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Chelsea Clinton speaks at launch event for women’s hall of fame

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Chelsea Clinton was the featured speaker at the Starr Women’s Hall of Fame luncheon Monday at UMKC. She spoke about the need for more positive role models for young women and her work with the Clinton Foundation, of which she is vice president.

The luncheon was held to celebrate the launch of the Starr Women’s Hall of Fame. The virtual hall of fame will commemorate influential women from the Kansas City metropolitan area.

The hall of fame was created in honor of Kansas City’s Martha Jane Phillips Starr. Starr died in 2011, just before her 105th birthday. According to a commemorative video shown at the luncheon, Starr is remembered on the UMKC campus for being one of the university’s first woman trustees and establishing the Women’s Council, which has funded over 1,700 women students through the Graduate Assistance Fund. The fund has distributed $1.4 million since its initiation in 1971. Starr was also the president of Kansas City’s Planned Parenthood, where, according to the video, research she endowed led to the birth control pill.

The hall of fame is funded by Starr’s legacy: the Starr Education Committee at UMKC and the Starr Field of Interest Fund at the Greater Kansas City Community Foundation, planning committee co-chair Curt Crespino said.

In her address, Clinton expressed support for the hall of fame, as she feels that recognition of female role models can lead to great success for young women.

“We need women, young women and girls to imagine themselves as the next Martha Jane Phillips Starr or the next Hillary Rodham Clinton,” she said. She received laughter and applause after invoking her mother’s name, to which she responded: “I am deeply and unapologetically biased towards my family.”

Clinton’s family connections were a large part of why she was selected to speak at Monday’s luncheon, Crespino said. According to stories Clinton told at the luncheon and Crespino told in a prior interview, Clinton’s mother, Hillary Rodham Clinton, met Starr at the 1995 World Conference on Women in Bejing. Starr funded a delegation of Kansas City women to attend this conference, where she also met Chelsea Clinton’s future mother-in-law, congresswoman Marjorie Margolies. Starr was so impressed with Margolies that she established a fund in her name in the UMKC Graduate Assistance Fund.

“Indeed, I … am not short on powerful female role models,” Clinton said.

Roberts said Clinton was also selected to appeal to a younger audience, who will hopefully be inspired by reading stories of influential Kansas City women.

“They see the wrongs in their own community and their own neighborhoods and want to feel empowered to make a measurable difference,” she said.

The sold-out crowd of 1,100 listened to various civic leaders speak in addition to Clinton: Mayor Sly James, Missouri Secretary of State Jason Kander and former Kansas City Mayor Kay Barnes.

The hall of fame’s nomination process began during the luncheon when co-chair of the planning committee Laurie Roberts explained the nomination criteria to the crowd.

In an interview before the event, Roberts described the type of woman she would like to see nominated for the hall of fame. She said nominated women should have lived in the 16 counties of the Kansas City metro at some point in their lives and should have, among other requirements, made a significant contribution to her community, elevated the status of women in her community and had a lasting impact on the community. The requirements, which can be found here, are purposefully broad and open to interpretation.

“We want to challenge people to think about the everywoman, not necessarily women of means,” Roberts said. “We really want this to be inclusive. We want to learn about people we didn’t even know about to begin with.”

The hall of fame will include historical details and records about each inductee. Roberts feels this part of the hall of fame is crucial, as historical data can sometimes be hard to find.

“To have that all in one place would be so helpful for people to research our ancestors and to understand how our community is the way it is and became the way it is,” she said.

The hall of fame website also includes a virtual butterfly garden, where users can submit stories about influential women in their own lives for $25. This fee will go toward maintaining the hall of fame, Crespino said. The garden serves to tell stories that may otherwise not be heard.

“The woman may or may not be nominated for the hall of fame,” he said. “Chances are they may not, and it’s an opportunity to continue to tell their story in a very powerful way.”

Crespino also noted that the theme of the butterfly garden was chosen to honor Starr’s love for butterflies. She funded the butterfly garden at Powell Gardens, he said.

The virtual nature of the hall of fame may change at some point in the future. Crespino said the planning committee is in early-stage talks with UMKC about some sort of physical tribute for each inductee on the campus. Eventually, he said, they may even consider a structure.

The nomination process runs through June 30, and inductees will be selected and announced at a date to be determined, Crespino said.

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