Billy Penn in Harrisburg

A timeline at the PA capitol features one woman and no people of color. Let’s do better.

What about Crystal Bird Fauset, K. Leroy Irvis, or Rachel Carson?

A Pennsylvania Milestones timeline inside the capitol welcome center.

A Pennsylvania Milestones timeline inside the capitol welcome center.

Sarah Anne Hughes / Billy Penn
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There’s information about bubble gum and Big Macs on a timeline of Pennsylvania history at the state capitol. Women and people of color? Not so much.

From 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday, visitors to the Capitol building in Harrisburg can get a quick primer on the commonwealth’s history in its welcome center. In addition to the timeline, there’s a quiz where you stomp on floor mats to answer questions and displays of “fun facts.”

Featured on the timeline are milestones like the commonwealth’s founding, the completion of part of the PA Turnpike, the tragedy of 9/11, and the drilling of the first Marcellus Shale well. Just over a dozen white men are named on the timeline, including Philadelphia’s Walter Diemer — who invented Dubble Bubble (not Hubba Bubba, as the display states) — and Big Mac inventor Jim Delligatti.

Just one Pennsylvania woman is named in more than 40 entries: Hannah Callowhill Penn, who became Pennsylvania’s acting proprietor after her husband, William, fell ill.

Not a single person of color is mentioned by name.

The timeline ends in 2014, when the welcome center was re-opened after a renovation. According to a press release from the time:

… tens of thousands of dollars were saved on the project by using the talents of Capitol staff to do writing and research, produce high-definition videos, shoot photos and provide computer support.

Ok sure, saving money is great, but so is having a welcome center that’s representative of the commonwealth.

Below is the start of a list of suggestions for women and people of color whose accomplishments should be added to the timeline. This is definitely not exhaustive — have one of your own to add? Email us. 

Marian Anderson

Born in Philadelphia, Anderson was the premier American contralto of the early 20th century. She made history when, after being denied the right to perform at the segregated Constitution Hall in D.C., she led a public concert at the Lincoln Memorial. She was also the first black woman to perform as a soloist at the Metropolitan Opera.

Alice Bentley

Bentley was among the first group of women elected to the state House in 1922 (which is noted generally on the timeline). A teacher from Wayne Township, she served as speaker pro tempore — making her the “first woman in the United States to preside over a state House assembly,” according to a history compiled the General Assembly.

Rachel Carson

Carson, who was born in a small town just outside of Pittsburgh and attended what is now Chatham University, published her landmark environmentalism book “Silent Spring” in 1962. It led to the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency and brought concerns around pesticides to the public consciousness. She is considered one of the most important environmentalists to ever live.

Crystal Bird Fauset

In 1938, Fauset was elected to represent part of Philadelphia in the Pa. House — the first black woman elected to a state legislature in the U.S. “As a state representative, Fauset introduced nine bills and three amendments on issues concerning public health, housing, public relief, and working women,” according to Explore PA History. “She also sponsored an amendment to the Pennsylvania Female Labor Law of 1913 to better protect women in the workplace.”

K. Leroy Irvis

Irvis became the first black speaker of the Pa. House in 1977, and the first black person to hold that position anywhere since Reconstruction. He was elected speaker again in 1983 and held the position until his retirement in 1988. Irvis represented the Hill District in Pittsburgh for 30 years, and his name adorns buildings at the capitol and on the University of Pittsburgh’s campus.

 

Catherine Baker Knoll

In 2003, Knoll was sworn in as Pennsylvania’s first female lieutenant governor after serving as state treasurer. She died while in office, in 2008.

Dr. Rachel Levine

Levine served as Pennsylvania’s physician general before being confirmed as Department of Health secretary in 2018, making her the first trans person to serve in a state cabinet position.

Want some more? Explore other Billy Penn in Harrisburg stories.

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