Mary Louise Rasmuson

Leader and Philanthropist

Mary Louise Rasmuson was born in 1911 in East Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Mary graduated with a bachelor's degree in education from the Women’s College at Carnegie Mellon University and went on to obtain a master’s degree in school administration from the University of Pittsburgh. She worked as a secretary, teacher, school administrator, and was one of the first two women awarded an honorary Doctor of Law degree from Carnegie Mellon University.

During World War II, she enlisted in the US Army, joining the Women’s Army Corps (WAC) as a private. In 1957, President Eisenhower appointed her director of the WAC, and she was reappointed in 1961 by President Kennedy. During her time in the WAC, she advocated for the integration of Black women in the Corps and worked to change laws that deprived military women of promotion opportunities and service credits. Mary rose to the rank of Colonel and was awarded the Legion of Merit for her contributions.

In 1962, she retired from the Army and moved to Anchorage, Alaska, with her new husband, Elmer Rasmuson. In Alaska, Mary and her husband championed philanthropy and community wellness. She served as head of the Municipality of Anchorage Historical and Fine Arts Commission and later as Chair of the Anchorage Museum Foundation. Mary gave 45 years of service on the board of the Rasmuson Foundation, to direct more than $200 million in grants to Alaska nonprofit organizations.

Mary passed away in her home in Anchorage on July 30, 2012, at the age of 101. She is remembered for her many accomplishments, but above all, as a barrier-breaking champion of women's rights and education.

We’d love to know about the powerful women in your life. Share your images and stories with us on Instagram and Facebook by tagging us (@anchoragemuseum and #ExtraToughWomenAK) and we’ll add them to our ongoing digital curation project. Stay tuned for more #ExtraToughWomenAK posts and come see the exhibition on view through Labor Day.

Photo credits: Elmer E. Rasmuson Papers, Alaska and Polar Regions Collections, UAF-2001-128-6; Ward Wells Collection, Anchorage Museum, WWC-5586-1; Elmer E. Rasmuson Papers, Alaska and Polar Regions Collections, UAF-2001-128-28

Scroll to top