Women’s History

NORA BAYES (1880-1928)

Born Dora Goldberg, Bayes made her Broadway debut in The Rogers Brothers in Washington (1901). In The Ziegfeld Follies of 1908, she introduced the song Shine On Harvest Moon, which she co-wrote with the second of her five husbands. In addition to being one of the highest paid performers of her time—and being a producer and owner of a theatre she named for herself—Bayes was famed for her ability to popularize a song. Indeed, George M. Cohan chose Bayes to introduce his World War I song, Over There, in The Cohan Revue of 1918. Among her other eight Broadway credits was Little Miss Fix-It (1911), Maid in America (1915), Ladies First (1918), and Queen O’ Hearts (1922).



BESSYE J. BEARDEN (1891-1943)

The first woman to become a member of a local New York City school board, Mrs. Bearden worked as the Deputy Collector of the Third New York Internal Revenue District. A respected civic activist, Bessye Bearden was known for her “dedication to the welfare of women of her race.” She was the mother of acclaimed artist, Romare Bearden.




Born in Alabama, she joined New York Society after her marriage to William Kissam Vanderbilt. She shocked the social world in 1895 when she divorced Vanderbilt and married Oliver Hazzard Perry Belmont. After the death of her husband in 1908, Alva emerged as a militant feminist and reformer. She not only financed many facets of the movement but also wrote articles, marched in parades and organized rallies. As founder and president of the Political Equality League she reached out to striking shirtwaist workers in 1909-10 and helped to forge links between the middle class suffragists and organized labor.

She entered the suffrage movement as a member of the National American Woman Suffrage Association and served on the board of the National American Woman Suffrage Association and the Congressional Union.



AMELIA BINGHAM (1869-1927)

Born in Hicksville, Ohio, Bingham began her career on the west coast in a company headed by McKee Rankin. In 1892, she came to New York and appeared in a series of melodramas: The Struggle of Life, The Power of Gold, and A Man Among Men. She decided to become an actress-manager and her first major success was in Clyde Fitch’s The Climbers (1901).




At the age of nineteen, Elizabeth broke into journalism with an indignant letter to the editor of the Pittsburgh Dispatch protesting an anti-suffrage editorial. After testing her on freelance assignments, the editor gave her a job as a reporter. She chose the by-line “Nelly Bly,” after the Stephen Foster song. She became America’s first investigative reporter, becoming famous for her undercover story on the condition of Mental Institutions for Joseph Pulitzer’s The World.




Marie Kraus Boelte was one of the founders of the kindergarten movement in the United States. Born in Germany, she became interested in the work of Friedrich Froebel, who is best known as the originator of the ‘kindergarten system.’ Froebel sought to encourage the creation of educational environments that involved practical work and the direct use of materials. In 1877 she published The Kindergarten Guide with her husband John Kraus. She was president of the National Education Association’s Kindergarten Department (1899-1900) and instrumental in gaining collegiate recognition of kindergarten and taught the first college course on the subject in 1903 at NYU.



MARIE BONFANTI (1847– 1921)

As a 14-year-old, Marie made her debut as a prima ballerina italiana at the Teatro alla Scala in Milan and in 1866 she danced her premiere New York performance at Niblo’s Garden in The Black Crook. The White Fawn, Robinson Crusoe, Life, Donna Juanita, The Children in the Wood, Aladdin, Sardanapalus, and The Merry War and The Arabian Nights were some of her other stage vehicles. In the 1880s Marie returned to classical ballet to dance in the ballet divertissements of grand operas both at the Metropolitan Opera and in Europe. In the 1890s she opened a ballet school in New York.




She was known as the hostess of New York’s leading literary salon. Her salon was popular with genuine celebrities such as Poe, William Cullen Bryant, Emerson, Trollope, Thackery and Matthew Arnold because she did not lionize them or use them as rungs on the social ladder. Instead, she showed a genuine interest in their work and an astute critical sense.



“BRICKTOP” (ADA DUCONGE) (1895-1984)

She was a legendary singer and nightclub owner known for entertaining the “rich, famous and talented” in her Paris, Rome and Mexico City jazz clubs. Cole Porter wrote “Miss Otis Regrets” especially for her. Among her patrons were Noel Coward, the Duke of Windsor, Cole Porter, Ernest Hemingway, Josephine Baker and Duke Ellington.



IRENE CASTLE (1893-1969)

At the dawn of the jazz age, Irene and Vernon Castle traveled the world demonstrating a new way to dance. The Fox Trot, Castle Walk and other syncopated dances became the rage as they set the style for the emerging century. Orchestra leader James Reese Europe often provided the music for the dance team as they swirled to the music of W.C. Handy and other great composers. Irene Castle set the style of the time, bobbing her hair and dressing in sleek clothes that inspired the flapper era.




At the turn of the century, Catt became a leader of the suffrage movement. When Susan B. Anthony retired as the president of the National American Woman Suffrage Association in 1900, she chose Catt as her replacement. She led the women’s movement in its final drive to get the vote and spearheaded the effort to pass a Federal suffrage amendment. Her weapons were petitions, testimony, lobbying, cooperation with the party in power, and proving women’s loyalty and worthiness in all arenas. After the passage of the Constitution Amendment in 1920, she established the League of Women Voters.



LOTTA CRABTREE (1847–1924)

Born in New York, the child star became famous after moving to California at the age of six. Tutored by the great Lola Montez, she learned to sing and dance and became the toast of San Francisco and the rough mining camps of California. When she began her own theatre company in 1870, she commissioned plays to be created around her child like stage personality. She became the most highly paid actress in the country. Having amassed a fortune, she retired at the age of forty-three. It is estimated that she left an estate of $4 million dollars when she died in 1924. She never married and is buried next to her mother.



CELIA CRUZ (1925-2003)

The “Queen of Salsa” was born in Cuba, leaving her native land in 1959 following the take over of Fidel Castro. For over fifty years she performed with the most celebrated bands; her most enduring performances were with “El Maestro,” the legendary Tito Puente. This Grammy winning artist was also known for her flashy stage costumes, colorful wigs and signature catch line “Azucaaar!” (Sugar).



ANNA F. DE KOVEN (1869–1953)

The daughter of a Senator, Anna Farwell De Koven became an author and poet. She wrote historical works such as the Life and Letters of John Paul Jones, Women in the Cycles of Culture and Les Comtes de Gruyre as well as novels such as By the Waters of Babylon. In addition she wrote an autobiography, a psychic work and poetry. She lived to be 92.




In 1926, Gertrude Ederle swan the English Channel becoming the first woman to accomplish this feat. As a competitive swimmer, Ederle was an Olympic gold medalist and in 1965 was inducted into the International Swimming Hall of Fame.




The daughter of a prominent New York attorney, Mary Stillman met Edward Harkness, heir to a Standard Oil fortune at the dawn of the twentieth century. The couple were dedicated philanthropists supporting projects at hospitals, universities and medical research. Their Fifth Avenue home serves as the headquarters of the Commonwealth Fund and their Connecticut retreat is a state park.




Founder of the Harkness Ballet Company, the second wife of Standard Oil heir William Harkness devoted her efforts to the arts. A well known patron of Salvador Dali, through her foundation she provided support for the Joffrey Ballet and Jerome Robbins.



MARY GARRETT HAY (1857 – 1928)

Before she was thirty, this activist was heading a department of the national Women’s Christian Temperance Union. She soon advanced to state office in the suffrage movement and met Carrie Chapman Catt, who was then organizing Western women to campaign for suffrage amendments within their states. She became president of the state Federation of Women’s Clubs. Hay worked the trade unions and undermined Tammany’s opposition to women’s suffrage. Her attention to detail and her organization of parades and street rallies helped to pass the suffrage amendment in New York in 1917.



HILDA HAYNES (1912-1986)

She began her acting career on Broadway and eventually became known for her work in motion pictures and television. Haynes appeared in Diary of a Mad Housewife, The River Niger and The Boy in the Plastic Bubble. Throughout the 1970’s she played characters in several successful television programs including: Sanford and Son, Dynasty, Good Times and Starsky and Hutch.




Known as “The Queen of Magic”, Adelaide Herrmann worked for years as her husband’s assistant and then continued to tour as a lead act following his death in 1896. She was one of the few women to perform the “bullet catch” trick.



FANNIE HERTZ (1882-1963)

Fannie Kesner became the wife of John D. Hertz, founder of the Yellow Cab Company of Chicago and Hertz Rental Cars. She was the mistress of Stoner Creek Stud in Paris, Kentucky. Among the horses bred on the farm were Reigh Count – 1928 Kentucky Derby winner and American Horse of the Year and Count Fleet, Winner of the US Triple Crown.



MALVINA HOFFMAN (1887 –1966)

In the decade prior to World War II, Malvina Hoffman was the most renowned woman sculptor in the United States. She studied sculpture with Auguste Rodin in Paris and by 1915 achieved some fame with bronzes of Russian dancers. While in Paris she came into the circle of significant artists such as Brancussi, Paderewski, Anna Pavlowa, Gertrude Stein and Claude Monet, many of whom she would capture in bronze. Her sculptures can be seen at the New York Historical Society and at the Bronx Hall of Fame.




Born in Boston, Anna Hyatt began exhibiting her sculpture in 1900 at the age of 24. She is well known for her statues of animals; among her works are the statue of Joan of Arc on Riverside Drive and the life sized animal portraits at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine. Her work is represented in the collections of more than 200 museums, parks and gardens. She married Archer Huntington, the adopted son of the railroad magnate. The couple generously gave funds to establish museums such as the Hispanic Society in New York.



BARBARA HUTTON (1912 – 1972)

During her life, Barbara Hutton, an heiress to the Woolworth five and dime fortune, was seldom out of the headlines. She was a troubled ‘poor little rich girl’ whose marital exploits provided fodder for the press but little real satisfaction for her. On the death of her mother, Edna Woolworth, Barbara inherited over $20m. She was five. After a protected childhood, she made formal and very lavish bows to society in New York and London and then married Prince Alexis Mdivani at the age of twenty. He would be the first of her seven husbands, all of who were not American and four of who were minor royalty. Her most famous husband was actor Cary Grant.




She was the first African American to attend the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, where she studied from 1895-1902. As a sculptor, she maintained an art studio and taught at Howard University. She did portrait busts of W.E.B. Dubois and Paul Lawrence Dunbar in addition to sculpting abstract portraits depicting the physiognomy of African Americans.


DOROTHY KENYON (1888-1972)

The lawyer, judge, and political activist worked tirelessly in various law firms championing cases for social injustice, focusing on women.  In the landmark 1966 White v. Crook case, Kenyon successfully argued women have an equal right to serve on juries.  In the 1950s and 1960s, she teamed with younger feminists in the emerging women’s liberation movement and participated in the 1971 Women’s Strike for Equality.



In 1873, writer Miriam Follin married publisher Frank Leslie. In 1877, after a well publicized trip to California, which provided the basis for Miriam’s well regarded study of the West, A Pleasure Trip from Gotham to the Golden Gate, the Leslie’s found themselves deeply in debt. When Frank Leslie died in 1880, he left a bankrupt business to his wife. Miriam took charge of the magazine empire and borrowed $50,000 to pay the debts. She took on the name Frank Leslie and reorganized the business. .Her editorial policy was “The public shall have the newest news,” and used women extensively because she felt that women were “born disseminators of news.” She was successful in bringing new life and financial health to the organization, and for the next fifteen years reigned as “The Empress of Journalism.”




She was the daughter of a prominent New York attorney, longtime companion of decorator Elsie de Wolfe and early in her career she was encouraged by Daniel Frohman to become a literary agent. Her client list included: Oscar Wilde, Somerset Maugham, Sir James Barrie, Clyde Fitch, and Jerome Kern. She is credited as being the first agent to negotiate a percentage of the box office proceeds for her clients. She was very involved in politics and the Democratic National Committee; Eleanor Roosevelt attended her funeral.




A renowned opera singer and voice coach, Queena Mario made her debut at the Metropolitan Opera in 1922. During the later part of her opera career and thereafter, she became one of the nation’s premier voice teachers. In 1934, despite the demands of her opera and teaching careers, she began a successful writing career: this time as the author of mystery fiction. Her characters in books like Murder Meets Mephisto were opera performers and their entourages and her backgrounds were opera and opera houses.




Born in New York, she was a Ziegfeld girl and then went to Hollywood appearing opposite John Barrymore in Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde (1920). Her life came to a tragic end when a burning cigarette caught her hoop skirt on fire when on location filming The Warrens of Virginia.




Of Puerto Rican and Cuban parents, Carmen De Mantilla moved to New York with her family in 1870. She ran a boarding house at 51 E. 29th Street where she housed friends and Cuban exiles known to be revolutionists. Among those who stayed in the house was Jose Marti, leader of movement to free Cuba. Many believe that the couple had a daughter, Maria (mother of actor Cesar Romero). Marti raised and educated the young girl who was his legal goddaughter. In a letter, written right before his death, Marti wrote of Carmen: “I’ve never known a better woman in this world. I can’t nor will I ever, think of her without seeing how clear and beautiful life is.”




In 1919 she opened The Little Coffee Shop in Grand Central Station where waffles were her specialty. By 1927, MacDougall’s coffee shop empire had expanded to include Sevillia on West Fifty-Seventh Street. She began by investing $38 dollars in a coffee blend formula which eventually grew to a $2,500.000 chain of restaurants. Her restaurants became known for looking like Mediterranean eateries. Coffee and Waffles, published in1926, is among cookbook favorites.




An actress and entertainer, Nina McKinney was known as the “Black Garbo” and was one of the first African American film stars. At the age of seventeen she was given a five year contract with MGM. She appeared in only a handful of movies because parts were scare and went on to tour Europe with jazz bands and to star with Paul Robeson in Congo Road.




A second generation journalist, Marie Mattingly’s first journalistic job was as a reporter with the Washington Post. At the age of eighteen, she was already the chief of the Washington bureau of the Denver Post. In 1914 she became editor of the Woman’s Magazine and later the Delineator. In 1926 she became editor of the Sunday magazine of the New York Herald Tribune and in 1935 she helped found the Tribune’s This Week Sunday magazine that eventually reached a circulation of six million.



MARILYN MILLER (1898 – 1936)

Marilyn Miller, who was best known as a musical comedy actress, made her stage debut at the age of four when she joined the family Vaudeville act, “The Columbian Trio.” She was “discovered” at a London nightclub in 1913 by Lee Shubert and appeared in The Passing Show of 1914. The beautiful golden haired Miller “brought dreams of youth and beauty into the dusty hearts of millions.” She then came under the management of Florenz Ziegfeld who headlined her in his Follies of 1918 and Sally in which she stopped the show with “Look for the Silver Lining.” During the twenties she headlined in a number of blockbuster musical comedies including Rosalie, Smiles, and As Thousands Cheer. She died at age 36 six of an infection that began in her sinuses.




Known as the “Queen of Happiness”, she was among the most popular entertainers in the 1920’s. Mills was a singer, dancer, and vaudevillian who starred in several productions in New York and London. Duke Ellington wrote “Black Beauty” as a tribute to Mills. Six carloads of flowers were brought to her grave; Ethel Waters was an honorary pall bearer and James Weldon Johnson attended the service. Over 10,000 people paid tribute to her at the funeral chapel and when she was laid to rest a plane flew over Woodlawn dropping rose petals on her grave.




Tony Perry first won fame as an actress in her native Denver, but retired from the stage during the years of a happy marriage. She returned to the stage upon the death of her husband in 1922, and later enjoyed success as a Broadway producer and director. In 1947, in commemoration of her service, the American Theatre Wing inaugurated its annual presentation of “Tony’s” for Broadway performances, staging, directing and other achievement.




The only daughter of Madam C.J. Walker, A’Lelia used her inherited wealth to promote art and culture during the Harlem Renaissance. Among her circle of friends were Langston Hughes, Countee Cullen and Carl Van Vechten. She served as the patron for many struggling young black artists and writers.




Ruth Nichols was the holder of a host of aviation firsts and records: besting Charles Lindberg’s transcontinental speed record (1930); establishing a new women’s flight altitude record (1935); creating a new women’s flight speed record (1930); establishing a new women’s flight distance record; and becoming the first woman pilot for a commercial airline. A graduate of the Masters School and Wellesley College, she was as “the Flying Debutante.” Nichols helped found the Long Island Aviation Country Club, participated in the Sportsman Air Tour, founded Sportsman Pilot magazine, organized Relief Wings, a humanitarian air service for disaster relief during World War II, and organized a mission of support for UNICEF.




This Connecticut housewife developed recipes for baked goods to help her young son combat his problems with asthma. Her family doctor “prescribed” the whole wheat bread to his patients and within a short period of time Mrs. Rudkin established a wholesale bakery known as Pepperidge Farm.




In 1927, Ruth Snyder was tried and convicted for the murder of her husband Albert. Although she claimed her lover Judd Gray was the actual killer, Ruth was sentenced to death in the electric chair. At the moment of execution, a reporter from the Daily News took a picture of Ruth Snyder with a camera he had strapped to his leg. The photo was printed on the front page of the paper and is one of the most famous photos in the history of photojournalism.




Winifred Stoner was the founder of three schools of “Natural Education,” which used the techniques that Mrs. Stoner had employed to teach her daughter Winifred Jr. who had become known as a child genius. She was an advocate of the idea that learning should be fun, exciting and appealing to all the senses. In addition to educating her daughter, Mrs. Stoner was publishing books of verse and local history. In 1916 her educational techniques and games were published in a Manual of Natural Education.



IDA STRAUS (1849– 1912)

Ida and Isidor Straus were returning from a trip to the Riviera aboard the maiden voyage of the Titanic when it hit an iceberg in the North Atlantic. When the lifeboats were being loaded, Ida was almost persuaded to go on boat No. 8, but at the last minutes turned around and handed her fur coat to her maid and placed her in the boat. She told the bystanders that she had been with her husband for many years in life and would stay with him now. When last seen by witnesses, the devoted couple were standing on the deck holding each other in a tight embrace. They were honored at a large memorial service that drew over 6,000 people to Carnegie Hall. Since her death, Ida Strauss has often been lauded for her brave, selfless and loyal act.




Elizabeth Cady Stanton led America’s first suffrage movement and was an articulate advocate for a whole panoply of other successful reforms that improved the lives of all Americans. “In an era of outspoken reformers, she was an innovative and radical thinker.” (Griffith) In addition to suffrage, she advocated coeducation, girl’s sports, job training, equal wages, labor unions, birth control, cooperative nurseries and kitchens, property rights for wives, child custody rights for mothers, and reform of divorce laws. Many in her generation thought of her as a revolutionary rather than a reformer.




As a teenager, Laurette Cooney made her stage debut in Vaudeville. In 1901, after her marriage to Charles Taylor, she played in a series of melodramas he had written for her, but she did not become a star until she triumphed in a supporting role in Alias Jimmy Valentine (1910) written by Hartley Manners. After appearing in a number of other Manners’ plays, she made theatrical history in Peg o’ My Heart, which Manners wrote for her as a betrothal present. She triumphed as Amanda Wingfield in the original production of The Glass Menagerie by Tennessee Williams.




Olive burst on the New York scene when she won a “Most Beautiful Girl in New York” contest sponsored by the famous illustrator Howard Chandler Christy. A partner of Christy, Harrison Fisher, recommended her to Florenz Ziegfeld, who launched her career as a Follies beauty. In 1916, she married Jack Pickford, silent film star and brother of Mary Pickford. While on a second honeymoon in Paris, Olive Thomas mistakenly drank mercury biochloride and died five days later. Pickford went on to marry stage star Marilyn Miller who is also buried at Woodlawn. Pickford died in 1927 and is buried in California.



MADAM C.J. WALKER (1867-1919)

Through her hair treatment and cosmetics business, Sarah Breedlove Walker became the richest self-made woman in America. She began selling her products door-to-door, eventually establishing a major corporation in Indianapolis, and moving to New York where she built her beautiful Irvington estate, “Villa Lewaro.” Madam Walker was generous to many charities, donating funds to preserve the Frederick Douglass home as a museum, funding scholarships at the Tuskegee Institute and supporting the efforts of the NAACP.




Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney was the great-granddaughter of Commodore Cornelius Vanderbilt who amassed a great fortune in railroads. Although active in New York society and charitable causes, Mrs. Whitney was known primarily as a sculptor and patron of the arts. Shortly after her marriage to Harry Payne Whitney, the financier, she began to devote herself to her art and studied sculpture with among others Auguste Rodin, whose influence was obvious in her later work. Her best known early work includes the “Aztec Fountain” (1912) for the Pan American Union Building and the Titanic Memorial (1914), both in Washington, D.C., and a number of memorial pieces inspired by her hospital work near the battlefields during World War I, including the “Washington Heights War Memorial”(1921) in New York City. Other important works by works by Mrs. Whitney include “The Spirit of the Red Cross” (1923) in Washington, D.C., the “Fountain of El Dorado” in San Francisco, the statue of Buffalo Bill Cody at the entrance to Yellowstone Park, the “Saint-Nazaire Monument in Saint-Nazaire France (1924) and the “Columbus Memorial” (1928-33) in Palos Spain and the bronze statue of Peter Stuyvesant in Stuyvesant Park New York (1941).