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story.lead_photo.caption Mary Ann Ritter Arnold (from left), Mary Good, Alice Walton and Johnelle Hunt were among Thursday night’s inductees into the Arkansas Women’s Hall of Fame during a ceremony at the Statehouse Convention Center in Little Rock. - Photo by Staton Breidenthal

They've held positions like doctor, archaeologist, civil-rights activist and entrepreneur, and on Thursday night, they were all part of the inaugural class of the Arkansas Women's Hall of Fame.

Eleven women, along with one organization, were honored and remembered at the Statehouse Convention Center in Little Rock in front of family, friends, co-workers and other state leaders as influential Arkansas women.

The Hall of Fame is a partnership between the North Little Rock Chamber of Commerce and the Arkansas Business Publishing Group. Mitch Bettis, president and publisher of Arkansas Business Publishing Group, said at Thursday's event that there were 73 nominations for the inaugural class. The final inductees were chosen by a board of directors. The group is seeking nominations for next year's class.

Terry Hartwick, president of the North Little Rock chamber, said he's been thinking about creating a Women's Hall of Fame for about two years, after he noticed that not many women were being inducted into the Arkansas Business Hall of Fame.

"It's about the women of our state who have done some extra special things," Hartwick said Thursday night.

There were three categories for inductees: organization, contemporary and historic.

The Women's Emergency Committee to Open Our Schools was the organization inducted Thursday night. The group was formed in 1958 in response to Gov. Orval Faubus' decision to close Little Rock's four public high schools. In May 1959, the group helped lead a successful recall election of three segregationist school board members. After the schools reopened in September 1959, the group changed its name to the Women's Emergency Committee.

Hillary Clinton, former Arkansas first lady Betty Bumpers, Mary Good, Johnelle Hunt, Dr. Edith Irby Jones, Mary Ann Ritter Arnold and Alice Walton were the contemporary inductees.

Before the ceremony, Arnold struggled to find the words to describe her emotions after being named to the hall of fame.

"It's quite an honor to be honored," she said. "I was surprised that I got accepted into this group of women."

Arnold became the first woman to be mayor of Marked Tree in 2013. She is also the former president of E. Ritter & Co., an agribusiness and communications firm.

The historic inductees were Daisy L. Gatson Bates, Hattie Caraway, Hester Davis and Roberta Fulbright. Family and friends of the historic inductees were present to receive the awards on behalf of the recipients.

Mia Gatson, niece of Daisy L. Gatson Bates, said her aunt would've had a smile on her face that would brighten the whole room if she had been at Thursday's event. Bates was a journalist, newspaper owner and civil-rights activist. She died in 1999.

"She would be completely happy that the people of Arkansas haven't forgotten her," Gatson said.

Kathy Cande was one of Hester Davis' archaeology students. Cande, who now works at the Arkansas Archeological Survey at the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville, said Davis was nationally and internationally known for her work, but never worked for accolades.

"She would not think she was necessarily worthy of it," Cande said of Davis' induction. "She didn't do things for awards and wouldn't have nominated herself."

Davis was the first state archaeologist working for the Arkansas Archeological Survey, serving from 1967 to 1999, and a leader in the development of cultural resources management legislation. She died last year.

"I don't think there will be anyone quite like her again," Cande said.

Metro on 08/28/2015

Print Headline: 11 women make state hall of fame

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