council of Thirteen Indigenous Grandmothers.
Philanthropist Mary Louis Rasmuson, born 1911, founded the Anchorage Museum of History and Art.
Four-term Alaska State Representative and historian Thelma Bucholdt, born 1934, was expert on Alaskan/Filipino History writing Filipinos in Alaska: 1788-1958 and produced a documentary film on the topic.
You can read all the their inspiring biographies, along with those of all the inductees since at: