Any recognition of influential and famous American women should include Frances Perkins and rank her close to the top of such a list. Perkins was President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s secretary of labor during his entire time in office, from 1933 to 1945, and the first woman cabinet member in our history.
Although she is largely unknown to most Americans, many historians credit Perkins as being the architect and driving force responsible for the key achievements of FDR’s New Deal program during the Great Depression of the 1930s. Continue reading
During the first decades of the twentieth century, as women first agitated for and then began exercising the right to vote, many became intrigued by the political process and the possibilities for influencing public opinion. One of the topics of great interest and debate concerned the best use of forest lands in the Adirondack Park, and whether to uphold the protections of Article VII, Section 7, the forever wild clause of the New York Constitution. Although little has been written on this subject, I am convinced that women contributed significantly to this debate.
My source of information is a collection of letters saved by John S. Apperson, Jr., an engineer at the General Electric Company in Schenectady. By 1920, he had earned a reputation as a leading preservationist, and was fighting a vigorous campaign to protect the islands at Lake George. His connection to women’s organizations apparently got its start there, as he became friends with Mary Loines, from Brooklyn, New York, who owned land in Northwest Bay. Continue reading
Research projects sometimes take unexpected, but fascinating, twists and turns. I had reason a few years ago to look into the case of a woman called Madame Sherri. She is mostly known for an unusual castle-like house built for her in a rural area of New Hampshire–its ruins are now popular with hikers and lovers of the odd and mysterious.
My investigation dragged me far from New Hampshire–to the world of cabaret reviews in New York City, the vaudeville circuit, and “soldier shows” (popular during World War I, with Irving Berlin’s “Yip Yip Yaphank” being the most well-known). And, for good measure, toss in a scandal involving sex and blackmail. Continue reading
Three women’s suffrage activists, four educators, two musicians, an artist, a psychiatrist, and a writer. These are just some of the amazing careers led by North Country Women of Courage who will be the subject of the Patricia Harrington Carson Brown Bag Lunch program tomorrow, Thursday, March 20th at noon at the St. Lawrence County Historical Association at the Silas Wright House, 3 East Main St., Canton.
Brown Bag Lunches are free and open to the public. Bring your own lunch and enjoy a beverage and dessert provided by SLCHA. Continue reading
Helen Redmond’s life was that of a star, playing Broadway and touring the country for five years in the role of prima donna, but she hadn’t forgotten her family. In 1900, Helen’s mother, three brothers, a sister, and a nephew shared a Manhattan address with her. All were employed except for mom (age 64 and retired) and the nephew, who was in school. It was a far cry from 20 years earlier, when the single mother of seven toiled as a hotel servant and cook in upstate Vermont.
Clinging to her roots, and to escape the constant limelight and media attention, Helen occasionally visited her hometown of Port Henry, sometimes spending entire summers there, accompanied by her mother. Continue reading
The Adirondack Region of New York State is known for not only for its scenic beauty, but also for the strength and stubbornness of its people. This is especially true of its women. The early years of its history featured women who were particularly strong and resilient.
Phebe Cary was not only a woman, she was a full-blooded Abenaki. The story goes that at age 13 she was sold off by her father to William Dalaba. It is unclear if she was sold off by her father or whether William just paid her father a dowry. What is clear is that after William left money with her father, she was sent off – against her will – with a new husband to the 1857 wilderness of Bakers Mills, N.Y. Continue reading
The lives of the two Mrs. Boissevains of New York seem inseparable and incomparable. Both graduated from Vassar College, supported women’s suffrage, endured ill health, believed in free love, and attained popular fame. It is not surprising that they chose the same husband: the charming, witty, handsome Eugen Boissevain. Inez Milholland wed him on July 14, 1913, and after Inez died, he took Edna St. Vincent Millay as his bride on July 18, 1923.
Already known for “making suffrage fashionable,” Inez Milholland shot to fame as the herald atop a white horse at the head of the March 3, 1913, suffrage procession in Washington, DC. It was a shock to the world when a few months later the New York Times announced that Inez had met Hollander F. Eugene Boissevain aboard an ocean liner and married him in London. Continue reading
A Protestant revival movement, the Second Great Awakening (SGA), began in the 1790s in this country and lasted until approximately 1850. Consequences of this movement that its millions of adherents could not imagine are evident today and will continue to shape gender relations.
Most historians consider the SGA a reaction against the prevailing Enlightenment values of rationalism, skepticism, and secularism that were paramount in the aftermath of the First Great Awakening that occurred between 1731 and 1755. Continue reading
On March 13, 1906, at forty minutes past midnight, Susan B. Anthony died at the age of 86 in her bed on the second floor of the house at 17 Madison Street in Rochester, her home of 40 years.
At her request, much of the ceremonial mourning of the day was not observed: no shades were drawn, no black crepe hung. Only a simple wreath of violets was placed on the front door. Continue reading
Show biz can be heady stuff, and some things never change. Quirky stories and celebrities’ habits have long been the subject of great attention. Helen Redmond was certainly not immune to it, and as always, the attention was a press agent’s dream. Nothing is or was ever too silly for stars to indulge in.
In 1899, the latest fad was to walk one’s pet in public, using a harness (some even included a bit). In Helen’s case, the harnesses were “made of the finest silver chains, with tiny bells jingling at every movement.” She hired a boy to care for her three famous pets.
And why would any of that seem eccentric or excessive? Because the pets were turtles. Continue reading
On Thursday, March 13, enjoy the ambiance of the historic Rice House while you sip tea and celebrate the world of Jane Austen. Guest speaker, David Shapard will share fascinating facts about the clothing, architecture, landscapes, homes, and gardens in Austen’s novels, and will answer your most pressing questions. This event will take place at 6PM and is free and open to the public as part of the Institute’s Evenings at the Institute initiative.
Shapard has a PhD in European History from UC Berkley, and is the author of five books on Jane Austen, including The Annotated Pride and Prejudice, The Annotated Emma, and the recently published The Annotated Northanger Abbey. He has taught at several colleges and his specialty is the eighteenth century. He lives in upstate New York. Continue reading
The story of Charlotte Friend is a true New York story. Friend was a noted microbiologist who made important contributions to the study of cancer. She was an advocate for women’s rights and worked hard to improve the position of women in science.
Charlotte Friend was born March 11, 1921 in New York City, a city she loved. She received a Bachelor’s degree from Hunter College in 1944 and then entered the Navy, where she was assigned to help direct a hematology laboratory in California. She left the Navy in 1946 and began graduate work in microbiology at Yale University. By the time she received her doctorate in 1950, Dr. Friend already had a position in the laboratory of Dr. Alice Moore at the Sloan-Kettering Institute in New York City. She stayed in New York for the rest of her life. Continue reading
As the national debate over the extension of chattel slavery into the territories heated up in February and March of 1860, women’s rights advocates were storming the capitol in Albany demanding an end to what they felt was another form of slavery—wage slavery for married women.
Under the law in effect until March 20, 1860 in New York State, married women did not have legal control over any money they earned working for themselves or others. All of it belonged to their husbands! As Lucy Stone explained it to the National Women’s Rights Convention in 1853, “unless by cunning she can keep her earnings away from him, he can and does take them to pay the drunkard’s bill, and to squander upon abandoned women.”
According to women’s rights supporters, there were tens of thousands of these kinds of ne’er-do-well husbands, most of whom were cigar-smoking drunkards and/or womanizers, who paid their bills with money they took from their wives’ bank accounts without their permission. Continue reading
Celebrate Women’s History Month on March 21 and 22 with a program of stories and music by acclaimed Adirondack singer-songwriter Peggy Lynn and author/performer Sandra Weber.
On Friday, March 21 at 7:00 pm Peggy and Sandra perform at the Whallonsburg Grange Hall. On Saturday, March 22 at 6:30 pm at the Lake Placid Center for the Arts there is a reception to benefit the Adirondack History Center Museum followed by a performance at 7:30 pm. The Wild Spirits: Songs and Stories of Remarkable Adirondack Women program highlights the contributions and journeys of famous (and not so famous) women of the Adirondacks. Continue reading
Help this New York History Blog spread the word about the role of women in New York State history by contributing an essay for publication.
Essays are sought that focus on individual women, women’s groups, or relevant historic sites located in New York State. Historiography and commentaries on public history issues related to women’s history, are all welcome.
Essays should be about 750-1,200 words. Send your submissions via e-mail to editor John Warren. Include a short (three line) biography of yourself.
The Rensselaer County Historical Society (RCHS) is hosting a special event this Saturday, February 22nd commemorating the 150th anniversary of Kate Mullany’s historic formation of the Collar Laundry Union in Troy. The event begins at 11am at RCHS and includes a walk from RCHS to the Troy Farmers Market at 12pm and concludes with speeches at the Farmers Market at 12:30. This event is free to the public.
At the age of 23 Kate Mullany organized 300 of her fellow laundry workers to strike for higher wages and improved working conditions in the collar laundries. This Saturday, February 22nd, RCHS will commemorate Mullany’s creation of the 1st sustained female labor union in America’s history. The event begins at 11am at RCHS (57 Second St., Troy, NY) where the public will be invited to create strike signs in keeping with the historic celebration of the strike. Continue reading
Rochester is the epicenter of a great deal that’s related to Susan B. Anthony in New York State. When you enter the city, it’s an exhilarating experience to drive over the Frederick Douglass-Susan B. Anthony Memorial Bridge to reach downtown.
Rochester residents are well aware of where Susan B. Anthony (1820-1906) once lived. Get lost on any city street and say you’re trying to find the National Susan B. Anthony Museum and House at 17 Madison Street in the section of the city known as the Susan B. Anthony Preservation District. Many local residents are even willing to escort you there personally. Continue reading
The National Susan B. Anthony Museum and House’s annual major event, the Annual Susan B. Anthony Birthday Luncheon, will be held Wednesday, February 12, 2014, at the Rochester Riverside Convention Center.
The keynote speaker is Louise W. Knight, author, lecturer, and historian. The theme for this year’s luncheon is “Up and Doing,” inspired by a statement Susan B. Anthony once made as she called people into leadership and active citizenship: “We woman must be up and doing. I can hardly sit still when I think of the great work waiting to be done…” We may well include a surprise or two in the program this year to help the audience understand what Miss Anthony meant by “Up and Doing.” Continue reading
By the time Elizabeth Cady Stanton gave birth to her sixth child, Harriot Eaton Stanton, she had had plenty of practice. This winter baby would be her second daughter, but the first born in New York State’s frigid temperatures. It was January 24, 1856 and the Stanton family had resided in Seneca Falls and experienced its Januaries for almost ten years.
Within moments of Harriot’s birth, at home with a midwife as was the practice, Elizabeth forgot any ambivalence she might have felt about a child delaying her re-entry into the Woman’s Rights Movement. Clinging to the warmth of her fireplace, she discovered that she could not resist the allure of Harriot, whom she promptly dubbed Hattie. She told her closest colleague, Susan B. Anthony, “Well I have got out the sixth edition of my admirable work. Another female child is born into the world! Last Sunday afternoon, Harriot Eaton Stanton – oh, the little heretic thus to desecrate that holy day – opened her soft blue eyes on the mundane sphere.” Elizabeth wrote, “I am very happy that the terrible ordeal is passed and that the result is another daughter.” She joked that instead of giving birth to a baby, “I might have been born an orator before spring, you acting as midwife.” Elizabeth was nevertheless reconciled to waiting for her “latent fires to burst forth.” She admitted that Hattie was worth delaying her re-entry into the public world and “it would not be in vain that I am held back.” Continue reading
January 6 is Joan of Arc’s 602nd birthday. Not many historical figures, very few of them women, are celebrated 600 years after their birth. But the French teenager who led her country to victory after a century of war, changed its history, and was captured and killed by her enemies is an exception. Inspired by angels and saints, she has become an inspiration to many others, and New Yorkers are no exception.
When New York suffragist Inez Milholland, for example, led the women’s March for the Vote in Washington, DC in March 1913, clad all in white and astride a white horse, she didn’t overtly claim to be impersonating Joan of Arc. The electrifying figure she presented was called “the Herald” or simply “the Woman on a Horse,” an evocation of women in the West who already had the vote or a nod to the moral purity of American temperance leaders who frequently dressed in white. But everyone knew who she really was. Continue reading