Elizabeth Peratrovich

Elizabeth Peratrovich
Elizabeth Peratrovich.jpg
Elizabeth Jean Wanamaker

July 4, 1911 (1911-07-04)
DiedDecember 1, 1958(1958-12-01) (aged 47)
Seattle, Washington, U.S.
OrganizationAlaska Native Sisterhood
Known forCivil-rights activism; Native-American rights
Roy Peratrovich
(m. 1931)

Elizabeth Peratrovich (née Elizabeth Jean Wanamaker, Tlingit: Ḵaax̲gal.aat [qʰaχ.ɡʌɬ.ʔatʰ];[1] July 4, 1911 – December 1, 1958)[2] was an American civil rights activist, Grand President of the Alaska Native Sisterhood,[3] and member of the Tlingit nation who worked for equality on behalf of Alaska Natives.[4] In the 1940s, her advocacy was credited as being instrumental in the passing of Alaska's Anti-Discrimination Act of 1945, the first state or territorial anti-discrimination law enacted in the United States.

In 1988, the Alaska Legislature established February 16 as Elizabeth Peratrovich Day "for her courageous, unceasing efforts to eliminate discrimination and bring about equal rights in Alaska".[3][5] In March 2019, her obituary was added to The New York Times as part of their "Overlooked No More" series,[6] and in 2020, the United States Mint released a $1 gold coin inscribed with Elizabeth’s likeness in honor of her historic achievements.[7] The Peratrovich family papers, including correspondence, personal papers, and news clippings related to the civil-rights work done by Elizabeth and her husband, are currently held at the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian.[8]

Personal life

Early life and education

Elizabeth Peratrovich was born on July 4, 1911, in Petersburg, Alaska,[2][9] as a member of the Lukaax̱.ádi clan in the Raven moiety of the Tlingit nation and with the Tlingit name of Ḵaax̲gal.aat ("person who packs for themselves").[1]

She was orphaned at a young age and adopted by Andrew and Jean Wanamaker (née Williams), who gave her the name Elizabeth Jean.[10][11] Andrew was a fisherman and Presbyterian lay minister. The Wanamakers raised Elizabeth in Petersburg, Klawock, and Ketchikan, Alaska. Elizabeth graduated from Ketchikan High School, and then attended Sheldon Jackson College in Sitka, and the Western College of Education in Bellingham, Washington (now part of Western Washington University).[a]

Later life

On December 15, 1931, Elizabeth married Roy Scott Peratrovich (1908–1989), also a Tlingit, of mixed Native and Serbian descent, who worked in a cannery.[13] They had three children: daughter Loretta Montgomery (c. 1942) and sons Roy, Jr. (c. 1934) and Frank (c. 1938).[14] The family lived in Klawock, where Roy was elected to four terms as mayor.[citation needed] Elizabeth was a member of the Presbyterian Church.[14]

Looking for greater opportunities for work and their children, the couple would move to Juneau, where they found more extensive social and racial discrimination against Alaska Natives.[7] The Peratrovichs were one of the first Indigenous families in Juneau to live in a non-Native neighborhood, and Roy Jr. was one of the first Indigenous children to attend public schools there.[14]

The Peratrovich family later moved to Antigonish, Nova Scotia, Canada, where Roy pursued an economics degree at St. Francis Xavier University.[citation needed] From there they moved to Denver, Colorado, where Roy studied at the University of Denver.[citation needed] In the 1950s, the Peratrovichs moved to Oklahoma, and then back to Alaska.[citation needed]

Elizabeth Peratrovich died after battling breast cancer, on December 1, 1958, at the age of 47.[15][16] She is buried at Evergreen Cemetery in Juneau, Alaska, alongside her husband.[citation needed] The eldest son, Roy Jr.—a partner in the engineering firm of Peratrovich, Nottingham and Drage[14]—became a noted civil engineer in Alaska and designed the Brotherhood Bridge in Juneau, which carries the Glacier Highway over the Mendenhall River.[17] Her younger son, Frank, worked as the Area Tribal Operations Officer for the Bureau of Indian Affairs in Juneau.[14]


In 1941, while living in Juneau, Alaska, Elizabeth and Roy Peratrovich encountered discrimination in their attempts to secure housing and gain access to public facilities. They petitioned the territorial governor, Ernest Gruening, to prohibit public places from posting "No dogs or Natives allowed" signs that were common in Alaska during this time.[citation needed]

With the help of others, Elizabeth and Roy drafted and introduced an anti-discrimination bill in 1941, though it would fail to pass. Nevertheless, they would persevere: as high-ranking representatives of the Alaska Native Brotherhood and the Alaska Native Sisterhood, Elizabeth and Roy used their unique position to bring attention to the issue of discrimination and to lobby Alaska lawmakers, the governor, and others to advocate for the passage of anti-discrimination legislation.[7] In one instance, according to their granddaughter, Betsy Peratrovich, they decided to invite a legislator to join them for coffee, taking the opportunity to plead their case.

When the invitation was accepted, they took the small amount of spare change they had and brought it to the meeting—worrying the whole time that they wouldn’t have enough to pay if anything other than coffee was ordered. Thankfully, not only did they have just enough money to pay for the beverages, but the meeting was productive! There were many grassroots efforts in those days, including efforts by countless other Alaska Native people who took steps to overcome and raise awareness of widespread inequities and instances of blatant prejudice.[7]

In 1945, representing the Alaska Native Brotherhood/Sisterhood, they would again bring an anti-discrimination bill before the Alaska Senate. Last to testify, Elizabeth took to the floor to deliver an impassioned speech, calling for equal treatment for Indigenous peoples.[7][18] In reaction to the bill, Juneau territorial senator Allen Shattuck 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?" Elizabeth responded:[14]

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.[19]

The Senate voted 11-5 for House Resolution 14, providing "full and equal accommodations, facilities, and privileges to all citizens in places of public accommodations within the jurisdiction of the Territory of Alaska; to provide penalties for violation".[14] The bill was signed into law by Governor Gruening in 1945, nearly 20 years before the US Congress passed the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Acts of the territorial legislature required final approval from the U.S. Congress, which affirmed it (Bob Bartlett, Alaskan delegate, was known for his efficiency in passing legislation). Alaska thus became the first territory or state to end "Jim Crow" since 18 states banned discrimination in public accommodations in the three decades following the Civil War; not until 1955 would two more states, New Mexico and Montana, follow suit.[20] Elizabeth's testimony has been widely credited as a decisive factor in the passage of the historic Anti-Discrimination Act of 1945. In 1992, Fran Ulmer, who represented Juneau in the Alaska House of Representatives (and who later became lieutenant governor of Alaska), said the following about Peratrovich's testimony:

She talked about herself, her friends, her children, and the cruel treatment that consigned Alaska Natives to a second-class existence. She described to the Senate what it means to be unable to buy a house in a decent neighborhood because Natives aren't allowed to live there. She described how children feel when they are refused entrance into movie theaters, or see signs in shop windows that read "No dogs or Natives allowed."[19]

The Peratrovich family papers, including correspondence, personal papers, and news clippings related to the civil rights work done by Elizabeth and Roy Peratrovich, are currently held at the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian.[8] In 1988, the Alaska State Legislature declared February 16 as "Elizabeth Peratrovich Day".[7]

Legacy and honors

2020 Native American $1 Coin
  • On February 6, 1988, the Alaska Legislature established February 16 (the day in 1945 on which the Anti-Discrimination Act was signed) as "Elizabeth Peratrovich Day" in order to honor her contributions: "for her courageous, unceasing efforts to eliminate discrimination and bring about equal rights in Alaska" (Alaska Statutes 44.12.065).[3][5]
  • The Elizabeth Peratrovich Award was established in her honor by the Alaska Native Sisterhood.[citation needed]
  • In 1992, Gallery B of the Alaska House of Representatives chamber in the Alaska State Capitol was renamed in her honor.[19] Of the four galleries located in the respective two chambers, the Peratrovich Gallery is the only one named for someone other than a former legislator (the other House gallery was named for Warren A. Taylor; the Senate galleries were named for former Senators Cliff Groh and Robert H. Ziegler).
  • In 2003, a park[21] in downtown Anchorage was named for Elizabeth and Roy Peratrovich. It encompasses the lawn surrounding Anchorage's former city hall, with a small amphitheater in which concerts and other performances are held.[22]
  • In 2009, For the Rights of All: Ending Jim Crow in Alaska, a documentary about Peratrovich's groundbreaking civil rights advocacy, premiered on October 22 at the Alaska Federation of Natives convention in Anchorage. The film, scheduled to air as a PBS documentary film in November 2009, was produced by Blueberry Productions, Inc. and was primarily written by Jeffry Lloyd Silverman of Anchorage.[23]
  • In 2017, the theater in Ketchikan's Southeast Alaska Discovery Center was named in honor of Elizabeth Peratrovich, and a companion exhibit exploring her role in the struggle for Alaska Native civil rights was unveiled.[24]
  • In 2018, Elizabeth Peratrovich was chosen by the National Women's History Project as one of its honorees for Women's History Month in the United States.[25]
  • In March 2019, her obituary was added to The New York Times as part of their "Overlooked No More" series.[6]
  • On October 5, 2019, United States Mint Chief Administrative Officer Patrick Hernandez announced that Peratrovich would appear on the reverse of the 2020 Native American $1 Coin, making her the first Alaska Native to be featured on U.S. currency.[26][27][28]
  • In December 2019, a 4-story apartment building called Elizabeth Place, named after Peratrovich, opened in downtown Anchorage.
  • In January 2020, Peratrovich was selected as one of the 20for2020 highlighting extraordinary accomplishments by women. [29]
  • In July 2020, a new mural was unveiled in honor of Peratrovich in Petersburg.[30]
  • On December 30, 2020, a Google Doodle in the United States and Canada honored Elizabeth Peratrovich. The Doodle was drawn by Tlingit artist Michaela Goade.[7]

See also



  1. ^ Link to 1930 census of Klawock showing the Wanamaker household starting on line 18.[12]


  1. ^ a b Boochever, Annie; Jr, Roy Peratrovich (February 16, 2019). "Fighter in Velvet Gloves: Alaska Civil Rights Hero Elizabeth Peratrovich". University of Alaska Press – via Google Books.
  2. ^ a b Kifer, Dave (2008-02-18). "Alaska Celebrates Civil Rights Pioneer - Peratrovich's Efforts Pre-Dated Martin Luther King". SitNews "Stories in the News" Ketchican, Alaska. Retrieved 2020-12-30.
  3. ^ a b c "§ 2 ch 65 SLA 1988". Alaska State Legislature. 1988.
  4. ^ For the Rights of All: Ending Jim Crow in Alaska, retrieved 2020-11-19
  5. ^ a b "Anti-discrimination Act of 1945". Alaska State Archives. 31 January 2020. Retrieved 30 December 2020.
  6. ^ a b "Overlooked No More: Elizabeth Peratrovich, Rights Advocate for Alaska Natives". The New York Times. 2019-03-20. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2019-04-01.
  7. ^ a b c d e f g "Celebrating Elizabeth Peratrovich". Google Doodles. Google. December 30, 2020. Retrieved December 31, 2020.
  8. ^ a b "Peratrovich family papers · SOVA". sova.si.edu.
  9. ^ Duncan, Pauline (1999). Elizabeth Peratrovich: Native Civil Rights Leader. Sitka: Children of the Tidelands Publishing. p. 3.
  10. ^ "Elizabeth Peratrovich 100 Years" (PDF). Alaska Newspapers. 4 July 2011.
  11. ^ "Andrew Wanamaker, his wife and daughter. Lay-workers at Klukwan. (Note: Chalyee éesh and Wooshkeenaa, of the Kaagwaantaan clan, Eagle Nest House.)". Alaska State Library-Historical Collections. Alaska State Library. Retrieved 2020-12-30..
  12. ^ "Intellectual Reserve, Inc". FamilySearch.org. Retrieved 2011-10-25.
  13. ^ "Elizabeth Peratrovich Day". Retrieved 2020-11-21.
  14. ^ a b c d e f g "A Recollection of Civil Rights Leader Elizabeth Peratrovich 1911–1958". Compiled by Central Council of Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska. 1991.
  15. ^ "Mrs. Roy Peratrovich Dies in Seattle". The Daily Alaska Empire. December 1, 1958.
  16. ^ "Alaska Native Women's History". CIRI. 2020-04-02. Retrieved 2020-11-21.
  17. ^ Alexander, Rosemarie (2012-09-26). "Brotherhood Bridge for sale". KTOO. Retrieved 2020-12-30.
  18. ^ Monsen, Helen Troy (6 February 1945). "Super race theory hit at hearing". The Alaska Daily Empire. Juneau. p. 8. Retrieved 18 November 2011.
  19. ^ a b c Ulmer, Fran (May 1, 1992). "Honoring Elizabeth Wanamaker Peratrovich". Alaska House of Representatives. Anchorage: University of Alaska Anchorage Institute of Social and Economic Research. Retrieved October 25, 2011.
  20. ^ Caldwell, Wallace (1 October 1965). "State Public Accommodations Laws, Fundamental Liberties and Enforcement Programs". Washington Law Review. 40: 843.
  21. ^ "Elizabeth & Roy Peratrovich Park" (PDF). Municipality of Anchorage. Archived from the original (PDF) on 8 December 2015. Retrieved 30 January 2017.
  22. ^ "Projects Archive - Flight of the Raven". Anchorage Park Foundation. Anchorage. Archived from the original on April 25, 2012. Retrieved October 26, 2011.
  23. ^ "For the Rights of All: Ending Jim Crow in Alaska". Alaska Civil Rights Organization. Retrieved 25 October 2011.
  24. ^ Bowman, Nick (February 25, 2017). "Theater Named for Peratrovich". Associated Press/Ketchikan Daily News.
  25. ^ "National Women's History Month: What is it, when did it begin, who is being honored this year?". kiro7.com. 25 February 2018.
  26. ^ Elizabeth Wolfe and Brian Ries. "Alaska Native and civil rights icon Elizabeth Peratrovich to be featured on $1 coin". CNN. Retrieved 2020-11-21.
  27. ^ United States Mint. "United States Mint Unveils 2020 Native American $1 Coin Reverse Design". United States Mint. Retrieved 7 October 2019.
  28. ^ Leval, Dave (October 6, 2019). "First Alaska Native on US currency revealed as Alaska Native Heritage Month becomes official". Anchorage, Alaska: KTVA. Retrieved 2020-01-03.
  29. ^ "Elizabeth Peratrovich Catalyzed First Anti-Discrimination Law in U.S., Alaska 1945 #20for2020". Amy Poehler's Smart Girls. Retrieved 2020-10-11.
  30. ^ KFSK, Corinne Smith- (2020-07-03). "Petersburg to unveil new mural to honor Native civil rights leader Elizabeth Peratrovich". Alaska Public Media. Retrieved 2020-11-21.

Further reading

Encylopedic entries

External links


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