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Elizabeth Peratrovich
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Advocate
    (July 4, 1911-December 1, 1958)
    Born in Petersburg, Alaska
    Birth name was Kaaxgal.aat
    Member of the Tlingit nation
    Elected President of the Alaska Native Sisterhood (1941)
    With her husband Roy, drafted an anti-discrimination bill (1941)
    Passed as the Alaska Equal Rights Act (1945)
    The anti-discrimination bill was defeated the first time it was introduced in the territorial legislature (1943).
    She put her two youngest children in an orphanage while traveling around Alaska to generate support for the anti-discrimination bill (1944).
    The New York Times did not run her obituary until 2019 (as part of their ‘Overlooked No More’ series).
    She was adopted by Presbyterian lay minister Andrew Wanamaker.
    Territorial governor Ernest Gruening considered her testimony decisive in securing passage of the Alaska Equal Rights Act.
    When one territorial senator, Allen Shattuck of Juneau, asked, ‘Who are these people, barely out of savagery, who want to associate with us whites, with 5,000 years of recorded civilization behind us?’ she replied, ‘I would not have expected that I, who am barely out of savagery, would have to remind gentlemen with five thousand years of recorded civilization behind them, of our Bill of Rights.’
    She and her husband celebrated passage of the law by dancing in the lounge of the previously off-limits Baranof Hotel.
    The Alaska Equal Rights Act was the first anti-discrimination law passed in the US since the Reconstruction era.
    The Alaska Legislature established February 16 (the day the Equal Rights Act passed) as Elizabeth Peratrovich Day in recognition of ‘her courageous, unceasing efforts to eliminate discrimination and bring about equal rights in Alaska.’ (1988)
    She appeared on the reverse side of the Sacagawea dollar coin (2020), making her the first Native Alaskan on US money.

Credit: C. Fishel


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