Girls growing up today have to look hard to discover the stories of women and girls who came before them. Often primary research is required — seeking out long hidden diaries and well-creased letters, interviewing elderly relatives and neighbors, sleuthing over the handwritten notes on the backs of fading photographs. Women’s stories of bravery, dedication and triumph may be shared in family lore, but they rarely make it into history books and official records.
Equally rare are portraits of these women, especially as we go back in time. For example, there is no known image of Madam Catheryna Brett, a successful 18th century businesswoman whose gracious Dutch-style homestead in Beacon is the oldest existing house in Dutchess County.
Over the centuries, many extraordinary women lived in or traveled through the historic Hudson Valley region, their marks forever inscribed on our nation. Margaret Beekman Livingston bravely carried her family through the Revolutionary War, persevering even when British troops burned her house to the ground. After rebuilding Clermont, now a NY State Historic Site, she went on to host President George Washington and First Lady Martha Washington at her Hudson River home.
One of the 20th century’s major literary figures, poet Edna St. Vincent Millay, made Austerlitz her home the last 25 years of her life and her estate, Steepletop, where she is buried, has become a much-loved destination. Pioneering scientist Maria Salmon Mitchell became the first woman astronomer in America and the very first faculty member hired by Vassar College. And more recently, civil rights activist Cecelia Magill led the effort to end employment discrimination from her base in Poughkeepsie.
In celebration of Women’s History Month 2016, I am proud to present our third annual volume, Women’s History in the Hudson Valley: Ten Stories from Columbia and Dutchess Counties, which captures the historic narratives of ten remarkable women who made their homes in Dutchess or Columbia counties. They were artists, activists, scientists and educators. Their stories are part of our region’s history, New York State’s history and American history. Their stories are our stories.
We are pleased to again work with the Mid-Hudson Library System, local school districts and school librarians during Women’s History Month to distribute our booklet. We thank them for their help and encourage you to stop by your local or school library to pick up a copy and read about the extraordinary lives of these women. Please share these stories with a girl in your life. Girls growing up today deserve to know the important role that women have played throughout our history. Also, please share the stories of historic women from your community with our office for future volumes!