SENECA FALLS, N.Y. – Inspired by Alan Shepard (search), the first American to journey into space, a 14-year-old from suburban Chicago wrote a letter to NASA in 1961 asking what she needed to do to become an astronaut. She got a curt reply: Girls are not being recruited by the nation's space program.
"It had never crossed my mind up until that point that there might be doors closed to me simply because I was a girl," recalled the letter writer, better known today as Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (search), as she was enshrined Saturday in the National Women's Hall of Fame, along with nine other inductees.
Honored with her were Maya Lin (search), who designed the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C.; Dr. Rita Rossi Colwell, who became the first female director of the National Science Foundation in 1998; and Betty Bumpers, a crusader for childhood immunizations who was Clinton's predecessor as Arkansas' first lady.
"I don't think there has ever been a better time to be a woman than in the United States of America in the 21st century," Clinton said in an interview.
The first known women's rights convention was held in 1848 in this upstate New York village. The hall, which opened in 1969, acclaims women who have made valuable contributions to society and especially to the freedom of women. In all, 217 women have been chosen by a national committee of judges.
Six women honored posthumously this year included pilot Blanche Stuart Scott, a barnstormer in the early days of aviation; Ruth Fulton Benedict, an anthropologist whose 1934 book, "Patterns of Culture," became an American classic; and Florence Ellinwood Allen, who in 1934 became the first female judge appointed by a president to a U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.