Tag Archives: Women's History Month

Women’s History Month for 2021 at New York State Parks

Women’s history has played a prominent role in the story of New York State, and some of these stories can be told through State Parks and Historic Sites.

In honor of Women’s History Month in March, the falls at Niagara Falls State Park will be illuminated March 7 in the historic suffragist colors of gold, white and purple starting at 6 p.m., and continuing on the hour through 11 p.m. The colors were the symbol of the National Woman’s Party, which advocated for women’s right to vote in the early 20th century.

According to a 1913 statement by the union, “Purple is the color of loyalty, constancy to purpose, unswerving steadfastness to a cause. White, the emblem of purity, symbolizes the quality of our purpose; and gold, the color of light and life, is as the torch that guides our purpose, pure and unswerving.”

The purple, white and gold flag of the National Woman’s Party. (Photo Credit- National Museum of American History/Behring Center)

Women’s History Month originated as a national celebration in 1981 when Congress requested that President Ronald Reagan proclaim the week beginning March 7, 1982 as “Women’s History Week.” In 1987, Congress passed legislation establishing March as “Women’s History Month” and Presidents have issued annual national proclamations on the event since 1995.

Here in New York, State Parks events and programming will bring some of these stories to life include:

  • Jones Beach Energy and Nature Center, Jones Beach State Park:  The center, which explores how energy consumption shapes the natural environment, will feature a series of professional profiles of women involved in the conservation and renewable energy fields entitled “Women & the Green Economy.” Themes including marine conservation, coastal resilience, solar energy and power distribution will illuminate the roles of women in New York State and the nation.
  • Philipse Manor Hall State Historic Site, Yonkers: A tour of the Colonial-era mansion will explore the potential relationship between George Washington and Mary Philipse, daughter of the Lord of Philipsburg Manor and a Loyalist during the American Revolution, based on the 2019 novel “Dear George, Dear Mary” by author Mary Calvi. Guided tours start at 1 p.m. March 6, March 13, March 20 and March 27; attendance is limited to COVID-19 safety protocols. The event is free for children and Friends of Philipse Mantor Hall, $3 for seniors and students, and $5 for adults. Advance registration is available by calling (914) 965-4027.
  • Clermont State Historic Site, Germantown: A Facebook Live presentation and lecture entitled “Suffrage in the Hudson Valley” will focus on the fight for women’s rights that resulted in the passage of women’s suffrage in 1917 in New York State, and nationally in 1920 with passage of the 19th Amendment. Presented by Ashley Hopkins Benton, Senior Historian and Curator of Social History at the New York Museum, the event begins at 2 p.m. March 13. Registration is available here.
  • Washington’s Headquarters State Historic Site, Newburgh: A presentation on the life of Martha Washington by Parks interpreter Karen Monti will be available on YouTube starting at 2 p.m. March 21. It will be followed by a presentation of the 2021 Martha Washington Woman of History Award to Sue Gardner, a published author, deputy historian for the town of Warwick, and a reference/local history librarian at the Albert Wisner Public Library. The program can be located by searching YouTube for “Palisades Interstate Park Commission Television.” More information is available by calling (845) 562-1195.
  • Clermont State Historic Site, Germantown: Interpreters will share a variety of stories on past women and girls in a program outside at the site at 2 p.m. March 20, as well as on Facebook in the event of poor weather. Registration is available here.
  • Clermont State Historic Site, Germantown: A free Facebook Live presentation will be made 2 p.m. March 6 on the story of Serena Livingston, which includes her courtship with a famous writer, her unhappy marriage to a famous general, and her adventures in the Old West. Registration is available here.
  • Jay Heritage Center, Rye: A Zoom virtual event will be held 6 p.m. March 8 by award-winning historian and Wall Street Journal columnist Dr. Amanda Foreman for a behind-the-scenes look at her documentary, “The Ascent of Woman” – the inspiration for her forthcoming book,  ‘The World Made by Women: A History of Women from the Apple to the Pill,’ scheduled to be published by Penguin Random House in 2022. Currently, Foreman is a columnist for The Wall Street Journal bi-weekly ‘Historically Speaking’ and an Honorary Research Senior Fellow in the History Department at the University of Liverpool. She is a co-founder of the literary nonprofit, House of SpeakEasy Foundation, a trustee of the Whiting Foundation, and an Honorary Research Senior Fellow in the History Department at the University of Liverpool. Registration is available here.
  • Grafton Lakes State Park, Grafton: A presentation will be made on the story of Helen Ellett, who was the second female fire tower observer in New York State, working at the parks Dickinson Fire Tower between 1943 and 1965. Ellett’s work influenced the creation of the Grafton Fire Department. The March 14 event will be held at 10 a.m. until noon, and again from 1:30 to 4:30 p.m. Preregistration is required no later than 4 p.m. March 9, and can be made by emailing graftonlakessp@parks.ny.gov. Attendance is limited due to COVID-19 safety protocols. Check out this slideshow of Helen Ellett at work…

And there are numerous State Historic Sites and Parks with links to women’s history that are outlined below.

Ganondagan State Historic Site 7000 County Rd 41, Victor, NY 14564: The women of the Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) lived in a society that afforded them a level of equality and freedom centuries before similar rights would be given to other women in the United States. Haudenosaunee women of the Seneca, Cayuga, Onondaga, Mohawk, and Oneida chose their chiefs, owned and managed their own property, and held key political positions. When women in New York State began to organize to demand their rights, the Haudenosaunee provided a model of equality. Learn more here.

Caroline Parker Mount Pleasant, of the Seneca Wolf Clan, shown circa 1850 in an daguerreotype taken for Lewis Henry Morgan. (Photo Credit – New York Heritage Digital Collections)

Clermont State Historic Site1 Clermont Avenue, Germantown, NY 12526: Alida Schuyler Livingston was the matriarch of an influential early American family, but she was also a powerful businessperson in her own right who, along with her second husband, exerted significant political and economic influence in Colonial New York. She was part of a larger tradition of Dutch entrepreneurial women in the early colony that thrived thanks in part to the equal economic rights afforded to men and women under Dutch legal tradition. Learn more about her here and here.

Alida Schuyler Livingston. Photo Credit- Clermont State Historic Site.

Johnson Hall State Historic Site139 Hall Avenue, Johnstown, NY 12095: Known at different times of her life as Konwatsi’tsiaienni and Degonwadonti, Molly Brant was a Mohawk woman likely born sometime around 1736 and grew up near what is now Canajoharie, Montgomery County. By the age of 18, Molly was already beginning to participate in local politics and likely met Sir William Johnson, the royal English representative to the Native People of the Mohawk Valley, as she interacted with leaders in the area. Eventually, she and Johnson would become romantically linked and Molly would have eight children with him while living at his estate, Johnson Hall. She spoke her native Mohawk and dressed in the Mohawk style all her life and, after Johnson’s death, Molly would return to the Mohawk and lead as a Clan Mother during the turbulent Revolutionary War period. Learn more here.

A design for a 1986 Canadian postage stamp featuring an image of Molly Brant. (Photo Credit- National Park Service)

John Brown Farm State Historic Site 115 John Brown Road, Lake Placid, NY 12946: Abolitionist John Brown’s raid on Harper’s Ferry before the Civil War earned him a prominent place in history books, but the contributions of his daughter, Annie, have been overlooked for more than a century. Committed to the freedom of the enslaved, Annie served as a lookout for the conspirators leading up to the raid on an armory in Virginia, and was vocal in the shaping of her father’s legacy in public memory, speaking stridently against depictions of him as “mad.” Learn more here and here.

Annie Brown, daughter of John Brown. (Photo Credit- U.S. Library of Congress)

John Brown Farm remains as an historic site today in part due to the actions of another New York woman: Kate Field. Field was an American journalist, editor, outdoorswoman, and actress who helped to purchase the farm eleven years after the 1859 raid in order to preserve it “as a public park or reservation forever.” Learn more about her here.

Kate Field (Photo Credit- New York Public Library)

John Jay Homestead State Historic Site400 Jay Street, Katonah, NY 10536:Founding Father John Jay would serve New York as governor and the country as its first Chief Justice, but his daughters had a strong hand in managing his household and estates. Learn more about the Jay women here.

Jay Heritage Center 210 Boston Post Road, Rye, NY 10580: The Jay family also owned an estate in Rye, New York, where young John Jay was raised. The land remained in the family for generations and was vital in inspiring one of America’s first female landscape architects, Mary Rutherford Jay, John’s great-great granddaughter who began her practice at the turn of the 20th century. Learn more here and here.

Mary Rutherford Jay (Photo Credit- Jay Heritage Center Archives)

Lorenzo State Historic Site17 Rippleton Road, Cazenovia, NY 13035: The Federal-style mansion at Lorenzo looks out onto a garden designed in 1914 by Ellen Biddle Shipman, a woman pioneer of landscape design, to enhance her father’s garden layout with more formal perennial beds. In 1983, restoration was begun following that 1914 plan and today the garden and grounds are available to the public and are often used for wedding ceremonies and receptions. The Lorenzo grounds are open year-round. Plan your visit here.

Ellen Biddle Shipman in her home circa 1920. (Photo Credit- Wikipedia Commons)

Oriskany Battlefield State Historic Site7801 New York 69, Oriskany, NY 13424: During the Battle of Oriskany in the Revolutionary War, Oneida womanTyonajanegen (Two Kettles) accompanied her husband Han Yerry Tewahangarahken into battle, reloading his musket for him after he was wounded. She was known for her valor and her skills as a horsewoman, riding quickly to Fort Schuyler to warn of a coming attack. Learn more here.

National Purple Heart Hall of Honor – 374 Temple Hill Road Route 300, New Windsor, NY 12584: The National Purple Heart Hall of Honor has a mission to collect, preserve and share the stories of Purple Heart recipients from all branches of service and across all conflicts for which the award has been available. While there is no comprehensive list of Purple Heart recipients maintained by the government, the Hall maintains a Roll of Honor of recipients submitted by friends, family, and the recipients themselves. For the month of March, the Hall will feature 20 women recipients and additional women recipients on the site’s Facebook page.

Here is one such story, of U.S. Army Sgt. Cari Anne Gasiewicz, a native of Depew, Erie County. Sgt. Gasiewicz served two tours in Korea, where her aptitude for languages prompted her superiors to send to study Arabic at the Defense Language Institute Foreign Language Center. During Operation Iraqi Freedom, she served Iraq as an Arab language linguist with a military intelligence unit.

When her unit was being redeployed from Iraq to Kuwait, she volunteered to drive a supply truck rather than leave via aircraft. On the drive, her vehicle was hit by two I.E.D.s. (improvised explosive device) killing the 28-year-old  on 4 December 2004. In her honor, the Defense Language Institute, located at the Presidio of Monterey in California dedicated Gasiewicz Hall in her name. It is the first building there named for a woman.

Sgt. Carrie Ann Gasiewicz (Photo Credit- National Purple Heart Hall of Honor)

Schuyler Mansion State Historic Site32 Catherine Street, Albany, NY 12202: The success of the Hamilton musical has generated quite a bit of public interest in the Schuyler family history. Learn about Angelica Schuyler’s contributions to military intelligence on the patriot side during the Revolutionary War here. Learn about the stories of enslaved women at the mansion here. Tours of the restored mansion can be reserved in advance here.

Portrait of Mrs. John Barker Church (Angelica Schuyler), her son Philip, and a servant. (Photo Credit- Wikimedia Commons)

Bear Mountain State ParkPalisades Parkway or Route 9W North, Bear Mountain, NY 10911: Considered Colonial America’s first female botanist, Jane Colden (1724-1760) grew up on her family’s farm west of Newburgh. Orange County. After showing an early interest in plants, she went on to write her own Botanical Manuscript describing over 300 native flora. At the end of March, the park will unveil a hand-painted sign detailing Colden’s contribution to botany in the Hudson Valley. It will be located at the Jane Colden Garden at the park’s Trailside Museums and Zoo.

Staatsburgh State Historic Site – 75 Mills Mansion Drive, Road #1, Staatsburg, NY 12580: Ruth Livingston Mills, scion of the wealthy Hudson Valley Livingston family, was a dominating presence in the upper class social circles of the Gilded Age, entertaining from her grand Staatsburg mansion on the Hudson River in Dutchess County. Learn more here about a mysterious artist who painted the portrait of Ruth Livingston Mills and its connection to the suffrage movement for women’s rights.

The portrait of Ruth Livingston Mills. (Photo Credit- Staatsburgh State Historic Site)

Letchworth State Park Castile, NY, 14427: While preservation of the park’s scenic beauty and historic assets is the work of William Pryor Letchworth, his right hand in preserving “The Grand Canyon of the East” was his indispensable secretary, Caroline Bishop. She worked with Letchworth for 27 years, living at the Glen Iris estate with him and the rest of his staff and, after his passing, became the park’s first superintendent and Librarian/Curator of the park’s museum.

Letchworth also was the setting for the story of Mary Jemison, a Scotch-Irish colonial woman adopted by the Seneca during the French and Indian War. She later gained notoriety after writing a memoir of her life. After her death, her body was reinterred near the historic site of a Seneca council house, now within Letchworth State Park.

Statute of Mary Jemison at Letchworth State Park (Photo Credit- Letchworth State Park)

Saratoga Spa State Park – 19 Roosevelt Drive, Saratoga Springs, NY 12866: Grace Maguire Swanner graduated from Albany Medical College in 1933 and devoted much of her life outside of private practice to helping to preserve the park’s Lincoln and Washington baths. Dr. Swanner was named acting medical director of the spa in 1953, began a school of massage as a training facility for the spa, and  later wrote  a book detailing the geologic and sociologic history of the park called “Saratoga Queen of Spas”.  

Dr. Grace Maguire Swanner.

The State Parks Blog also has recent posts on women in New York State history, including Beatrice Mary MacDonald,  a World War I nurse who became the first woman to be awarded the Purple Heart; Annie Edson Taylor, a Finger Lakes native who became the first person to survive a plunge over Niagara Falls in a barrel; noted African American abolitionist and suffragist Sojourner Truth; and even anti-suffragists in New York who allied with efforts to deny them from obtaining the vote.


Cover Shot- NYS logo in the colors of the National Woman’s Party. (Photo Credit- National Park Service)


Post by Mary Patton, Historic Preservation Program Analyst, Division of Historic Preservation.

Remembering The Queen of The Mist

It is 1901 and the dawn of a new century. The Pan-American Exposition is going on in Buffalo, a world’s fair that was attracting people from all over the world, with many of those visitors taking train excursions to nearby world-famous Niagara Falls.

During the expo, visitation was running between 10,000 to 50,000 people daily at Niagara Falls Reservation State Park. And the attention of these crowds is exactly what Finger Lake native Annie Edson Taylor wanted to grab.

A 63-year-old widow and retired schoolteacher living in Bay City, Michigan, Annie was in financial straights at that point in her life. Sensing an opportunity in Buffalo, she went there with the idea to become rich and famous by doing something no one had ever done – going over Niagara Falls in a barrel.

People had been barrel-riding the rapids below the falls to much popular acclaim during a time when there were no rules in place for such dangerous stunts. Today, there are laws in place at the falls making it illegal for anyone attempting such actions, which since the 1950s have been subject to prosecution and substantial fine by both the U.S. and Canadian governments.

Inspired by the daring barrel-riders in the Whirlpool Rapids below the falls, Annie had her own barrel made of white Kentucky oak to her specifications by a local company.  Cushions, pillows and a harness were placed inside for protection. The barrel had a tube through a hole so air could be pumped in when the barrel was sealed.

First, the rookie daredevil decided she had to test it. So Annie sent out the barrel with a cat inside for a run over Niagara’s Horseshoe Falls on Oct. 18, 1901. When the barrel washed to shore and was opened, the cat emerged unharmed, boosting Annie’s confidence that she too could survive the 167-foot plunge.

Annie Taylor with her barrel and a cat, possibly the cat that went in the test run over Horseshoe Falls. (Photo Credit – U.S. Library of Congress)

On Oct. 24 – her 63rd birthday – Annie set out with her two assistants, William Holleran and Fred Truesdale, to Port Day on the U.S. side of the river that led to the rapids above Horseshoe Falls on the Canadian side. She had announced her intentions, and onlookers had gathered.

The daredevil had changed into more comfortable clothes – a lightweight blue skirt and blue blouse for her journey. Her assistants tied the barrel to a rowboat, making sure Annie was secured inside before closing the lid. Some air was pumped inside the barrel using a hose, and the men rowed into the river with the barrel in tow.  With the rope cut, the barrel floated off toward the roaring falls.

Annie and her two assistants soak the barrel prior to the trip to help seal it. (Photo Credit – Niagara Falls Public Library)
Annie goes into the barrel before the top is sealed. (Photo credit – Niagara Falls Public Library)
Onlookers are onshore as Annie inside her barrel is rowed into the river above the rapids. (Photo credit – Niagara Falls Public Library)
Annie comes ashore after her plunge, suffering only a few cuts and bruises. (Photo credit – Niagara Falls Public Library)

A few minutes later, several men waiting on shore drag the slightly beat-up barrel to the river’s edge on the Canadian side. They remove the lid to see how she has fared. And Annie is alive!

She gets out stumbling, with only minor injuries, for which she is brought back to the U.S. side and taken for medical treatment. Her stunt has worked, and she has made history as the first person to ever go over Niagara Falls in a barrel and survive.

Now, she must have believed her quest for fame and fortune would be rewarded. Making an appearance at the Pan-Am Expo’s last day on November 1 to sensational newspaper headlines, Annie posed next to a barrel, most likely labelled, “Queen of the Mist.”

After this feat, Annie made her home in Niagara Falls hoping to cash in. While she had some immediate fame, fortune was to elude her. She found little success on the lecture circuit and even lost her barrel after it was stolen by her manager.

Rather than becoming rich, she was able only to eke out a meager living selling postcards and other souvenirs from a stand in front of a store near the falls. She never attempted any other stunt.

Indigent in her old age, Annie ended up becoming a resident of the County Home in Lockport. She became blind and passed away two decades after her famous plunge at age 82.

The people of Niagara Falls raised funds to help provide Annie with a burial plot at the historic Oakwood Cemetery in a section called “Stunters’ Rest” for daredevils who have braved the falls, either successfully or unsuccessfully, according to an entry on the cemetery in the National Register of Historic Places.

Other stunters buried there included Matthew Webb who died in 1883 in an attempt to swim the Niagara rapids and Carlisle Graham, who survived a trip through the rapids in a barrel in 1886.

While riches eluded Annie in life, her legacy from a bygone era of daredevils lives on. Her records as the first and oldest person to survive a trip over the falls remain intact, nearly a century after her death.

Annie Taylor’s final resting place in the Stunters’ Rest section of historic Oakwood Cemetery in Niagara Falls. (Photo Credit – Carol Rogers)

While Niagara Falls are essentially the same as they were in Annie’s time, Niagara Falls Reservation State Park, created in 1885 as the oldest state park in the United States, has undergone major improvements as part of the NY Parks 2020 initiative . The park remains open during the COVID-19 pandemic. Click through this slideshow to take a look…

Cover Photo – Annie Taylor on the street in Niagara Falls at her souvenir stand. (Photo Credit – Niagara Falls Public Library)

Post by Carol Rogers, Environmental Educator, Niagara Region Interpretive Programs Office, NYS Parks

Sources

Niagara Falls Public Library History Department, Niagara Falls

NYS Parks, Niagara Region, Interpretive Programs Archives

Oakwood Cemetery, Niagara Falls

Do You Know Sojourner Truth?

There are historic figures whose names we sometimes hear but whose story may have grown hazy. Sojourner Truth too often falls into that category.

Her famous “Ain’t I A Woman” speech of 1851 may still be familiar to a few, but unfortunately, the popular version has her speaking in the voice of the Deep South where she doesn’t belong. In fact, she’s a native New Yorker from the Hudson Valley.

 A bronze statue of this famous 19th century African-American abolitionist and women’s rights advocate is being installed this month at the western entrance to the Walkway Over the Hudson State Park in Ulster County, so this is a good opportunity to get to know Sojourner Truth better.

The statue of Sojourner Truth that is being unveiled at Walkway Across the Hudson State Park.

She was born enslaved in 1797 to James Baumfree (alternatively spelled Bomefree) and Elizabeth ‘Mau-Mau Bet’, enslaved parents who were owned by a Dutch family in Esopus, Ulster County. Isabella, as she was named then, grew up speaking Dutch.

Some of the worst treatment she received as an enslaved teen came at the hands of her second owner because she didn’t speak or understand English, and he didn’t speak or understand Dutch. She bore the scars on her lacerated back, the punishment she received as a result of this language barrier, for the rest of her life. Later, she displayed these marks during her talks as a sign of the common mistreatment the enslaved received. Even after becoming fluent in English, contemporaries noted that she spoke with a Dutch accent, not a Southern one as a later popular account of her famous 1851 speech portrays.

I have as much muscle as any man, and can do as much work as any man.

I have plowed and reaped and husked and chopped and mowed, and can any man do more than that?

I have heard much about the sexes being equal; I can carry as much as any man, and can eat as much too, if I can get it.

Portion of Sojourner Truth’s “Ain’t I A Woman?” speech to the Woman’s Rights Convention in Akron, Ohio, as reporter on June 21, 1851, by The Anti-Slavery Bugle, of Salem, Ohio. A version published more than a decade later had her speaking in Southern voice.

Despite her low birth status, Sojourner Truth became one of the leading voices for human rights and universal suffrage in the 19th century. Her life as an itinerant preacher working on behalf of the enslaved, newly freed, and women, especially Black women, left a legacy that has kept her in the public consciousness.

Her birth, two years before New York’s Gradual Emancipation Act took effect on July 4, 1799, would have her remain enslaved well into adulthood. Her owner John Dumont struck a deal with Isabella and agreed to free her in 1826. After receiving a life-threatening injury while working in his fields, she required time to heal. Dumont used the healing time as justification to renege on his promise of freedom. In retaliation, she leaned upon her trust in God, and “…walked away by daylight” to find liberty, taking her youngest daughter Sophia with her.

This map shows where Sojourner Truth began her walk to freedom in Esopus, Ulster County, (pin on the right) westward to Marbletown (pin on the left).


This bold journey by the 29-year-old was the first of several she would make in her life. After walking many miles, she reached a settlement at Marbletown headed by Quakers, who were known anti-slavery abolitionists. A man there directed her to a farm owned by Isaac Van Wagenen, who held no enslaved people and had joined Quakers and Methodists working for the emancipation of all the enslaved. Van Wagenen paid $25 to Dumont for Isabella and her daughter, then freed her, allowing her to work off the cost as a domestic for the household.

While working for the Van Wagenen’s, Isabella faced her second tribulation. The Gradual Manumission laws in New York restricted the sale of enslaved children out of the state, lest they not be freed at the appointed time. Her young son Peter, through a series of twists and turns, was illegally sold and taken to far-off Alabama, from which he might never return. Upon hearing the news, Isabella ran to the wife of her former owner, who had orchestrated the sale, but was firmly rebuked. Isabella reached out to others, all of whom made light of her frantic state over her missing child. Realizing how others perceived her plight, she called upon God and proclaimed calmly that she would have her son back.

Walking the road, she happened upon a man who directed her to some Quakers, assuring her they would help. Not only did they provide lodging for her that night, they provided money to press her complaint in court. In 1828, Isabelle won her son’s return _ marking one of the first legal cases where an African-American woman prevailed in court against a white person.

The judge in the case declared that the “boy be delivered into the hands of the mother—having no other master, no other controller, no other conductor, but his mother.” It was to Isabella’s horror that when alone with her son, she discovered he now bore scars from being physically abused during his distant enslavement.

From Ulster County, Isabelle moved to New York City, where she worked as a domestic for people involved in the anti-slavery movement. It is during this time that she began her training in public speaking. Illiterate throughout her life, during her time in New York City, she increased her knowledge of the Bible, listening intently during Bible study. She believed strongly in the idea of everyone having a direct relationship with God and leaned heavily upon hers. Like many abolitionists she became known for her radical and anti-cleric religious views. More of a spiritualist than a traditional churchgoer, Truth often spoke of being abused by ‘Christians,’ many of whom strongly supported slavery and participated in mob violence against blacks and white members of anti-slavery groups.

During her time in New York City, she worked, saved money and opened a bank account, reunited with a brother and sister who had been sold as children, won a court case for slander, and grew as a preacher, speaking out on the street and at anti-slavery gatherings.

But by 1841, divisions within New York’s abolitionist community, the rise of the pro-slavery Democratic party and her son Peter’s death at sea while working as a sailor, pushed her onward. Heeding inner divine guidance, she changed her name from Isabella Baumfree to Sojourner Truth in 1843 and headed east out of New York City. She traveled the road to Brooklyn, then out to the Long Island, into Connecticut and ultimately reached Massachusetts, speaking ‘truth’ to hundreds along the way about the inhuman practice of enslavement and human rights. Her speeches were well received and comments about her talks appeared repeatedly in newspapers across the region.

Her strong desire to be treated as an equal manifested itself not just in her teachings on tolerance, but her desire to live what she preached. The early 19th century saw waves of religious and social reform movements sweeping through the northern part of the U.S. Many within the anti-slavery movement believed strongly in equality, prompting Abolitionist and other religious reformers to establish utopian communities that foreshadowed the communes of the 1960s. One of the early examples was the Northampton Association in Northampton, Massachusetts, which Sojourner Truth joined in 1844.

The Narrative of Sojourner Truth, the story of her life, was dictated to her friend Olive Gilbert during their time together at Northampton. According to Professor Margaret Washington, a noted scholar on Sojourner Truth, and author of Sojourner Truth’s America, “…embedded in Northampton was a commitment to revolutionize civilization.” Frederick Douglass once commented that “The Northampton air was full of “isms…Grahamism, mesmerism, Fourierism, transcendentalism, Communism and Abolitionism. But it was to be commended because of its deep commitment to emancipation.”

The Northhampton community was home to many involved in the anti-slavery movement. A mix of farmers, artisans, clerks, teachers, ministers, intellectuals, and other professionals, it reflected the equality that Sojourner longed to see in America. While in residence Sojourner worked in the laundry, but otherwise spent her time traveling the region preaching and teaching on civil rights, abolition and suffrage. It was her plan that the Narrative, along with photographs of herself, which she had inscribed with the famous words, “I sell the shadow to support the substance,” would provide an income to support her vision that many women didn’t have.

“I sell the shadow to support the substance.” — Sojourner Truth. Carte de Visite, circa 1864, in the collections of the Library of Congress (http://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/97513239/)


The stirrings of the coming Civil War took her from Massachusetts to Washington, D.C., where during the war she recruited men for the Union Army, and later worked for the Freedmen’s Bureau, helping to feed thousands of newly freed enslaved. Her awareness of their plight, and the endless need for work and sustenance moved her to the realization that without land of their own the freedmen would not prosper. This began her work on petitioning for space within the territory of Kansas.  With the end of the war she returned to the road, again focusing on universal suffrage and women’s rights.

But support for all the disenfranchised in the country wasn’t there. It became increasingly clear that a choice had to be made between voting rights for Black men or women, but both would not succeed at once. The ‘race or gender’ struggle created a schism within the suffrage movement that was being led by Elizabeth Stanton and Susan B. Anthony, who wanted to see white women gain suffrage first. Their public comments and involvement with strong pro-slavery Democrats pushed many long active suffrage supporters like Sojourner Truth and Fredrick Douglass to distance themselves.

Following the passage of the 15th Amendment which gave voting rights to Black men (but not women regardless of race) in 1870, Sojourner moved to Battle Creek, Michigan, and returned to the women’s movement. Leaving behind the animosity of the past, she and Douglass again joined forces with Stanton and Anthony to push for voting rights for women until failing health caused her to retire from public life. On November 26, 1883, the 86-year-old Sojourner Truth died at her home in Michigan. The national adoption of women’s suffrage was still four decades away.

Her popularity as a long standing, dynamic public speaker on human rights and suffrage, someone often quoted or referenced in newspapers and other periodicals of the time, brought hundreds to her funeral. Sojourner Truth’s life reflected her deep and abiding belief that justice for all would someday come.  The shadow of her legacy is deep and abiding, and reflects a journey toward equality that she knew would continue.

As she wrote, “I don’t expect I will to live to see it, but when this generation has passed away, there will be a grand change.”   


Cover picture of Sojourner Truth: Credit Wikipedia Commons; Wood, Norman B., “White Side of a Black Subject,” (1897)

Post by Lavada Nahon, Interpreter of African American History, state Bureau of Historic Sites

Sojourner Truth Resources

Web based

The Sojourner Truth Project

Offers critical analysis of Truth’s famous Ain’t I a Woman speech, dispelling the inaccurate use of southern dialect in the later transcription and focusing on the earlier transcription of the speech which was more true to her northern Afro-Dutch roots.

Sojourner Truth – Identifying Her Family and Owners

Information about Sojourner Truth’s family and the slave holders associated with them from the New York Slavery Records Index.

This Far by Faith – Sojourner Truth

This PBS series highlights the spiritual lives of historic figures and provides details about Sojourner Truth’s religious beliefs, spiritual life and ministry.

Narrative of Sojourner Truth; a bondswoman of olden time, emancipated by the New York Legislature in the early part of the present century; with a history of her labors and correspondence drawn from her “Book of life.”

This work includes several important texts about Sojourner Truth’s life, including a dictated autobiography and some correspondence. Full text transcript available via PDF.

Selected Books

Grigsby, Darcy G., Enduring Truths: Sojourner’s Shadows and Substance (2015).

Mabee, Carleton and Mabee, Susan Newhouse, Sojourner Truth: Slave, Prophet, Legend (1993).

Mandziuk, Roseann M. and Pullon Fitch, Suzanne Sojourner Truth as Orator: Wit, Story, and Song (1997).

Gilbert, Olive, The Narrative of Sojourner Truth (1850)

Painter, Nell Irvin Sojourner Truth: A Life (1997).

Schmidt, Gary D. (illustrated by Daniel Minter), So Tall Within: Sojourner Truth’s Long Walk Toward Freedom (2018) [children’s book].

Stetson, Erlene and David, Linda, Glorying in Tribulation: The Lifework of Sojourner Truth (1989).

Washington, Margaret, Sojourner Truth’s America (2011)

Front Line Nurse: A Tale of Sacrifice

As the Revolutionary War was drawing to an end, General George Washington wanted an award that recognized merit in the common soldier. So, he created the Badge of Military Merit _ the precursor to the Purple Heart _ while at his Newburgh headquarters in the Hudson Valley.

It was more than 150 years later when a New York resident and immigrant became the first woman to receive the Purple Heart for suffering wounds in wartime. And she was a nurse, a profession that has again finds itself at risk in the front lines during the current COVID-19 pandemic.

One night in August 1917 during World War I, a German aerial bomb exploded at a military field hospital in Belgium. It was about four miles behind trenches where hundreds of thousands of British, French, Belgian and German troops were fighting the Third Battle of Ypres, also known as Passchendaele.

Metal shrapnel ripped through a tent at Casualty Clearing Station #61, where 36-year-old U.S. Army nurse Beatrice Mary MacDonald was rising from her cot to start her shift caring for wounded Allied soldiers. Jagged shards struck her face, damaging her right eye so badly that it later had to removed by doctors.


Beatrice Mary MacDonald in 1905 after completing her nurses’ training.

Although serving in the U.S. Army Nurse Corps, MacDonald was a native of Canada, where she grew up in a large family on Prince Edward Island. She had come to New York to get her nursing training in 1905 and chose to live there afterward to pursue her career. When war came, she volunteered for the American war effort. She was part of a unit organized by Presbyterian Hospital, now part of New York-Presbyterian Hospital.

Beatrice Mary MacDonald in her military uniform after recovering from her wounds.

After a six-week recovery from her injury, Macdonald returned to duty serving in military hospitals in France and Belgium. “I’ve only started doing my bit,” she said, according to material from her wartime scrapbook, which is now in the collection of the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard University.

In her scrapbook, the young nurse described her training to deal with one of the horrors of the battlefield _ poison gas. That included “. . . entering chambers containing a certain amount of Phosgene and other gasses, in order that we should be able to recognize them in case of an attack, and to become adept in adjusting our gas masks in less than ten seconds.”

She kept photographs of the tent where gas casualties were treated, including a shot of one area that was set aside for “hopeless cases.”


A gassed soldier being treated as the military field hospital where Nurse Beatrice Mary MacDonald was stationed. (Photo Credit- Ann Fraser Brewer papers, Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, Harvard University)

The area at the military hospital set aside for the “hopeless cases” of gas attacks. (Photo Credit- Ann Fraser Brewer papers, Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, Harvard University)

After the war ended in 1918, MacDonald served with Allied forces in Germany until returning to the U.S. There, she resumed living in New York City to continue her profession, and later served as director of the Pennsylvania Hospital School of Nursing for 23 years until her retirement in 1956.

The war had been over for years when MacDonald received her Purple Heart in 1936, four years after the award has been reestablished under an order by President Herbert Hoover. The modern award was meant as a tribute to Washington’s original award, which he represented with a cloth or silk purple heart.

In authorizing the Purple Heart, the award was made retroactive to living World War I veterans like MacDonald, who was among thousands of male soldiers who subsequently applied for and received the award.

MacDonald received numerous awards in recognition of her bravery and is perhaps one of the most highly decorated women of World War I. Her commendation for the Distinguished Service Cross states:

“It is interesting to note that this cross is to be conferred upon a woman and a nurse. This war has, of course, taken the nurses, who are the ministers of mercy, up to the very front lines of battle, and because of the carrying of the war into the third dimension the airplane has, of course, made their task more perilous.”

MacDonald died in 1969, at age 88, in a nursing home in White Plains, Westchester County. MacDonald received a full military funeral at Long Island National Cemetery in Suffolk County.

MacDonald is one of many stories found at the National Purple Heart Hall of Honor in New Windsor, Orange County.  Opened in 2006, it is the first facility in the nation dedicated to the estimated 1.8 million recipients of the Purple Heart, which is awarded to American military personnel who have been wounded or killed by enemy action.

This season, the facility was is temporarily closed to undergo a $17 million expansion to add nearly 7,000 square feet of new and refurbished exhibit space, with an increased emphasis on stories of individual award recipients.

***UPDATE***The expanded Purple Heart Hall of Honor reopened on Veterans Day, 11 November 2020. ***UPDATE***

Other famous Purple Heart recipients include President John F. Kenney, and U.S. senators John McCain, Bob Dole, Tammy Duckworth and Daniel Inouye.

Although the Hall of Honor is now closed, the online database can be used to explore the stories of Purple Heart recipients like MacDonald and others. Purple Heart recipients or families of recipients can enroll in the database. Enrollment is voluntary and more information on that can be found here.

The expansion project will incorporate integrated audio-visual and media presentations, as well as museum-quality casework for each area with interpretive graphics, locally controlled lighting, touch-screen interactive monitors, and multiple large-format graphic displays. Once completed, the Hall will feature new exhibits that tell stories about joining the service, the day of the incident, field treatment and evacuation, the changing nature of warfare, the consequences of war, road to recovery and the ultimate sacrifice. The expanded exhibits will include more personal stories, interactive displays, and artifacts that highlight the experiences of featured Purple Heart recipients.

Currently, the online Roll of Honor database represents Purple Heart recipients from all 50 states, Washington, D.C., Puerto Rico, Guam, Samoa and the Philippines.


Cover Photo- U.S. Army Nurse Beatrice Mary MacDonald in the ruins of a French town. All photographs from NYS Parks unless otherwise noted.

By Brian Nearing, Deputy Public Information Officer, NYS Parks


COMMON MISPERCEPTIONS ABOUT THE PURPLE HEART

George Washington created the Purple Heart: FALSE

General Washington created the award called Badge of Military Merit in 1782. It was a heart shaped piece of cloth or silk. It was to be awarded for a “singularly meritorious act”. It all but disappeared after the American Revolution. It was never referred to as the “Purple Heart” in Washington’s time. That language was used in General Order #3, establishing the Purple Heart award in 1932.

All casualties receive the Purple Heart: FALSE

Only those casualties resulting from enemy action are eligible for the Purple Heart. “Non-hostile” injuries or deaths (e.g. disease or accidents)  are not eligible. The injury must require medical attention, be treated by a medical professional and documented. Numerous instances have occurred where the award was not made due to clerical errors, confusion after a battle or lack of proper documentation.

If you are wounded you automatically get a Purple Heart: FALSE

If the wounding was caused by the enemy, required professional medical attention and was documented, then the individual is eligible and should receive the award. However, there is a “paperwork process” that must be completed. Also, from 1932-1942 the majority of recipients had to apply for their awards as they were WWI (and earlier wars) wounded veterans, and therefore no longer in the military.

General Douglas MacArthur received the 1st Purple Heart: FALSE

While General MacArthur did sign General Order number 3 creating the modern Purple Heart on 22 February 1932, he did not apply for his Purple Heart until July 1932. By that time many WWI wounded veterans had applied for and received their awards (including the 136 veterans at the Temple Hill Ceremony held on the Grounds of what is now the Hall of Honor, 28 May 1932). General MacArthur’s medal however, was numbered “1”

The Government has a list of all Purple Heart recipients: FALSE

There is no list of Purple Heart recipients maintained by the Federal Government. The information is found on the record of the individual, or in copies of General Orders. This information has never been extracted to generate a list of all recipients.

Those wounded or killed in all wars are eligible for the Purple Heart: FALSE

When the award was created in 1932, it was open to any living veteran who felt that he or she was qualified. This resulted in a small number of recipients from the American Civil War and Spanish-American War. However, current regulations limit the award to those killed or wounded after 5 April 1917.

You have to be in combat to receive a Purple Heart: FALSE

The term “enemy action” has a much wider application than traditional combat. Changes in the regulations now recognize: injury or death while a prisoner of war; certain instances of friendly fire; as well as considering international and specific types of domestic terrorist acts.

Lt. Annie G. Fox was the first women to be awarded the Purple Heart: FALSE

Lt. Fox was the first known woman to receive a Purple Heart during World War II. For many years it was believed that she was the first female recipient. However (as you now know), Beatrice Mary MacDonald, an Army Nurse during World War I was wounded on 17 Aug. 17, 1917, when German planes bombed her hospital. The resulting wound caused her to lose her right eye. As with all other WWI veterans, she had to apply for her Purple Heart (Remember there was no Purple Heart prior to 1932). She was officially awarded her Purple Heart Jan. 4, 1936.

The first 136 Purple Hearts were awarded May 28, 1932 at Temple Hill, now the site for the National Purple Heart Hall of Honor: FALSE

Purple Hearts had been awarded prior to May 28, 1932. We know of one Civil War veteran who received his in April 1932. One of the Temple Hill day recipients also received his in late April and was formally awarded the medal at the Temple Hill Day ceremony.


The Artist that Didn’t Exist: Glamony, Flameng, and the Portrait of Ruth Livingston Mills

Staatsburgh State Historic Site (Staatsburgh) is the former country estate of Ogden and Ruth Mills, members of the wealthiest and most elite society in the Gilded Age (1870-1900.)  Located directly on the Hudson River in the mid-Hudson Valley, the site includes a 79-room mansion, designed gardens, and a farm with many outbuildings that was a major employer in the area. The Millses were in residence in the fall, when they would entertain high society guests each weekend, assisted by a staff of 24 servants within the house. Modern day visitors to Staatsburgh see the mansion furnished and decorated as it was for these lavish affairs.

One of the most notable objects in the collection is a very large oil portrait of Ruth Livingston Mills, painted in 1909, which formerly hung in the ballroom of her New York City mansion. During the Gilded Age, it was standard for elite society women to have a glamorous portrait made by a fashionable artist. For decades, the portrait of Mrs. Mills was believed to have been painted by an artist named “Glamony” – a conclusion that seems to be drawn from the hard-to-read artist signature. For a long time, no information was found about this artist.

Signature
At first glance, the signature on Mrs Mills’ portrait looks to read: François Glamony New York 1909, photo by State Parks

Recently, a State Parks staff member conducted online research and found a more promising lead on the portrait artist in a database of the Library of Congress, which attributed the portrait to François Flameng.  Googling Flameng immediately locates his biography along with countless examples of his paintings. Some of Flameng’s portraits have signatures very similar to the one at Staatsburgh. They also have clear stylistic similarities to Ruth’s portrait, including a soft and vague background with far more detailed attention to the trappings of wealth and status, including clothing, jewels and hairstyle. The brushwork of Flameng’s portraits also matches that of Ruth’s portrait.

One of Flameng’s most notable portraits was that of Queen Alexandra, wife of England’s King Edward VII.  Painted in 1908, the layers of chiffon and tulle surrounding the queen give her an ethereal quality.

Queen Alexandra_[Public domain], via Wikimedia
Queen Alexandra, Portrait by François Flameng, 1908, access via Wikicommons
Ruth Mills aspired to be the “queen” of American society, so it makes sense that she would have her portrait made by an artist who had just painted the Queen of England the year before.  Ruth’s sister Elizabeth and sister-in-law Elizabeth both had close connections to England’s royal family and the Millses had attended functions with the royal family. Connections to European royalty were highly prized by American elites aspiring to a quasi-aristocratic status. The Millses’ daughter, Beatrice, married the Earl of Granard in the same year that Flameng painted Ruth’s portrait – a social coup for the family.

Identifying the artist of Ruth’s portrait allowed further research, including where the painting had been exhibited. We discovered that in 1913, the painting was in an exhibition that raised money in support of women’s suffrage. This was a revelation, since Mills descendants had told us that Ruth did not support voting rights for women! Now, in the centennial year of suffrage in New York State, we are on the trail of other evidence that Ruth supported women’s right to vote. For more information about Flameng, and Ruth’s portrait and the suffrage connection, see Staatsburgh State Historic Site’s own blog.

Post by Maria Reynolds, State Parks