I’m back, and I am so excited to share the 2nd half of my article about women making history in WI. These ladies have been making history in the last few decades, and their influence is still being felt today in their respective fields. (Read Part 1: 5 Difference-Making Ladies in WI Women’s History)
Pleasant Rowland (1941-present)
Pleasant Rowland started a little doll company at the age of 45 in 1986 after visiting Colonial Williamsburg and realizing that young girls might be interested in dolls based on historic periods. This company is called American Girl and is still based in Madison today, but it’s now owned by Mattel since she sold it to them in 1998. In 2003, she started a nonprofit called the Rowland Reading Foundation to support research into early reading instruction and she and her husband have made many substantial contributions to the Madison-area together, including a donation of $205M to build the Overture Center for the Arts and she recently donated $10M to UW Health to support a new transplant clinic. She still lives in Madison.
Debra Amesqua (1951-present)
Debra Amesqua was born the child of migrant farmers in FL. She was the first person in her family to attend college, but quit college to pursue a career as a firefighter. In 1996, she became Madison’s first woman fire chief and was only the 7th woman in the country to lead a fire department. She oversaw 12 stations and nearly 400 staff during her time as chief and received many awards during her career, including Chief of the Year. She retired in 2012.
Jane Kaczmarek (1955-present)
Jane Kaczmarek was born in Milwaukee, WI where she grew up and went on to attend UW Madison. She met and married another WI acting native (Bradley Whitford), and they moved to LA to pursue careers in acting. She held many acting roles on TV and in film. In 2000, she was cast to play Lois in Malcolm in the Middle, which aired 151 episodes and she earned many awards and nominations for her role. She also had a recurring voice role on The Simpsons during this time. After Malcolm ended in 2006, she went on to act in many other well-known shows, such as Jake and the Never Land Pirates and Law & Order SVU.
Bonnie Blair (1964-present)
Bonnie began competing as a speed skater at the age of 4 in IL. She moved to WI after high school where she trained with the US national speed-skating team and went on to compete in the 1988, 1992, and 1994 Olympics, where she won 5 gold medals and 1 bronze medal, making her one of the most decorated Olympic athletes in US Olympic history. She retired in 1995 and now works as a motivational speaker and is on the board for the Pettit National Ice Center.
Chellsie Memmel (1988-present)
Chellsie Memmel was born in West Allis to parents who were both gymnastics coaches. She started training in gymnastics at the age of 8 and has competed all over the globe, where she has earned a total of 7 World Championships and Olympic Medals, making her tied with Shawn Johnson as the 7th most decorated US female gymnast in US History. She retired in 2012 from gymnastics, getting married and having kids of her own, then going on to help run a gym in New Berlin and becoming one of the nation’s most highly-respected gymnastics judges. In 2020, she announced that she would be making a return to gymnastics, not as a judge, but as a competitor.
Sharing a very brief story about each of these women and their accomplishments has provided some really wonderful insight into the wonderful women making history that have come from WI and made impacts all over our country and the world. I hope you have enjoyed reading about them as much as I have enjoyed writing about them.