There have been several absolute joys in these past seven or eight months of zooming up and down New York’s north-south main arteries with The Suffragents. Among them has been the opportunity to glimpse the state’s remarkable local women in leadership roles. Last night in Port Jefferson Station on Long Island was no exception as the invited speaker for the Women’s History Month celebration of Decision Women in Commerce and the Professions at the Carnival Restaurant.
My thanks for suggesting me as speaker go to Barbara Ransome, owner of the Ransome Inn B&B and operations director of the Greater Port Jefferson Chamber of Commerce, and, for extending the invitation, thanks to Betsy Maniotis, the Betsy behind Betsy’s Baskets,
I arrived early for set up and soon after came the organization’s president, Debra Engelhardt, who helped create a makeshift podium out of a dish crate with little bowl props to create a recline, all artfully camouflaged with a cloth napkin or three. Debbie’s day job is as director of the Comsewogue Public Library, She has also has held important library posts across Long Island, including the Bridgehampton and Southampton libraries that I know well and Huntington’s. She loves her current position, which has the added benefit of sparing her that LIE commute (From New York City last night, the trip was two hours-plus to arrive and one hour to get back home.)
Debbie filled me in on Decison Women’s history. It’s not part of a national network of working women sororities, as I at first had thought, but a group of women “in commerce and the professions,” as the name declares, who formed the organization locally, back in the 1970s, in response to Rotary International’s policy at the time. It excluded women from membership—and continued to do so until 1987— but did offer a subordinate role, not as Rotarians but as “Rotary Anns.” It struck me how different this proffered role as auxiliaries was from the Men’s League for Woman Suffrage, which was subordinate to the main women’s suffrage organizations, to be sure, but in no way denigrating. I wrote about this recently.
The women’s response was to form this group with similar community outreach goals. Decision Women is now in its fifth decade with a membership of 40 women of all ages, some around since the inception, as I learned as they went around the tables for introductions; others inducted as recently as this year.
“I love these women,” said my husband, as usual, the driver for the night and looking pretty dapper in a baby pink sweater under his suit jacket. The women’s self-introductions revealed an impressive array of business owners, jurists, health professionals, bankers, civic leaders, and a CPA as the current treasurer. I loved their ritual of giving “happy dollars” at their monthly meetings, bills that augment the organization’s not insignificant charitable fund. As each buck went onto the plate, the giver announced what happy event she wanted it to mark.
Here’s a little slideshow of an evening spent in excellent company.
Bonus photos by Melissa Stockman:
For National History Day contestants. Upcoming — January 30: Iona College. February 4: Sagamore Hill. March 27: Ephemera Society of America. April 4: Avon-on-Sea Public Library, Avon CT June 4-6: “Métiers et professions des médias (XVIIIe-XXIe siècles),” Université de Lausanne. Link to past appearances.
Coming March 2020: Front Pages, Front Lines: Media and the Fight for Women’s Suffrage, Linda Steiner, Carolyn Kitch, Brooke Kroeger, eds.