elizabeth peratrovich

It’s Women’s History Month!  In the GWS Librarian’s office, we have a 17 volume collection of Women in World History: A Biographical Encyclopedia.  Using these volumes, we’ll be showcasing a variety of women every week from across the globe and giving a brief biography.

Elizabeth Wanamaker Peratrovich (1911-1958)

In 1911, Elizabeth Wanamaker Peratrovich was born in Alaska.  Her Tlingit name was Kaaxgal.aat.  Peratrovich’s parents died while she was young, and she was adopted.  Peratrovich graduated from Ketchikan High School and studied at Western College of Education.  She married Roy Peratrovich in 1931.  After moving to Juneau, the Peratrovich couple noted discriminatory signs on businesses saying “No Dogs or Indians Allowed.”

This spurred the Peratrovichs to lobby for an Anti-Discrimination Bill in Alaska.  Eventually this legislation was passed in 1945 with help from the Alaska Native Sisterhood and the Alaska Native Brotherhood.  Before the bill was passed, though, it was strongly opposed in the state senate, with one Allen Shattuck saying “who are these people, barely out of savagery, who want to associate with us whites with 5000 years of recorded civilization behind us?”  After Senate President Joe Green asked if there was anyone who wanted to testify, Elizabeth Peratrovich stood up and replied: “I would not have expected that I, who am barely out of savagery, would have to remind gentlemen with 5000 years recorded civilization behind them of our Bill of Rights.” Shattuck asked if this bill would eliminate discrimination and Peratrovich responded “Do your laws against larceny and even murder prevent these crimes?  No law will eliminate crimes, but at least you legislators can assert to the world that you recognize the evil of the present situation and speak of your intent to help us overcome discrimination.”  Her moving response drew applause from from both the gallery and senate floor, and the senate ended up passing the bill 11 to 5.  

Peratrovich passed away in 1958 after fighting breast cancer.  In 1989, Elizabeth Peratrovich was formally recognized by Alaska for her contribution to battle for human rights and February 16th is now known as “Elizabeth Peratrovich Day.”