Remarkable Women of Long Beach – Part 1

Gerrie Schipske
SISTERS OF CHARITY of Incarnate Word (1933) taking care of patients after earthquake.

March is Women’s History Month and a time for us to reflect upon the remarkable women who have made and make Long Beach a quality community in which to live and to work.

I have just written a short-book  titled “Remarkable Women of Long Beach,” because I am on a mission to track down and to acknowledge the wonderful women of my hometown who throughout its history have made a difference in our lives.

To date, I have found 93 remarkable women: pioneers, aviators, athletes, business and labor leaders, educators, actresses, theater producers and conductors, artists, librarians, community activists, politicians, public servants, philanthropists, and war-time and home front heroines.

While I can’t write about each in this column, I do want to highlight several in each category:


Belle Lowe: If it weren’t for Belle, Long Beach would have been named “Crescent City.” She insisted to a group of local developers that the city, formerly known as “Willmore” should be named after its greatest asset: an eight mile long beach. A vote was taken and her idea won by one.


Gladys O’Donnell: While the news media focused on Amelia Earhart, it was Gladys who not only was the first woman licensed pilot in Long Beach, but beat Earhart in the Women’s Air Derby. O’Donnell went on to beat Phyllis Schlafly, for the presidency of the National Federation of Republican Women over the issue of the Equal Rights Amendment.

Speaking of Earhart, she took her first flight from Long Beach Poly High School aviator, Frank Hawks. She also took flying lessons from Long Beach Aviation Commissioner, John Montijo and when done flew in the Long Beach Air Circus with Earl Daugherty.


Myrtle Huddelston: This overweight, 30-year-old beautician needed a way to support her 10-year-old son so she took swimming lessons and then began swimming long distances for prize money. She was the first woman to swim across to Catalina in 1927 and the first to complete a swim across the frigid Lake Tahoe. There is an annual Huddleston swim in her honor.

Business and Labor Leaders

Iva Tutt: Long Beach did not have electricity until this self-taught engineer, opened and operated a light and electricity plant in 1885. The city gave her its first utility franchise. She moved to Arizona and started the state’s first hydroelectricity operation.

Bette Murphy: When WWII broke out, she was a nurse aide but decided to go build aircraft at Douglas Aircraft in Long Beach. She eventually became the first woman supervisor and helped organize the United Auto Workers. When she retired she became president of the retirees association.


Elizabeth Wallace: She and her husband, Don, worked in the community to integrate the Long Beach schools. She was appointed to the Board of Education in 1967 and served 20 years.

Victoria Ellis: In 1910, Long Beach received $34,000 from Andrew Carnegie to build a new library. In order to build the library, the city had to move its exhibit of “Minnie the Whale” which had washed up on shore and its remains covered with shellac. As head librarian, Ms. Ellis, oversaw the construction and dedication.


Dr. Rugmini Shah: Long Beach is one of only three cities in California to operate its own public health department. The department was first established in the late 1880s and always headed by a male physician until 1978-1988 when Dr. Shah, a pediatrician by training, took over.

Sisters of Charity of the Incarnate Word: After they received a letter from the parish of St. Anthony’s, they came to Long Beach in 1923, bought a sanitarium at 10th and Linden and opened up St. Mary Hospital, now known as St. Mary Medical Center. During the 1933 earthquake, they provided care and treatment for the injured.

See part two for more remarkable women of Long Beach.



Wonderful story! So many unrecognized women with great contributions throughout our Long Beach history.

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