Alta Live: Three Groundbreaking L.A. Women You Don’t Know but Should

Miriam Matthews, Dorothy Chandler, and Grace Simons: you might recognize their names, but you don't know the entirety of these women’s extraordinary contributions.

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In celebration of Women’s History Month, Alta Live dedicated this Wednesday to exploring the legacies of three Los Angeles women often ignored in history books: Dorothy Chandler, Miriam Matthews, and Grace Simons. “All three women were trailblazers; they were operating in these spaces where women’s activism or leadership was accepted, but they were pushing the boundaries of what they could do in those spaces of culture, of leisure, of education,” Andrea Thabet, a Los Angeles historian, said. Chandler, a philanthropist, revamped the Hollywood Bowl and led the campaign to build the L.A. Music Center, two successes that owe much to her persistence and fundraising tactics. Matthews used her position as a city librarian to preserve Black history and lift up the stories of Black authors. She went on to start a Black arts collective and represent up-and-coming Black artists. And Simons charted a new, environmentally conscious course for park projects in L.A. by getting the city’s plan to develop Elysian Park overturned.

Though historians are doing more to recognize the contributions of women in Los Angeles history and to decolonize their reading lists, the work is far from done, Thabet said. “If you’re a historian or you’re reading on L.A. history, you’re going to see women’s names sprinkled throughout, but you're not going to see a lot of biographies or a lot of time or pages dedicated to the women who built Los Angeles,” she said. “But Dorothy Chandler, Grace Simons, Miriam Matthews, these women, they built Los Angeles just as surely as William Mulholland and Harry Chandler and Eli Broad have.”

Check out these links to some of the topics Thabet and Spotswood brought up this week.

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