Elizabeth Peratrovich
Elizabeth Peratrovich (July 4, 1911December 1, 1958), Tlingit nation, was an important civil rights
Civil rights
Civil and political rights are a class of rights that protect individuals' freedom from unwarranted infringement by governments and private organizations, and ensure one's ability to participate in the civil and political life of the state without discrimination or repression.Civil rights include...

 activist; she worked on behalf of equality for Alaska Natives
Alaska Natives
Alaska Natives are the indigenous peoples of Alaska. They include: Aleut, Inuit, Tlingit, Haida, Tsimshian, Eyak, and a number of Northern Athabaskan cultures.-History:In 1912 the Alaska Native Brotherhood was founded...

. In the 1940s, she was credited with advocacy that gained the passage of the territory's Anti-Discrimination Act of 1945, the first anti-discrimination law in the United States.

Early life and education

Elizabeth Peratrovich was born Elizabeth Wanamaker on July 4, 1911 in Petersburg
Petersburg, Alaska
Petersburg is a city in Petersburg Census Area, Alaska, in the United States. According to 2009 Census Bureau estimates, the population of the city is 2,824 full time residents.- History :...

, Alaska
Alaska is the largest state in the United States by area. It is situated in the northwest extremity of the North American continent, with Canada to the east, the Arctic Ocean to the north, and the Pacific Ocean to the west and south, with Russia further west across the Bering Strait...

, and was a member of the Lukaax̱.ádi
Tlingit clans
The Tlingit clans of Southeast Alaska, in the United States, are one of the indigenous cultures within Alaska. The Tlingit people also live in the Northwest Interior of British Columbia, Canada, and in the southern Yukon Territory...

 clan, in the Raven moiety
Moiety may refer to:* Moiety , a part or functional group of a molecule* Moiety , either of two groups into which a society is divided* An Australian Aboriginal kinship group* Native Hawaiian realm ruled by a Mo'i or Ali'i...

 of the Tlingit nation. She was adopted when very young by Andrew and Mary Wanamaker, a Tlingit couple. Andrew was a Presbyterian lay minister. Elizabeth grew up with them in Petersburg and Ketchikan, Alaska. She attended Sheldon Jackson College
Sheldon Jackson College
Sheldon Jackson College was a small private college located on Baranof Island in Sitka, Alaska, United States. Founded in 1878, it was the oldest institution of higher learning in Alaska and maintained a historic relationship with the Presbyterian Church. The college was named in honor of Rev...

 in Sitka, and the Western College of Education in Bellingham, Washington
Bellingham, Washington
Bellingham is the largest city in, and the county seat of, Whatcom County in the U.S. state of Washington. It is the twelfth-largest city in the state. Situated on Bellingham Bay, Bellingham is protected by Lummi Island, Portage Island, and the Lummi Peninsula, and opens onto the Strait of Georgia...

 (now part of Western Washington University
Western Washington University
Western Washington University is one of six state-funded, four-year universities of higher education in the U.S. state of Washington. It is located in Bellingham and offers bachelor's and master's degrees.-History:...


Marriage, family and later life

In 1931 Elizabeth married Roy Peratrovich (1908–1989) , also a Tlingit, who worked in a cannery. They lived in Klawock, where Roy served four terms as mayor.

Looking for greater opportunities for work and their children, they moved to Juneau, where they found more extensive social and racial discrimination against Alaska Natives. They had children: daughter Loretta, and sons Roy, Jr. and Frank.

The Peratrovich family later moved to Antigonish, Nova Scotia
Antigonish, Nova Scotia
Antigonish is a Canadian town in Antigonish County, Nova Scotia. The town is home to St. Francis Xavier University and the oldest continuous highland games in North America.-History:...

, Canada, where Roy pursued an economics degree at St. Francis Xavier University
St. Francis Xavier University
St. Francis Xavier University is a post-secondary institution located in Antigonish, Nova Scotia. The school was founded in 1853, but did not offer degrees until 1868. The university has approximately 5000 students.-History:...

. From there they moved to Denver, Colorado
Denver, Colorado
The City and County of Denver is the capital and the most populous city of the U.S. state of Colorado. Denver is a consolidated city-county, located in the South Platte River Valley on the western edge of the High Plains just east of the Front Range of the Rocky Mountains...

, where Roy studied at the University of Denver
University of Denver
The University of Denver is currently ranked 82nd among all public and private "National Universities" by U.S. News & World Report in the 2012 rankings....

. In the 1950s, the Peratroviches moved to Oklahoma
Oklahoma is a state located in the South Central region of the United States of America. With an estimated 3,751,351 residents as of the 2010 census and a land area of 68,667 square miles , Oklahoma is the 28th most populous and 20th-largest state...

, and then back to Alaska.

Elizabeth Peratrovich died of cancer on December 1, 1958.

Roy Peratrovich, Jr. became a noted civil engineer in Alaska. He designed the Brotherhood Bridge
Brotherhood Bridge
Brotherhood Bridge is a road bridge in Juneau, Alaska. It crosses the Mendenhall River. The bridge carries the Glacier Highway; it was named after the Alaska Native Brotherhood and designed by the son of Elizabeth Peratrovich. Bronze plaques on the bridge refer to the Raven and Eagle clans of...

 in Juneau, which carries the Glacier Highway
Alaska Route 7
Alaska Route 7 is a state highway in the Alaska Panhandle of the U.S. state of Alaska. It consists of four unconnected pieces, serving some of the Panhandle communities that the Alaska Marine Highway ferries stop at, and connecting to the Alaska Highway in Yukon via the Haines Highway.-Route...

 over the Mendenhall River
Mendenhall River
The Mendenhall River is an Alaskan river north of Juneau in the Mendenhall Valley. The river begins at the Mendenhall Lake, at the base of the Mendenhall Glacier.-Rafting on the river:...

. In 1979, he co-founded the firm Peratrovich Nottingham & Drage, now known as PND Engineers. He retired from the engineering profession and is currently an artist based in Bainbridge Island, Washington
Bainbridge Island, Washington
Bainbridge Island is a city in Kitsap County, Washington, United States, and the name of the island in Puget Sound on which the city is situated...


The Anti-Discrimination Act

In 1941, while living in Juneau, the Peratroviches found more discrimination, having difficulty finding housing and seeing signs banning entry from public facilities. They petitioned the territorial governor, Ernest Gruening
Ernest Gruening
Ernest Henry Gruening was an American journalist and Democrat who was the Governor of the Alaska Territory from 1939 until 1953, and a United States Senator from Alaska from 1959 until 1969.-Early life:...

, to ban the "No Natives Allowed" signs then common at public accommodations in that city and elsewhere. The Anti-Discrimination Act was defeated by the territorial legislature in 1943. As leaders of the Alaska Native Brotherhood and the Alaska Native Sisterhood
Alaska Native Brotherhood/Sisterhood
The Alaska Native Brotherhood and its counterpart the Alaska Native Sisterhood are legally two nonprofit organizations which are interrelated, and which for purposes of this article are discussed as one collective organization. The organization was created in 1912 in Sitka, Alaska, under the...

, the Peratroviches lobbied the territory's legislators and represented their organizations in their testimony.

Elizabeth Peratrovich was the last to testify before the territorial Senate voted on the bill in 1945, and her impassioned testimony was considered decisive.
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
Bill of rights
A bill of rights is a list of the most important rights of the citizens of a country. The purpose of these bills is to protect those rights against infringement. The term "bill of rights" originates from England, where it referred to the Bill of Rights 1689. Bills of rights may be entrenched or...


She was responding to earlier comments by territorial senator Allen Shattuck of Juneau. He had earlier 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?" The Senate voted 11-5 for the 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." The bill was signed into law by Governor Gruening, nearly 20 years before the US Congress passed the Civil Rights Act of 1964
Civil Rights Act of 1964
The Civil Rights Act of 1964 was a landmark piece of legislation in the United States that outlawed major forms of discrimination against African Americans and women, including racial segregation...


Fran Ulmer
Fran Ulmer
Frances Ann "Fran" Ulmer is an administrator and Democratic politician from the U.S. state of Alaska. She is currently the chancellor of the University of Alaska Anchorage...

, who represented Juneau in the Alaska House of Representatives
Alaska House of Representatives
The Alaska House of Representatives is the lower house in the Alaska Legislature, the state legislature of the U.S. state of Alaska. The House is composed of 40 members, each of whom represents a district of about 15,673 people . Members serve two-year terms without term limits...

 (and who later became lieutenant governor of Alaska), had this to say about Peratrovich's testimony in 1992:
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".

Legacy and honors

  • On February 6, 1988, the Alaska Legislature
    Alaska Legislature
    The Alaska Legislature is the state legislature of the U.S. state of Alaska. It is a bicameral institution, consisting of the lower Alaska House of Representatives, with 40 members, and the upper house Alaska Senate, with 20 members...

     established February 16 (the day in 1945 on which the Anti-Discrimination Act was signed) as "Elizabeth Peratrovich Day", in order to memorialize her contributions: "for her courageous, unceasing efforts to eliminate discrimination and bring about equal rights in Alaska" (Alaska Statutes 44.12.065).
  • The Elizabeth Peratrovich Award was established in her honor by the Alaska Native Sisterhood.
  • 1992, Gallery B of the Alaska State Capitol
    Alaska State Capitol
    The Alaska State Capitol is the state capital of Alaska. Located in the state capital of Juneau at the corner of East 4th Street and Main Street, it houses the Alaska Legislature and the offices for the governor of Alaska and lieutenant governor of Alaska....

     was renamed in her honor.
  • In 2009, a documentary about Peratrovich's groundbreaking civil rights advocacy premiered on October 22 that year at the Alaska Federation of Natives
    Alaska Federation of Natives
    The Alaska Federation of Natives is the largest statewide Native organization in Alaska. Its membership includes 178 villages , thirteen regional native corporations, and twelve regional nonprofit and tribal consortiums that contract and run federal and state programs...

     convention in Anchorage
    Anchorage, Alaska
    Anchorage is a unified home rule municipality in the southcentral part of the U.S. state of Alaska. It is the northernmost major city in the United States...

    . Entitled For the Rights of All: Ending Jim Crow in Alaska, the film was scheduled to air as a PBS documentary film in November 2009. The film was produced by Blueberry Productions, Inc. and primarily written by Jeffry Lloyd Silverman of Anchorage.
  • Elizabeth and Roy Peratrovich Park is located in downtown Anchorage. The park consists of the lawn surrounding Anchorage's former city hall
    City hall
    In local government, a city hall, town hall or a municipal building or civic centre, is the chief administrative building of a city...

    , with a small amphitheater in which concerts and other performances are held.
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