Every March, Women’s History Month offers a special opportunity to celebrate generations of women who have strengthened our nation and paved the way for others. To honor local contributions, we are shining a light on five of the women who have helped shape the River City over time.
Albion Fellows Bacon
Perhaps one of Evansville’s most impactful women, Albion Fellows Bacon was a reformer and author who fought to improve public housing standards. Born in 1865, the Evansville native was married to banker Hilary E. Bacon and together they raised four children.
Fellows Bacon dedicated her life to improving living and working conditions for women, children, and the poor, and as a tribute, Evansville’s Albion Fellows Bacon Center is named after her. The center provides free, confidential services to survivors of domestic violence and abuse. It works to prevent domestic violence by educating the community about the dangers of abuse and advocating for survivors.
Fellows Bacon’s legacy does not stop there. She also helped organize the Indiana Housing Association in 1911 and was instrumental in the passing of the state’s safe housing law in 1917. She assembled several organizations including the Men’s Circle of Friendly Visitors, the Flower Mission for poor working girls, a Working Girls’ Association, an Anti-Tuberculosis League, and the Monday Night Club of influential citizens interested in charitable work.
She was also involved with Indiana’s Commission on Child Welfare and Social Insurance and served as the head of the executive committee of the Indiana Child Welfare Association before her death in Evansville on Dec. 10, 1933.
Dr. Stella Boyd
Although born in Oregon in 1899, Dr. Stella Boyd made her mark on Evansville history as the first local female obstetrician/gynecologist.
In the 1930s, the University of Chicago graduate took over the practice established by her late husband, Dr. Elmer Boyd. She set up her office in the Hulman Building in Downtown Evansville and provided diaphragms – a form of female birth control – for married women. While more widely available today, birth control was a controversial practice in society and even was illegal in that time. Through this tactic, Boyd was instrumental in providing family planning services to underserved women during the aftermath of the Great Depression in the 1930s and ’40s. She also educated female patients about their birth control options.
An amusing story about Boyd can be found in her obituary in the Feb. 25, 1969, issue of the Evansville Press newspaper. “For sterilizing purposes, Dr. Boyd often boiled her rubber gloves in her office, but she would get so busy with other tasks that she would forget about them,” the article says. “They would burn, and people would chuckle and say, ‘Dr. Boyd’s boiling her gloves again.’”
The 1940 U.S. Census shows Boyd as having four children and living on Kentucky Avenue. She died of cancer in Downers Grove, Illinois, in 1969 and was buried in Evansville’s Oak Hill Cemetery.
Both Boyd and Fellows Bacon were honored in the 2016 production of “Her Story: Evansville Women in the 20th Century,” which commemorated the accomplishments and impact of Evansville women.
Civic leader Sylvia Weinzapfel was born on April 4, 1936, and graduated from Reitz Memorial High School, the then-Evansville College, and Indiana University. She married Ralph Weinzapfel and they had six children, one of whom is former Evansville mayor Jonathan Weinzapfel.
Throughout her time in Evansville, Weinzapfel served as the assistant director of Continuing Education at the University of Southern Indiana and the Executive Director of Vanderburgh County CASA, or Court Appointed Special Advocates.
Weinzapfel notably spent 22 years as the Executive Director of the YWCA, where she launched several initiatives including a mentoring program for at-risk girls, a shelter program for women and their children, and transition housing for women in recovery. Weinzapfel’s passion for social justice was evident in her volunteer work with the League of Women Voters, United Way, and A Network of Evansville Women. She died July 26, 2017, at the age of 81.
Mattie Miller was Evansville’s first Black teacher before local schools were desegregated. Miller was born in Tennessee in 1938 and moved to Indiana in 1953 after marrying William Miller. In 1959, 21-year-old Miller landed her first teaching job at Lincoln High School, an all-black school in Evansville.
When Lincoln High School closed in 1962, Miller began teaching English at Harper Elementary School on Evansville’s East Side, a position that made her the first Black schoolteacher at a segregated school in Evansville. (The Evansville Vanderburgh School Corporation began desegregating schools under federal mandate in the early 1970s.) Miller then moved to teaching at F.J. Reitz High School in 1975 and stayed there for 10 years, after which she served as the assistant principal at Plaza Park Middle School and returned to Harper Elementary School as principal. In honor of her lifelong dedication to education, the elementary school’s auditorium now bears Miller’s name.
Miller directed the first federally funded “Right to Read” program at Glenwood Leadership Academy and retired from Harper in 2001. She was inducted into the EVSC Hall of Fame in 2010 and received the Indiana Sagamore of the Wabash and Leadership Evansville Lifetime Achievement Award. Miller is also involved with the Evansville African American Museum, at which her husband was curator and president — a position their son Kori now holds.
While growing up in Venezuela, Daniela Vidal earned a bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering from Universidad Metropolitana in Caracas before immigrating to the U.S. In the more than 20 years since she moved to Evansville, Vidal has blazed a trail for women and Latinas in the plastics industry. A master’s degree in business administration from the University of Southern Indiana gained her entry to management positions at large companies such as Procter & Gamble Latin America, Mead Johnson, GE Plastics, and Berry Global. Vidal then segued to education, teaching engineering and coordinating advanced manufacturing and industrial supervision degree programs at USI. At the time Vidal was appointed chancellor of Ivy Tech Community College’s Evansville campus in 2020, she was the vice president of operations at Vidal Plastics and had been with USI for more than 10 years, most recently as the director of Opportunity Development, and had set a goal of reaching out to diverse communities with the benefits of higher education.
Vidal is active in the Evansville community and was a founding member of HOLA, a Latino non-profit in Evansville. She received the 2009 Leadership Evansville (now Leadership Everyone) Celebration of Leadership Award for her community and neighborhood leadership. Vidal lives in Newburgh with her husband Alfonso and has three children.