UMKC’s Starr Women’s Hall of Fame Highlights and Preserves the Contributions of the Women Who Helped Shape Kansas City
By Stacy Espinoza Downs, UMKC Director of Strategic Communications
The University of Missouri-Kansas City (UMKC) received a $10,000 grant from Missouri Humanities to produce an interactive series of eight videos highlighting the 2023 inductees to the Starr Women’s Hall of Fame, an organization committed to honoring exceptional women from Kansas City and safeguarding their legacies.
As a supporting organization of the Starr Women’s Hall of Fame and Kansas City’s university, UMKC chose to apply for this grant with the goal of memorializing and celebrating these women’s achievements in order to educate and inspire future generations of community leaders.
Founded in 2015, the Starr Women’s Hall of Fame is named after Martha Jane Phillips Starr who became one of the first women to serve on the UMKC Board of Trustees. As of 2023, 45 women have been inducted. In addition, 26 civic organizations that advocate on behalf of women and family issues help support the Starr Women’s Hall of Fame.
This year, Geena Davis was the special guest speaker at the induction ceremony. In the past, UMKC and the Starr Women’s Hall of Fame have hosted other nationally-recognized speakers such as actor Ashley Judd, Good Morning America anchor Robin Roberts, First Daughter Chelsea Clinton and First Lady Laura Bush and First Daughter Barbara Bush.
“This institution stands as a testament to the immeasurable contributions of extraordinary women shaping our society with their vision, courage and unwavering determination,” said Curt Crespino, vice chancellor of External Relations and Constituent Engagement at UMKC. “We celebrate not just their individual accomplishments but also the collective power of women in driving positive change.”
In 2023, eight women were recognized for their lasting impact on Kansas City and beyond:
Alice Kitchen, an advocate for human rights, health care and children and women’s issues, is a director of social services at Children’s Mercy and a board member of the Kansas City Housing Authority. She helped with neighborhood cleanups and worked to help young mothers obtain health insurance. She was honored by the White House as a Champion of Change for her work on education for the Affordable Care Act in 2015.
Anita B. Gorman, an advocate for area parks, recreation and conservation, was the first woman appointed to the Kansas City Parks and Recreation board. She received the Pugsley Medal from the American Academy for Park and Recreation Administration in 2017 for her contribution to the promotion, development and conservation of public parks in the U.S.
Barbara Pendelton, an advocate for Kansas City women interested in careers in finance, became chairperson of City Bank at Crown Center and retired as an executive vice president of United Missouri Bancshares, Inc. She also chaired the UMKC Women’s Center Advisory Committee. She worked for several mayors, including Mayor Kay Barnes, who appointed her to work on downtown Kansas City revitalization.
Claire McCaskill was the first woman elected as Jackson County, Missouri prosecutor, and the first woman to be elected U.S. Senator from Missouri. She served as a U.S. senator from Missouri from 2007 to 2019, and she chaired the civil and criminal justice committees during her term in the Missouri House of Representatives. She is currently a political analyst for NBC News and MSNBC.
Freda Mendez Smith, a champion and advocate for the Latino community in Kansas City, is an advisory board member for the Women’s Foundation of Kansas City. She is a mentor to members of the Latino population and encourages people to become engaged in community service. She has been a volunteer board member at the UMKC Hispanic Advisory Board, the UMKC Women’s Council, Greater KC Hispanic Heritage and Mattie Rhodes Center.
Karen L. Daniel, a recognized leader in Kansas City, is the first African American woman to be a Major League Baseball owner since her addition to the Kansas City Royals ownership group in 2020. She also was the first African American female to chair the Kansas City Chamber of Commerce and has been a leader and advocate for the restoration of the Liberty Memorial Tower at the National World War I Museum and Memorial. President Barack Obama named Daniel vice chair of the Advisory Council on Doing Business in Africa in 2015.
Lea Hopkins, an advocate and activist for LGBTQIA communities, co-founded the Christopher Street Association, a gay and lesbian advocacy organization, in 1977 and organized the first Pride parade in Kansas City in 1979. She was a member of the inaugural leadership team of the UMKC Gay Students’ Union and founded the Kansas City Gay Injustices Fund.
Margaret J. May, a community activist and leader for the Ivanhoe Neighborhood Council in Kansas City, served as executive director of the council from October 2001 to December 2017. The council became a community development corporation that develops new housing and rehabilitates existing homes. She was also recognized in The Downtown Council of Kansas City’s first class of Urban Hero Awards in 2005.
Thanks to the Missouri Humanities grant, videos of all inductees are housed and showcased in an interactive exhibit at the LaBudde Special Collections at the Miller Nichols Library at UMKC. The videos are available to view in person at the exhibit from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday on the third floor of the library, 800 E. 51st St. on the UMKC Volker Campus in Kansas City.
The videos, an overview of the lives and accomplishments of the 2023 inductees as well as interviews and first-hand accounts provided by these women, can also be seen on the Starr Women’s Hall of Fame website and the UMKC Youtube Channel.