Annabelle Davis Clinton Imber Tuck became the first woman elected to the Arkansas Supreme Court in 1997. As a chancery judge, she made the first ruling in the Lake View school district case, which would eventually reshape the financing of public education in Arkansas.
Born in Heber Springs, much of her childhood was spent outside of the country as her father worked in international development in Bolivia and Brazil. When her father was transferred to Nigeria when she was 14, Annabelle finished high school while living with her brother’s family in a suburb of Washington D.C. She attended college in Massachusetts and graduated with a degree in political science. She started paralegal training in Pennsylvania, and then moved to Houston to work and attend the Bates College of Law at the University of Houston. In 1975, she moved to Little Rock, finished her law degree and joined the firm of Wright, Lindsey and Jennings, where she would become a partner.
In 1984, she was appointed to the Pulaski County Circuit Court by then-Governor Bill Clinton. Four years later, she was elected chancery and probate judge for Pulaski and Perry Counties. In this role, she handed down the first ruling in the Lake View school case, in which the school district sued the state on the grounds of unequal funding of schools. She ruled the state did not meet the promise of providing “suitable” education and equal educational opportunities for each child regardless of where they lived.
This set in motion a nearly 10-year-long examination of the inadequacies in the state’s education system. The Supreme Court decision in 2002, and decisions made thereafter, meant changes in taxes and school administration and brought permanent mandates that would change how school programs were funded. In 1998, she was named one of the “Top 100 Women in Arkansas.”
As a Supreme Court justice, she was the author of the first decision to remove legal prohibitions against homosexual activity. Her opinion was cited as a precedent in 2011, when the Court struck down a voter-led act which would prohibit same sex couples from adopting children or becoming foster parents. She was cited again in 2014 when a judge struck down the state’s prohibition against same sex marriage.
In her retirement, she serves as a Public Service Fellow/Jurist-in-Residence at the William H. Bowen School of Law and advocates for fair access to the legal system through the Arkansas Access to Justice Commission, created by the state Supreme Court in 2003. In 2010, the Arkansas Bar Foundation presented her with its Equal Justice Distinguished Service Award for her work to raise awareness among her colleagues for legal aide and each attorney’s ethical obligation to provide pro bono services.
In connection with implementation of the Affordable Health Care Act, she served three years on the Insurance Commissioner’s Plan Management Advisory Committee, followed by service on the Arkansas Health Insurance Marketplace Board from July 2013 until November 2015.
Bessie Grace Boehm Moore was an educator, civic leader, and force of nature, advocating for a robust library system in Arkansas, economic education in public schools and the creation of the Ozark Folk Center State Park.
Born on Aug. 2, 1902, her mother died in childbirth and Bessie was sent to live with an aunt in Kentucky. Her father later remarried, and they moved to northern Arkansas, where she continued to attend school in Mountain View. At age 14, Bessie passed the teacher’s exam and was hired in Stone County by the school board. Moore retained a fondness for the people of Stone County, who welcomed her family as homesteaders.
She was instrumental in creating the first county library in Pine Bluff, and also worked to promote libraries on a national level. She served on the Arkansas Library Commission board from 1941 to 1979. In 1966, she was appointed to serve on the National Advisory Committee on Libraries by President Lyndon Johnson, where she stayed until 1988. Under her leadership, more than 50 public and regional libraries were established. In 1980, the American Library Association awarded her its highest honor.
Her life frequently centered around a classroom, as teacher or student. She earned a bachelor of arts degree in education from the Arkansas State Teachers College (now UCA) in Conway. After her husband’s death in 1958, she joined the Arkansas Department of Education, and in 1961, became the coordinator of economic education.
In 1959, she was recognized with the C.E. Palmer Distinguished Service Award, given to the citizen of Arkansas who gave the finest service to the state the preceding year. She was the first woman to receive this award. Other winners have included the late Governor Winthrop Rockefeller and Senator J. William Fulbright.
When the Arkansas State Council of Economic Education was founded in 1962, she was executive director. This organization later became Economics Arkansas, and has taught more than 85,000 teachers how to integrate economic and personal finance concepts into curriculum, impacting more than 4 million students. In 1963, she was the first woman to be invited to address a session of the Southern Governors’ Conference.
The Center for Economic Education at the University of Arkansas was renamed in her honor in 1979. The Stone County Library also bears her name, as well as the largest meeting room in the Arkansas State Library at 900 W. Capitol Ave.
Dr. Carolyn F. Blakely is a lifelong educator and chancellor emeritus at the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff. She developed the Honors College at the university and served as Dean. At the request of students, it was renamed in her honor. Her contributions to the community, education, and civic organizations have impacted countless individuals in Arkansas and beyond.
She was born in Magnolia and raised by her grandmother after her mother’s death. She graduated as valedictorian of her high school. She attended Arkansas AM&N College, later renamed to the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff, and went on to earn her master’s degree in English at Atlanta University. She became the first African-American woman to earn a doctorate degree in English at Oklahoma State University.
She took teaching positions in various universities, but returned to her alma mater as a member of the English department. She eventually made her way into the administration, serving as interim vice chancellor for Academic Affairs and later, interim chancellor, and finally Interim Chair of the Department of English, Theater and Mass Communications. She became the first woman to serve as chancellor of a publicly supported, four-year institution of higher education in Arkansas.
She was part of a group that founded the Pine Bluff Symphony Orchestra, which was formed out of the public school’s String Music Program. Blakely had established an instrument rental program, which encouraged students to participate in the school orchestra class with the end goal of having students who could play with a professional orchestra.
Blakely has also been named one of Arkansas “Top 100 Women” three times; was elected president of the National Association of African-American Honors Programs, and received the NAACP Education Award. She has also served on the boards of several community and civic organizations, including the Arkansas Schools for the Blind and Deaf, Arkansas Humanities Council, United Way, Arkansas Community Foundation Board, the Susan G. Komen board, and the Arkansas Blue Cross and Blue Shield Advisory Board.
Dr. Sue Griffin is a professor and editor-in-chief whose tireless research on Alzheimer’s disease and other neurodegenerative conditions has led to significant breakthroughs in the early detection and treatment of Alzheimer’s.
Hailed as a “lifelong innovator, pioneer and trendsetter in science,” she has worked relentlessly on the details of progression for neurodegenerative disorders such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s disease, Down Syndrome, head trauma and epilepsy. Her work has enabled scientists to research more specific angles to advance the prevention and treatment of these diseases.
She has continuously applied for and been awarded grants from the National Institutes of Health since 1991, and in 2016, was awarded a $10 million grant for the further study and possible treatments of Alzheimer’s disease. In 2016, she received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Alzheimer’s Association for her work at its International Conference in Toronto.
She received bachelor’s and master’s degrees in nutrition from the University of Tennessee in Knoxville and earned her Ph.D. in physiology at the University of Rochester School of Medicine. When she joined UAMS in 1986, her theories about Alzheimer’s and inflammation were not accepted. But in 1989, she published landmark study which proved her theories correct.
Griffin has served as the Alexa and William T. Dillard professor in geriatric research; director of research at the Donald W. Reynolds Institute on Aging at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences; and an editor-in-chief of the Journal of Neuroinflammation. Her current work centers on providing therapy and treatment to combat the effects of Alzheimer’s.
Her findings have appeared in publications such as The Scientist Daily, The New England Journal of Medicine, European Archives of Psychiatry and Clinical Neuroscience, and the Frontiers in Cellular Neuroscience.
Born in Little Rock in 1887, Florence Beatrice Smith Price became the first African-American female composer to have a composition performed by a major American symphony orchestra. Her classical piece, Symphony in E Minor, was performed by the Chicago Symphony of Orchestra in 1933. It was also performed at the Chicago World’s Fair as part of the Century of Progress Exhibition.
She composed more than 300 works in her lifetime, including chamber music, vocal compositions and songs for radio. Her style is a mix of classical European music and black spirituals and rhythms.
Florence was first introduced to music by her mother — a piano teacher and businesswoman — and she published her first original pieces in high school. She finished as a valedictorian in 1903 and attended the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston, where she graduated with honors in 1906.
She returned to Arkansas to teach music in Arkadelphia, then at Shorter College in North Little Rock, finally landing in Atlanta to head the music department at Clark University. She married in 1912 in Little Rock, and had three children, one who died in infancy. In Little Rock, she opened a music studio, taught piano and continued to compose, but was not allowed to join the Arkansas State Music Teachers Association because of her race.
Segregation and racial discrimination in the South eventually prompted Florence and her family to move to Chicago in 1927 where she had several works accepted for publication, including her Piano Sonata in E Minor. She also won first prize in the Rodman Wanamaker Music Competition for her first symphony. She composed several songs, one sung by Marian Anderson at her famous Lincoln Memorial concert in 1939. Following the 1933 premiere of her Symphony in E Minor, the orchestras of Detroit, Pittsburgh and Brooklyn performed subsequent compositions by Price.
Nearly 10 years after her death in 1953, a Chicago Elementary school took her name as a tribute to her legacy as a black composer. As a teacher in Little Rock, she had immense influence on many of her students.
Manuscripts, books and other papers belonging to Price were discovered in an abandoned Illinois home in 2009, and those works were secured by the University of Arkansas. Violin Concertos Nos. 1 and No 2, contained within the findings, were recorded in Fayetteville. The BBC symphony orchestra performed one of her “lost” compositions in London in March 2018. She’s also been the subject of recent articles in the New York Times and the New Yorker. A documentary film about Price's life and music has aired on PBS affiliate stations as well as at film festivals in the United States and in the United Kingdom.
Karen Flake is president and CEO of Mount St. Mary Academy; founder of Karen Flake & Associates providing market research and consulting; supported the state’s economic development on the Arkansas Development and Finance Authority board; and been honored for volunteerism and community service.
Karen graduated from Mount St. Mary Academy in 1965 and taught English from 1972 to 1977. She earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and graduated with master’s degree in interpersonal organization and communication from the University of Arkansas.
Though she left her teaching position, she and her husband John continued to support the school through donations and serving on the board of directors for the Mount St. Mary Foundation. In 2001, she was named Outstanding Alumna.
Much of her experience is in the research industry. She was chair and CEO of Flake-Wilkerson Market Insights, which was named in 2001, 2002 and 2003 to the Inc 500 fastest growing privately held companies in America. The company performed custom research for clients such as IBM, Federal Express, Sabre, Genentech, Acxiom, American Century, Sprint and managed large, dedicated call centers for Verizon, AT&T and Qwest. It was sold in 2007 to Market Strategies International, and Flake became vice chair. In 2009, she founded Karen Flake & Associates of Little Rock.
She also steered the direction of the state from her 1996 appointment to the Board of Directors of the Arkansas Development Finance Authority, where she served for six years. She became chair of the board in 2001, and held oversight over all committees. The board was responsible for the state’s economic development through loan requests, bond counsel, trustee, and other legal financial services; bond re-financing, venture capital and oversight of affordable housing and other specialized programs.
Her volunteerism and leadership spans many organizations from the Women’s Foundation of Arkansas and the Arkansas Women’s Leadership Forum to Central Arkansas Radiation Therapy Institute (CARTI), the Arkansas Symphony Orchestra Society board, St. Vincent Women’s Advisory Board, the Greater Little Rock Chamber of Commerce, Our House, and the Centers for Youth and Families, where she was named Volunteer of the Year in 1991. She’s been named one of Arkansas Top 100 Women and won the March of Dimes Arkansas Citizen of the Year recognition in 2001.
Raye Jean Jordan Montague was an engineer and graphics design trailblazer in the U.S. Navy who is credited with the first computer-generated rough draft of a U.S. naval ship. She was recognized by NBC’s Good Morning America as a “hidden figure” in science and computing for the U.S. Navy.
Born in Little Rock, she graduated from what would later become the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff in 1956. She wanted to study engineering, but could not due to segregation, so she graduated with a business degree.
She began her naval career in Maryland as a digital computer systems operator. She later became a computer systems analyst and served as program director for the Naval Sea Systems Command’s Integrated Design, Manufacturing and Maintenance Program. She became the first female Program Manager of Ships in the U.S. Navy, overseeing a staff of 250 and the procurement of Computer-Aided Design and Computer-Aided Manufacturing equipment for more than 100,000 people. She worked on the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower and the Navy’s first landing craft helicopter-assault ship. Her work using computer design saved time and millions of federal tax dollars.
In 1972, she was given the U.S. Navy’s Meritorious Civilian Service Award, the third-highest honorary award. In 1978, she became the first female professional engineer to receive the Society of Manufacturing Engineers Achievement Award, and in 1988, earned the National Computer Graphics Association Award for the Advancement of Computer Graphics.
The significance of her contributions to the Navy have ben documented in a series of articles titled, “Breaking Barriers: The Raye Montague Story.”
After her 30-year naval career, Montague is now a mentor, volunteer and motivational speaker in Little Rock. She’s active with LifeQuest, The Links Inc, the Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority, and the American Contract Bridge League. She volunteers with students at the eStem Elementary Public Charter School in Little Rock and works with inmates through a community re-entry program at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock.
The Women’s Foundation of Arkansas is an organization devoted to improving the economic viability of women and girls through education; performing research to identify areas of need and securing grant money to address them; and introducing girls to careers in STEM fields.
Founded in 1998, the organization is the only one in the state focusing solely on women and girls. It was created by a group of the “Top 100 Women in Arkansas,” selected by the Arkansas Business Publishing Group. The 100 honorees challenged themselves to make a difference in Arkansas and the foundation idea emerged. The group was led by ABPG CEO Olivia Farrell; Pat Lile, president of the Arkansas Community Foundation; and Mary Gay Shipley, board chair of the ACF.
The founders put out a call for funds and more than 150 women responded, while 82 donated more than $1,000 to create a permanent endowment. The first programs were developed, as well as an annual fundraising event called, The Power of the Purse, where accomplished women would be honored and grant recipients would be announced.
In 2002, the organization acquired 501(c)(3) status. Programs include Girls of Promise, an annual two-day STEM conference for eighth-grade girls; First Person Plural, which gathers the life stories of 20th century women; an Arkansas Women’s Organization directory for those wanting to support women-oriented groups and organizations; and the annual Women Empowered Leadership Conference. Today, the organization is non-partisan, located in downtown Little Rock, and run by volunteers. It has one full time and three part-time staff members.