Veteran Feminists of America


September 5, 1920 - December 29, 2014

PATRICIA HILL BURNETT of Detroit, founder of the Detroit NOW chapter and head of NOW's first International Committee  has left us at age 94. Patricia was  a  portrait artist who painted several famous women, including Betty Friedan, Betty Ford and Dame Margaret Thatcher. A major donor to VFA in the early years, she was active until the end of her life. Much loved, she will be  greatly  missed. 



Patricia Hill as Miss Michigan 1942. She was first runner-up in the Miss America pageant that year.


Patricia H. Burnett at the First
International Feminist Conference in Mexico 1975


Her work appears in galleries in the United States and in London, Paris, and Rome. She was commissioned to paint a 20-painting series of living women of achievement for the Women’s Hall of Fame in Seneca Falls.

In 2010 we posted this bio of Patricia Hill Burnett as we  celebrated her 90th  birthday. This October we are auctioning her beautiful portrait of Betty Friedan, which Betty had hanging in her apartment until her last days.  Patricia's portraits of great women include Ruth Bader Ginsburg,  Indira Gandhi, Joyce Carol Oates, Martha Griffiths, Valentina Tarashkova, Betty Ford, Margaret Thatcher and Corazon Aquino,  Her 20-painting series of living women of achievement is exhibited at the Women’s Hall of Fame in Seneca Falls


In 1969 Patricia Hill Burnett, an accomplished portrait painter, was asked by the man she was painting to please sign her initials to his portrait rather than her name, so no one would know a woman was the artist! Patricia said she glared at him and scrawled in huge letters at bottom of the painting PATRICIA HILL BURNETT. Then she picked up the phone and called Betty Friedan, whose book, The Feminine Mystique, had moved her greatly.

She told her story to Betty, who congratulated her and immediately named her chair of the non-existant Michigan NOW. Patricia went on to organize Detroit NOW and was president from 1969 to 1972.

A member of NOW’s national board, she chaired International NOW, convening affiliates from 21 countries. In 1972, she was appointed to the Michigan Women’s Commission and served four terms, two as its chair. She also chaired the National Association of Commissions for Women, and is the cofounder of the International Women’s Forum in Michigan. She additionally served as co-convener of the Michigan Republican Women’s Task Force.

Patricia's colorful background includes the title of Miss Michigan and runner-up to Miss America 1942, where she earned the title “Miss Congeniality,” which she most certainly deserves, as her feminist cohorts all agree. Noted for her art, her work appears in galleries in the United States and London, Paris, and Rome. She has painted not only her mentor, Betty Friedan, but Indira Gandhi, Joyce Carol Oates, Martha Griffiths, Valentina Tarashkova, Betty Ford, Margaret Thatcher, Corazon Aquino, and Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Her 20-painting series of living women of achievement is exhibited at the Women’s Hall of Fame in Seneca Falls.

Patricia was chosen to occupy a studio in the Scarab Club in Detroit, the first woman to be recognized by that all-male artists' club. She then served on its board of directors for two terms. She is a lecturer for the U.S. State Department and also serves on the board of the Detroit International Institute. She has been honored by many organizations. Northwood University recognized her in 1977 as one of the world’s Ten Distinguished Women. She was presented the Silver Salute Award for outstanding achievement in community leadership by Michigan State University in 1976; NOW Women chose her as Feminist of the Year in 1974. (Painting left of Betty Friedan by Patrcia Hill Burnett)

Patricia Hill was born in Brooklyn, New York, in 1920. Her parents separated when she was a baby, and until a teenager she grew up without many luxuries in a single-parent home in Toledo, Ohio. Later, a rich grandparent made their lives easier. When her mother married a well-to-do physician on the staff of Henry Ford Hospital, they moved to Detroit.

At the age of fourteen, she launched her artistic career by selling portraits for $25 in her home town. She graduated with a degree in Fine Arts from Baltimore's Goucher College and continued her graduate study at the Instituto d' Allende in Mexico and Detroit's Wayne State University.

After a brief unsatisfactory marriage to a surgeon, she wed businessman Harry Burnett. "Everyone thought I was blissfully happy. I had a nice husband, beautiful house, four children," she said. "A perfect Stepford wife, and then one day I realized how angry I was with the way society treated women." While her husband indulged her, he treated her in many respects like a child. She decided she'd had enough.

She read
The Feminine Mystique, and the rest is herstory.

Still full of life and enthusiasism today, Patricia is active in the community and busy painting portraits. At the moment she is painting Lisa Ederley from Kelly services. VFA joins her children, Bill, Barry, Terrill and Hillary, her eight grandchildren and the 130 friends who will be with her on September 5th in celebrating her remarkable life, and wishes her many more wonderful years.


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