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, Alaska Governor Steve Cowper established April 21 as Elizabeth Peratrovich Day "for her courageous, unceasing efforts to eliminate discrimination and bring about equal rights in Alaska.  The date was later changed to February 16 in observance of the day in 1945 on which the Anti-Discrimination Act was approved. [1][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 Croatian 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 village mayor.[6][15] Elizabeth was a member of the Presbyterian Church.[14]

The Peratroviches were concerned about racial discrimination and inequities. Looking for greater access to lawmakers who could effect change, they moved to Juneau, and even there found extensive social and racial discrimination against Alaska Native people.[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 studied the fishing industry at St. Francis Xavier University, the first Alaskan to do so on a United Nations fellowship.[16][17] Later, they moved to Denver, Colorado, where Roy studied banking and finance at the University of Denver and credit procedure at the Central Bank and Trust Company in Denver.[16][17] In the 1950s, the Peratrovichs moved to Oklahoma, when Roy took up a position with the federal government, and they moved back to Alaska when Elizabeth fell ill.[18]

Elizabeth Peratrovich died after battling breast cancer, on December 1, 1958, at the age of 47.[18][19][20] She is buried at Evergreen Cemetery in Juneau, Alaska, alongside her husband Roy who died in 1989.[6][15] 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.[21] 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 signs such as “No Natives Allowed,” “We cater to white trade only,” “No Dogs, No Natives,”... that were common in Alaska during this time.[10][22][23][24]

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][25] 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.[22]

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.[26] 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."[22]

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
  • In April, 1988, Alaska Governor Steve Cowper established April 21 as Elizabeth Peratrovich Day "for her courageous, unceasing efforts to eliminate discrimination and bring about equal rights in Alaska." The date was later changed to February 16 in observance of the day in 1945 on which the Anti-Discrimination Act was approved (Alaska Statutes 44.12.065).[1][3][27]
  • The Elizabeth Peratrovich Award was established in her honor by the Alaska Native Sisterhood.[28]
  • In 1992, Gallery B of the Alaska House of Representatives chamber in the Alaska State Capitol was renamed in her honor.[22] 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[29] 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.[30]
  • 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.[31]
  • 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.[32]
  • 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.[33]
  • 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.[34][35][36]
  • In December 2019, a 4-story apartment building called Elizabeth Place, named after Peratrovich, opened in downtown Anchorage.[37]
  • In January 2020, Peratrovich was selected as one of the 20for2020 highlighting extraordinary accomplishments by women. [38]
  • In July 2020, a new mural was unveiled in honor of Peratrovich in Petersburg.[39]
  • 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] This day was chosen because it was on this date in 1941 when the Peratroviches, after seeing a "No Natives Allowed" sign, decided to submit the petition to the governor.[24]

See also



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


  1. ^ a b c d Boochever, Annie; Jr, Roy Peratrovich (February 16, 2019). Fighter in Velvet Gloves: Alaska Civil Rights Hero Elizabeth Peratrovich. University of Alaska Press. ISBN 9781602233706 – via Google Books.
  2. ^ a b Kifer, Dave (February 18, 2008). "Alaska Celebrates Civil Rights Pioneer - Peratrovich's Efforts Pre-Dated Martin Luther King". SitNews "Stories in the News" Ketchican, Alaska. Retrieved December 30, 2020.
  3. ^ a b "§ 2 ch 65 SLA 1988". Alaska State Legislature. 1988.
  4. ^ For the Rights of All: Ending Jim Crow in Alaska, retrieved November 19, 2020
  5. ^ "Alaska. Territorial Legislature". vilda.alaska.edu. Retrieved May 7, 2021.
  6. ^ a b c d Vaughan, Carson (March 20, 2019). "Overlooked No More: Elizabeth Peratrovich, Rights Advocate for Alaska Natives". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved April 1, 2019.
  7. ^ a b c d e f g "Celebrating Elizabeth Peratrovich". Google Doodles. 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. ^ a b "Elizabeth Peratrovich 100 Years" (PDF). Alaska Newspapers. July 4, 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 December 30, 2020..
  12. ^ "Intellectual Reserve, Inc". FamilySearch.org. Retrieved October 25, 2011.
  13. ^ "Elizabeth Peratrovich Day". Retrieved November 21, 2020.
  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. ^ a b Bauman, Margaret (March 2, 2020). "Treasury urged to mint 5M Peratrovich coins". The Cordova Times. Retrieved February 15, 2021. In 1931, she married Roy Peratrovich, also Tlingit, of mixed Native and Croatian descent, and they lived in Klawock, where Roy served four terms as mayor. ... Elizabeth Peratrovich died of cancer on Dec. 1, 1958. She is buried at Evergreen Cemetery in Juneau, alongside of her husband, Roy.
  16. ^ a b "Roy Peratrovich Leaving for New Job at Anadarko, Oklahoma". The Daily Alaska Empire, achived at www.alaskool.org. November 17, 1955. Retrieved February 15, 2021. Peratrovich, for the past nine years an official in the finance department of the Alaska Native Service, leaves tomorrow for a new job and a new home. He is to become loan examiner for the Bureau of Indian Affairs in the regional office at Anadarko, Okla., and it is there he will make his new home. ... He was the first Alaskan to receive a United Nations fellowship and he studied at St. Francis Xavier at Antignosis, Nova Scotia, on the fellowship. In 1952 he was awarded a grant to study credit procedure at the Central Bank and Trust Company in Denver, Colo. Also on the grant, Peratrovich took a business course at the Denver University.
  17. ^ a b "New Superintendent Appointed for Anchorage District". www.bia.gov. U.S. Department of the Interior, Indian Affairs. January 23, 1968. Retrieved February 15, 2021. Peratrovich was born in Klawock. School, Salem, Oregon, for four years education in Ketchikan. He attended the Chemawa Indian He completed his high school He became the first Alaskan to receive a United Nations Fellowship, under which he studied the fishing industry of Nova Scotia. He also was awarded a John Hay Whitney Scholarship in 1952 which enabled him to study banking and finance under the auspices of the University of Denver.
  18. ^ a b "Elizabeth Peratrovich". Alaskan History Magazine. issuu (Nov-Dec 2019). October 31, 2019. Retrieved February 15, 2021.
  19. ^ "Mrs. Roy Peratrovich Dies in Seattle". The Daily Alaska Empire. December 1, 1958.
  20. ^ "Alaska Native Women's History". CIRI. April 2, 2020. Retrieved November 21, 2020.
  21. ^ Alexander, Rosemarie (September 26, 2012). "Brotherhood Bridge for sale". KTOO. Retrieved December 30, 2020.
  22. ^ a b c d 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.
  23. ^ "1945: Alaska's territorial legislature adopts anti-discrimination law". Citizenship, Services, and Sovereignty - Timeline - Native Voices. U.S. National Library of Medicine. Retrieved February 15, 2021. Elizabeth Peratrovich, president of the Alaska Native Sisterhood, testifies before the Alaska Territorial Legislature as it debates anti-discrimination legislation. Peratrovich, whose Tlingit name is Kaaxgal.aat, had experienced segregation in her home town, Juneau, where signs posted in busineses [sic?] read “No Natives Allowed,” “We cater to white trade only,” “No Dogs, No Natives,” “Meals at all hours — All white help.” The law she championed help end these practices.
  24. ^ a b Joyner, Alfred (December 30, 2020). "Google Doodle honors civil rights activist Elizabeth Peratrovich". Newsweek. Retrieved February 15, 2021. The search engine giant has chosen to pay tribute to Peratrovich with a Google Doodle—a special temporary alteration to its homepage logo that commemorates holidays, events, achievements and historical figures. They picked December 30 as it was on this date in 1941, after seeing an inn door sign that said "No Natives Allowed," Peratrovich and her husband decided to write to Alaska's governor.
  25. ^ Monsen, Helen Troy (February 6, 1945). "Super race theory hit at hearing". The Alaska Daily Empire. Juneau. p. 8. Retrieved November 18, 2011.
  26. ^ Caldwell, Wallace (October 1, 1965). "State Public Accommodations Laws, Fundamental Liberties and Enforcement Programs". Washington Law Review. 40: 843.
  27. ^ "Anti-discrimination Act of 1945". Alaska State Archives. January 31, 2020. Retrieved December 30, 2020.
  28. ^ Twyman, Abby (February 20, 2020). "Alaskans and the Nation Celebrate Elizabeth Peratrovich". Discover Prince Of Wales Island. Retrieved February 15, 2021. The Alaska Native Sisterhood, of which she was the president, established the Elizabeth Peratrovich Award.
  29. ^ "Elizabeth & Roy Peratrovich Park" (PDF). Municipality of Anchorage. Archived from the original (PDF) on December 8, 2015. Retrieved January 30, 2017.
  30. ^ "Projects Archive – Flight of the Raven". Anchorage Park Foundation. Anchorage. Archived from the original on April 25, 2012. Retrieved October 26, 2011.
  31. ^ "For the Rights of All: Ending Jim Crow in Alaska". Alaska Civil Rights Organization. Retrieved October 25, 2011.
  32. ^ Bowman, Nick (February 25, 2017). "Theater Named for Peratrovich". Associated Press/Ketchikan Daily News.
  33. ^ "National Women's History Month: What is it, when did it begin, who is being honored this year?". kiro7.com. February 25, 2018.
  34. ^ Elizabeth Wolfe and Brian Ries. "Alaska Native and civil rights icon Elizabeth Peratrovich to be featured on $1 coin". CNN. Retrieved November 21, 2020.
  35. ^ United States Mint. "United States Mint Unveils 2020 Native American $1 Coin Reverse Design". United States Mint. Retrieved October 7, 2019.
  36. ^ Leval, Dave (October 6, 2019). "First Alaska Native on US currency revealed as Alaska Native Heritage Month becomes official". Anchorage, Alaska: KTVA. Retrieved January 3, 2020.
  37. ^ Swann, Kirsten; Anchorage, Alaska Public Media- (December 9, 2019). "Can a new housing development help pave the way for commercial growth in Downtown Anchorage?". Alaska Public Media. Retrieved February 15, 2021. Elizabeth Place, named after Alaska Native civil rights champion Elizabeth Peratrovich, was built via a public-private partnership between Cook Inlet Housing Authority, the Municipality of Anchorage and half a dozen other agencies and organizations.
  38. ^ "Elizabeth Peratrovich Catalyzed First Anti-Discrimination Law in U.S., Alaska 1945 #20for2020". Amy Poehler's Smart Girls. Retrieved October 11, 2020.
  39. ^ KFSK, Corinne Smith- (July 3, 2020). "Petersburg to unveil new mural to honor Native civil rights leader Elizabeth Peratrovich". Alaska Public Media. Retrieved November 21, 2020.

Further reading

Encylopedic entries

External links


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