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Great Women of Rock Center

By Karen HudesNov 10 2016

Women have made Rockefeller Center and NYC extraordinary from the beginning. Here we honor 16 pioneers in the worlds of art, journalism and entertainment, whose achievements inspire us more powerfully than ever.

Abby Aldrich Rockefeller – Born in 1874, the wife of John D. Rockefeller Jr. had a vision for Rockefeller Center as a haven for public art, and selected many of the artists whose murals, sculptures and mosaics define the complex. An avid collector with an eye for the avant garde, she advanced the culture of NYC, and the world at large, as co-founder of the Museum of Modern Art.

Gilda Radner – Part of the original cast of Saturday Night Live in the '70s, the wildly funny Radner originated such characters as Roseanne Roseannadanna, Emily Litella and Lisa Loopner, and influenced countless comedians who came after. Gilda's Club NYC, founded in her memory, provides support and education for cancer patients and their families.

Valerie Clarebout – The famous trumpeting angels that decorate the Promenade at Christmastime are the work of this innovative British sculptor, who began crafting figures from aluminum wire and brass—including trees, forest animals and snowmen—for Rockefeller Center in the 1950s. Her eight-foot-tall angels began their perennial run in 1975, returning each year to herald the holiday season.

Hoda Kotb – The co-host of the Today show has an irrepressible, uplifting spirit. With a background as a Dateline correspondent, she's also the author of the bestselling Hoda: How I Survived War Zones, Bad Hair, Cancer and Kathie Lee.

Louise Bourgeois – An internationally renowned sculptor, the Parisian-born Bourgeois created her Maman and Spiders installation for Rockefeller Plaza in 2001, a piece she said honored her mother. Her first retrospective took place at MoMA in 1982, and she also spent decades advocating as an artist for LGBT rights.

Sue Simmons – From 1980 to 2007, Simmons brought intelligence, personality and wit to NYC news as the co-anchor of Live at Five on NBC. Together with Chuck Scarborough, she set the record for longest-running anchor duo in New York history. She later co-anchored the 11 o'clock news until 2012.

Barbara Walters – The queen of the celebrity interview and creator of The View, Walters got her start at Today in the '60s. In 1974, she became co-host of the show, and later left for ABC to become the first female co-anchor in evening news.

Dorothy Inez Parker – The Rockefeller Foundation goes hand in hand with Rockefeller Center, and Parker—a doctorate-holiding botanist, librarian and author—served the organization from 1945 to 1970, helping to establish agricultural and medical libraries in Mexico, Colombia, India and other countries. She became associate director of the Foundation's Agricultural Sciences department in 1963, and continued to consult on its projects following her retirement.

Hildreth Meière – If you've ever admired the three medallions gracing the exterior of Radio City Music Hall, you know the Art Deco work of Hildreth Meière. A specialist in mosaics, she designed pieces that also adorn St. Patrick's Cathedral and Temple Emanu-el.

Rosemary Novellino-Mearns – Dancer and advocate Novellino-Mearns served as captain of the Radio City Music Hall Ballet Company in the 1970s. When the theater faced demolition in 1978, she organized to preserve the priceless landmark and won. Her book about it—Saving Radio City Music Hall: A Dancer's True Story—was published in 2015.

Tina Fey – Who's done more to move comedy into the 21st century than Tina Fey? The first female head writer on SNL, she mined her experience to create, produce and star in the outstanding 30 Rock. Along with myriad other accomplishments across media, including writing Mean Girls and authoring the bestselling Bossypants, she co-created the show Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt.

Carolyn Reidy – Since 2008, Reidy has been the president and CEO of Simon & Schuster, headquartered at Rockefeller Center. Among the powerhouse publisher's authors—Stephen King, Mary Higgins Clark, Annie Proulx, Ursula K. Le Guin, Frank McCourt and Hillary Clinton.

Soledad O'Brien – This Peabody Award-winning journalist worked as a field reporter for NBC Nightly News, based at 30 Rock, before making her name as a CNN anchor. In 2013 she founded Starfish Media Group, producer of the "In America" documentary series that she launched at CNN.

Bonnie Cashin – An early breakthrough came for this fashion iconoclast when she designed the costumes for the Roxyettes, as the Rockettes were first known. After her work was discovered by the editor of Harper's Bazaar, she became a major force at several fashion houses, and the founding designer of Coach in the 1960s. She's pictured above at the Channel Gardens, circa 1938.

Rachel Maddow – The thoughtful, agile, Emmy award-winning host of The Rachel Maddow Show on MSNBC first got into broadcasting by winning a contest on the Massachusetts radio station WRNX. An author as well as a nightly political commentator, she was the first openly gay news anchor in prime time.

Kate McKinnon – A whiz when it comes to off-kilter characters, this SNL star not only slays when it comes to the audience, but has been known to cause a cast-wide crack-up. Since joining the SNL cast in 2012, McKinnon has gone on to win two Emmy awards.

Photo courtesy of Rizzoli New York

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