About the Exhibit
The exhibit “Charlotte Woman of the Year” came about after an examination of the WBT/WBTV collection in the Atkins Library Special Collections. The WBT radio station had its start in 1920 in the chicken coop of Fred Laxton’s house when he, with Earle Gluck and Fred Bunker, set up an amateur radio station. They incorporated in 1922 with the call letters of WBT. C.C. Coddington, owner of a Buick dealership, purchased the business in 1925 to promote his dealership, referring to the WBT call letters as “Watch Buick Travel.” Later it was owned by CBS and the Jefferson-Standard Life Insurance Company. Early on the programming was comedy shows, soap operas, sports programming and music, later changing to adult contemporary music and talk radio.
The collection was vast and was divided into six series: WBT radio station records, WBTV television records, Jefferson-Pilot Broadcasting Company records, Columbia Broadcasting System corporate records, photographs and a sampling of WBTV news film from 1959 to 1981.
We quickly found a part of the collection that we could all agree would make a wonderful online exhibit. WBT sponsored the Charlotte Woman of the Year contest from 1955 to 1989 and the collection contained press releases, programs, applications and photographs of these award recipients. We desired to know what qualifications and characteristics led these individual winners to be chosen to represent Charlotte each year. We found out that these were not ordinary women but were doctors, professors, city council members and state politicians who fought for the rights of women and minorities not only in Charlotte but across the state.
We organized the exhibit with a history of WBT and an overview of the Charlotte Woman of the Year Award. The next level was a page for each decade with a history of what was happening in Charlotte at the time. We then created a page for each of the chosen winners to highlight them and their accomplishments including the scanned items.
In the 1950s and 1960s a woman was often listed by her husband’s name; for example the 1959 winner Beatrice "Bea" Shapiro Wallas is only listed in the records as Mrs. David Wallas. This practice has left the women’s identities lost to the general public. We have decided in this exhibit to go against the standards of the time and give them back their voices by listing them with their given, maiden and married names.