Award History
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Trailblazers: The History of the Professional

Dimensions Sacagawea Award

By Barbara Armstrong

In 1982, our community was a different place in many ways. Women leaders were less visible, and fewer were leading the way in government or in the private sector than we happily see today. Lee Dreyfus was governor, and none of our representatives to Congress were women, although Vel Phillips was breaking the glass ceiling as Wisconsin Secretary of State. Vocational schools barely focused on training women to enter the job market, and women achieved college degrees at much lower rates than men.

It was a challenging time to seek and find women role models in leadership positions. Few women leaders were part of the discussions on the future of companies and communities, and there was a general lack of awareness of women who had made a major impact in their area of professional expertise.


It was in that context that the leadership of Professional Dimensions created the Sacagawea Award. The award honors women of many dimensions who have made significant career accomplishments, and who are often trailblazers. In addition, award recipients are chosen for their commitment to community, support for the advancement of women, and embodiment of the trailblazing spirit of Sacagawea.


The award was named after Sacagawea because she epitomized the qualities sought in the award recipients. She was a mother and the only woman on the 1803-1806 Lewis and Clark expedition to find the Northwest Passage to the Pacific Ocean. A woman of many dimensions, Sacagawea distinguished herself throughout her life by her foresight, leadership, intelligence, common sense and adaptability.


Although her presence was initially resented by many of the men who were part of the expedition, Sacagawea overcame those objections, and proved to be a capable leader, interpreter, and guide. In spite of her crucial role in the Lewis and Clark expedition, Sacagawea's contribution went virtually unrecognized in the history books until the 1990s. Honoring women leaders using the symbolic connection to this strong, yet unrecognized leader seemed an appropriate and significant gesture in 1982 and it remains so today.


Another important expression of honor for the selected award recipients is the award itself. The award piece is an original commissioned piece of art created each year by a Wisconsin woman artist. A competition is held each year to select the woman artist who will produce these pieces. Two pieces are given to the women who are selected to receive the Sacagawea Award, and the third piece is placed into the Professional Dimensions Art Collection housed in the rotunda of the Sister Joel Read Center at Alverno College. This unique collection of art, inspired by the story of the Sacagawea’s leadership, is unique in the world and is owned by the Processional Dimensions Charitable Fund.

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Professional Dimensions is a membership organization that promotes the professional and personal growth of women through social and business exchange and through community participation.

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