According to Marsha Weinstein, there are over 2,400 historical markers in the state of Kentucky.
Sixty of them commemorate the lives and accomplishments of women.
A quick search of the database of historical markers in the state finds that Weinstein was probably being generous in her estimate.
Of all the public memorials and artwork in downtown Louisville, none are dedicated to women.
Unless you count the Happy Birthday Parking Lot.
You read that right.
The Happy Birthday Lot is catty-corner to the Frazier Museum. It was dedicated in 2002 to the Louisville sisters who wrote the world’s most-sung song. There are 17 spaces.
“I think when I heard the announcement, I stopped listening at the ‘Park’ part,” says Weinstein. “I didn’t hear the ‘-ing lot.’ I just assumed it was going to be a park.
“We can do better.”
And with her help, we will.
The “Happy Birthday Park” was granted a pocket of land by developer Bill Weyland back in 2011. It’s on Fourth Street and Chestnut, right next to the lot where his City Properties Group is gearing up to build its boutique hotel.
Weinstein has been working with Cynthia Torp, who founded Solid Light, a company that designs and plans museums and exhibits.
While they’ve received funds from some city council members and the Downtown Development Corp, Weinstein is now beginning to fund-raise in earnest. On April 15, the organization was granted 501c3 status. Now it’s time to raise $3 million.
Women’s history and girls leadership development are Weinstein’s twin passions. She’s a co-founder of the Elizabeth Cady Stanton Trust. She founded Louisville Girls Leadership. She has served on the national Board of the Girl Scouts and chaired the Nominating Committee for the League of Women Voters.
In the fall of 2012, the “The Patty Smith and Mildred Jane Hill Happy Birthday Park, Inc.” was selected as one of seven non-profits served by the 2013 Yum! IGNITES Louisville Challenge, the service learning component of the Leadership Louisville Center’s Ignite Louisville program. Thor program pairs teams of young professionals with local non-profits to “plan, execute and sustain new strategies for success,” according to the website.
“We were infused with energy, ideas and talent,” says Weinstein of the team. “Fresh blood. Fresh perspective.”
One thing that set this Ignite team apart was that they were working with a non-profit that was still in its infancy. In fact, the Ignite team “graduated” on April 17, just two days after the organization was granted its non-profit status.
The Ignite Team included:
- SteVon Edwards, Louisville Metro Department of Public Health and Wellness
- Nikki Francis, Yum! Brands, Inc.
- Michael Iacovazzi-Pau, Greater Louisville Inc.
- Justin Keeton, Messer Construction Company
- Josef Krebs, Actors Theatre of Louisville
- Amanda Price, Citi Cards
- Dan Rodriguez, United States Army
- Rebecca Weis, Young Professionals Association of Louisville (YPAL)/Stites & Harbison, PLLC.
The team helped Weinstein, her board and volunteers put together a business plan for the park. Also Rebecca Weis and Stites & Harbison helped the organization navigate the muddy waters of the copyright issues involving the song. (Time Warner owns it. They’ll let the park use it for a fee.)
Weinstein hopes to have an ongoing relationship with the Ignite team. At the very least, when the park is completed, they’ll have the satisfaction of knowing that they were there “at the beginning.”
But really, this isn’t the beginning for Weinstein; she’s been working on this since 2006.
In her mind, there are four key pieces to this park:
- It celebrates women’s history.
- It’s an economic development boon. Especially to a downtown that would like to see more families.
- It’s international (Weinstein would love to see the park have a kiosk that will play the song in different languages).
- And it’s a monument to vanguards of early childhood education.
You thought the Hill Sisters “only” created the world’s most popular song?
Mildred and Patty Hill, who grew up in the 1860’s and 1870’s, were two of five children in the Hill family, a progressive family from Anchorage dedicated to early childhood education and social improvement.
Their father helped found the Louisville Orphans’ Home Society, now known as Bellewood. Their brother Archibald Hill helped start the settlement house movement in Louisville and was the Head Resident at the Portland Neighborhood House.
Patty and Mildred Hill were early advocates of the kindergarten movement, first developed in Germany. The sisters worked together at the Louisville Experimental Kindergarten School and were called upon to demonstrate their progressive education techniques at the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair.
Patty was instrumental in founding the National Association Nursery Education, now the National Association For the Education of Young Children. She also helped create the Institute of Child Welfare at Columbia University’s Teachers College.
Do you remember those enormous, colorful, usually cardboard blocks you played with in nursery school and kindergarten? Those are called “Patty Smith Hill Blocks.” A key component to the Hill sisters’ teaching philosophy was nurturing children’s large motor coordination.
Also critical to the Hills’ philosophy: the importance of innovation and creativity, and the importance of play and song and dance.
“Theirs is a timely message for education for kids today,” says Weinstein. “They said, there are teachers who teach checkers and there are teachers who teach chess. We need more teachers who teach chess.”
And indeed, in the wave of backlash against the No Child Left Behind Act’s emphasis on test-taking, educators have once again turned to Hill-style progressive education philosophies.
Weinstein thinks this is the right time and the right place for the park. The Louisville Clock, aka The Derby Clock, is just down the street and embraces the same sense of whimsy and fun that she hopes that the park will.
Certainly more fun and whimsy than the parking lot.
Follow the organization’s progress on their Facebook page.
(Reporter’s Note: Calls and emails to Louisville’s Commission of Public Art were not returned. But a perusal of their Flickr slideshow of public art in Louisville yields fewer than 10 pieces of 91 designed at least in part by a woman. It also yields only four pieces of art that depict women. Only two of which are clothed. And none of which depict an actual woman who lived. There’s also one little girl and several statues of female animals. This is not meant to be serve as exhaustive research, but when someone from the city returns messages, we’ll update this post.)