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Meet the Extraordinary Women of Rockefeller Center

By Karen Hudes & Ashley ArtusSep 2 2022

At the core of every great metropolis are the places that capture its spirit. More than just iconic landmarks, these are the destinations where you can practically feel the steady heartbeat of the city, no matter the season. Few such places embody New York City quite like Rockefeller Center, and for that, we have a long list of influential women to thank. From the philanthropist and visionary Abby Aldrich Rockefeller to comedic powerhouses like Tina Fey and Gilda Radner, Rockefeller Center has long been home to inspirational women determined to move the needle forward.

Today, Rockefeller Center brims with style, commerce, entertainment, and connectivity as a result of these remarkable women. Their spirit of innovation is palpable in every building, plaza, and green space, bringing the grounds to life with the kind of vibrancy you can only find in NYC. Here, we honor 16 trailblazers in art, journalism, and showbiz, whose celebrated achievements at Rockefeller Center have helped make New York, well, New York.

Abby Aldrich Rockefeller

Born in 1874, Abby Aldrich Rockefeller 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. Read more about the life and work of Abby Rockefeller here.

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.

Photo courtesy of Rizzoli New York

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 8-foot-tall angels began their perennial run in 1975, returning each year to herald the holiday season.

Photo by Duncan Rawlinson

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 Center 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-holding 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

Reidy was the president and CEO of Simon & Schuster, headquartered at Rockefeller Center, from 2008 to 2020. Among the powerhouse publisher's authors are 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 forNBC 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.

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 and nightly political commentator, she was the first openly gay news anchor in prime time.

Photo courtesy of Walt Disney Television

Kate McKinnon

A whiz when it comes to off-kilter characters, the former SNL star not only slays when it comes to the audience, but she has been known to cause a cast-wide crack-up. She joined the SNL cast in 2012 and went on to win two Emmy awards during her time on the show.

This article was first published in The Center Magazine on November 10, 2016; it has since been edited and updated.

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