Hudson Valley, NY (February 2013) – Fifty years ago The Feminine Mystique was published, heralding the start of the Feminist Movement and forever changing the lives of women. It was written by Hudson Valley resident Betty Friedan. Throughout the centuries, women have had a marked impact not only on the history of the valley, but on the history of America. Here are just a few of those from the Hudson Valley who made a difference for all of us.
Martha Washington’s residency at Hasbrouck House in Newburgh was her longest stay anywhere during the Revolutionary War. Now known as Washington’s Headquarters, the charming stone house overlooking the Hudson River was where she was hostess to visiting dignitaries and her own friends. The complex has a fascinating new exhibit of items used during her tenure. The war also had feminine firebrands who acted in the name of the patriots. Sybil Ludington is recognized as one of the most heroic women of the Revolution. In April 1777 at age 16, Sybil rode 40 miles on a rainy night to warn Washington’s troops of an impending British attack. Historical markers tracing her route can be found throughout eastern Putnam County, and sculptor Anna Huntington’s commemoration of Sybil’s ride rests at a public park on the shore of Lake Gleneida in Carmel.
Hard times frequently brought forth women leaders, even in the early 1800’s when slavery was not just relegated to the Deep South. Here in the Mid-Hudson a slave by the name of Isabella escaped from her master and in 1843 chose the name Sojourner Truth. She became a forceful advocate of Civil Rights and Women’s Rights, speaking throughout the country. Follow the Sojourner Truth Freedom Trail from West Park to trace the amazing legacy of this former slave who could neither read nor write. Despite the slave owners in the Hudson Valley, the Underground Railroad ran through the region carrying hundreds of slaves north to freedom. Harriet Tubman is perhaps the best known woman conductor, always traveling at night to and from the southern states, guided by the North Star. Her route took her through Nyack where a marker on Route 59 commemorates one of the secret stopping places that Tubman used along the way.
At the same time the Underground Railroad traversed the region’s territory, another movement was underway to document its landscape. Thomas Cole, founder of the Hudson River School of Painters, lived in Catskill where you can visit his home. Women may have been educated in the arts in the 19th century, but the profession of artist was the sole domain of men. Undaunted, women like Cole’s sister Sarah and her daughter Emily painted in the style of the Hudson River School, creating unsung works that could easily be mistaken for those painted by their male counterparts. Emma Willard felt that women’s education should go far beyond just the arts. She opened her namesake school in 1812 to ensure that girls received the same education as boys. From February 22nd through March 29th, the Rensselaer County Historical Society in Troy celebrates the Emma Willard School’s bicentennial with photographs and artifacts in an exhibit called “Wrought with Steadfast Will.” Two hundred years later, the school is still inspiring and educating young women.
From artists to educators to poets, the Hudson Valley inspired many women to be the best that they could be. Edna St. Vincent Millay ranks today as a major figure in 20th-century American literature. The legacy of this Pulitzer Prize-winning poet is found at her historic home, Steepletop, in the village of Austerlitz. Both the house and gardens are open for tours, and stellar poetry events take place at the estate from May through October. Houses belonging to notable women are scattered throughout the Hudson Valley. One of these is the Villa Lewaro in Irvingrton, home of Madam C.J. Walker. Completed in 1918, the Italianate villa was built for Mrs. Walker, the first African-American female to be a self-made millionaire. The home is now privately owned, but is part of Westchester’s African American Heritage Trail.
Probably the most famous woman the Governor’s Mansion in Albany has housed is Eleanor Roosevelt. When Franklin Delano Roosevelt became governor in 1929, Eleanor began a lifelong fascination with politics. She spent hours at the Capitol Building watching the legislature in action, an education that contributed greatly to her own rise as an inspirational leader to our nation. Today the mansion is open for tours even as it functions as the current home for New York State’s governor. When Eleanor needed time to herself, she’d retreat to Val-Kill, her personal home in Hyde Park. The only national historic site to be dedicated to a first lady, it’s here that she pursued social and political interests that resulted in her becoming one of the most influential first ladies ever.
The history of the Hudson Valley and the nation undoubtedly would have been altered without these women. Feminists before their time, their fascinating histories are revealed throughout the region. March is Women’s History Month, but the lives of these important ladies can be celebrated all year with visits to the places they helped make famous.
Additional information can be obtained from the Hudson Valley Tourism web site at www.followthehudsonriver.com. Hudson Valley Tourism, Inc. is the 10-county region designated by I LOVE NEW YORK to promote tourism for the area. Counties include Albany, Columbia, Dutchess, Greene, Orange, Putnam, Rensselaer, Rockland, Ulster and Westchester. Regional information can be obtained from any of the county tourism offices, or by calling 845-615-3860.