Event, Post, Suffragents

Researching New York Conference/SUNY Albany: “Out Front & In the Shadows” Plus Plus – November 17, 2017

November 18, 2017

The full program and plan at: http://nystatehistory.org

November 17, 2017

Let it be noted that this annual conference, hosted by Susan McCornick and her team at SUNY Albany, is a three-day affair, Nov. 16-18, which I was able to attend only on the 17th. I arrived in plenty of time from New York City (after the fine Suffolk County Historical Society event Thursday night in Riverhead) in a swift early-morning ride up I-87.

Once at the Science Library, where the sessions were held, there was time to stop in to see Chelsea Miller minding the wall-to-wall SUNY Press display of New York-centric books.



I even caught the preceding panel in the Standish Room, “Beyond Boundaries: Public-Private Partnerships and Rochester’s Suffrage Centennial Exhibit,” which featured Michelle Finn (Rochester Public Library), Juilee Decker (Rochester Institute of Technology), and Jessica Lacher-Feldman (University of Rochester.)

They brought suffrage swag.



Before our 10:30 am panel, as ever, there was the requisite wrestling with the AV hookups. Can someone tell me why this is always a thing, no matter what anticipatory actions one takes to stave it off?  Saved by the unflappable Mark Wolfe, the SUNY archivist,  we were ready to go with minutes to spare.



The organizers titled our panel, “Out Front & in the Shadows.” It appeared in the program like this:



I took this photo as the crowd gathered in the Science Library’s Standish Room, but the room was nigh-on full as we got underway.



Our silver fox quartet, shortly before we began.


L to R: Rob Snyder, Brooke Kroeger, Bruce Dearstyne, Robert Sink


What delight to be in the company of men of such distinction who have chosen to focus their research in subject matter that is almost always the province of women scholars. (Dearstyne and Sink are 21st century Suffragents, for sure.)

Our extremely deft moderator was Rob Snyder, an author and associate professor of journalism and media studies at Rutgers-Newark. It turns out we crossed paths when we both worked for Newsday, back in the mid-1980s, during the newspaper’s New York City incarnation. He is now writing his next book for Cornell University Press about Washington Heights in post-WWII New York City.

This is how he began:

“Our panelists will take us from the bleak days of women fighting against child labor at the turn of the 20th century, through the battle for suffrage in the era of World War One, to the long twilight years of the reformers, radicals and questing women who animated the early years of the twentieth century.”



There could not have been two better co-presenters.

Bruce W. Dearstyne went first with his research on Lillian Wald and Florence Kelley and their efforts to end child labor at the start of the last century. His paper was largely drawn from Chapter 7 of his 2015 book for SUNY Press, The Spirit of New York.  Along with teaching at several universities, he served on the staff of the New York State Office of State History and the State Archives and now is now an adjunct at the University of Maryland’s College of Information Studies.

Dr. Dearstyne’s presentation detailed the advances in child labor reform legislation in 1903, which he described as “an important but often overlooked aspect of progressive era reform.” And although these progressive changes are usually associated with Charles Evans Hughes, the New York State governor from 1907 to 1910, or the reforms instituted in the aftermath of the 1911 Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire, Dearstyne attributes these early advances, in large measure, to the work of reformers such as Wald and Kelley.

He also drew his insights into why these two reformers turned out to be such effective advocates from the work of Sally Helgesen, author of The Female Advantage  and co-author of The Female Vision: Women’s Real Power at Work. These books, he said, emphasize the particular qualities women bring to management and negotiation. These include a willingness to lead from the center, a tendency not to compartmentalize their lives, and an instinctive emphasis on sustainability and the need to nurture the human spirit.

There were a handful of social media activists in the room and here, from the Twitterverse, are some real-time impressions of Dr. Dearstyne’s presentation, “Lillian Wald, Florence Kelley, and Child Labor Reform in New York’s Progressive Era:”



I spoke next and can spare you another spate of self-involvement by pointing you to the print version with links to source material of my presentation. The article appeared conveniently on Thursday on the blog of the Gotham Center for New York City History. The Gotham Center is devoting the New York suffrage centennial anniversary month of November  to posting suffrage-related history by many authors.  “When the Editorial Elite Threw Their Fedoras Into the Ring for Women’s Suffrage” is exactly what I presented Friday. I added for the presentation a slide on W.E.B. Du Bois and The Crisis, to highlight his many pro-suffrage editorials and the three separate suffrage  issues of the magazine, published in 1912, 1915 and 1917.


I particularly liked this tweet with a photo of my last slide.

The only possible rejoinder?

Agree, @ADotChurch. Like this century.

Robert Sink, with “Friends, Dear Friends and Lesbians,” was the evident crowd pleaser. His larger project—a social history of the New York Public Library from 1901 to 1950—he comes to naturally. He was the Library’s Archivist and Records Manager for two decades, from 1981 to 2001, and then served as chief archivist of the Center for Jewish History from 2000 to 2008.



The research he presented focuses on the sizable number of women librarians in the New York Public Library system over the decades. Using Adrienne Rich’s notion of the “lesbian continuum,” he has been documenting personal aspects of their lives to ascertain how many of the librarians would fit this description.His many sources include census records, NYPL institutional archives, city directories to match addresses and telephone numbers, among others. In the first half of the 20th century, some 90 percent of all librarians in the New York City system were women, and of those, he told us, a large percentage were single and remained so.

He told us that his is one of, if not the very first study to examine the sexual identity of the women who worked in the New York Public Library system in those decades. “I hope,” he told us in conclusion,”that this study indicates that the silence about sexual identity that existed in the period before the LBGTQ civil rights era can be breached by historians—not just for a few famous women but for rank-and-file librarians as well.”

A few tweets about his presentation, with apologies for reposting the certainly inadvertent decapitation:



As we finished, Rob Snyder invited discussion among us and from the audience by posing this thought, which he developed with specific questions for each of us:

“All of these presentations call to mind an essay by Elizabeth Israels Perry, published in 2002: “Men Are From the Gilded Age, Women are From the Progressive Era.” Her essay examined trends in historiography, and how Gilded Age historians once focused on male presidents and Progressive Era historians looked at political parties, the cult of efficiency, municipal reform and the incorporation of America in ways that ignored women.

“Those days are more than not behind us, I think. And these three presentations are good examples of a richer view of the history of the Progressive Era that takes gender and women seriously. The papers also illuminate the importance of women’s actions, and struggles over women’s rights, in American history.”

— – – – – –

Just a couple of more of the packed, fine day’s highlights:

The keynote address by Susanah Romey of NYU’s History Department, was illuminating. She spoke on selections from her book, New Netherland Connections, titling her talk “Women and the Dutch Colony: What New Netherland Can Teach Us About Intimate Networks and the Colonization of North America.” The book won the 2014 Book Prize of the Berkshire Conference of Women Historians, the Annual Hendricks Award for 2013 of the New Netherland Institute, and the 2013 Jamestown Prize of the Omohundro Institute of Early American History and Culture.


A great panel featured those who contributed essays to the catalogue of the State Museum’s women’s suffrage centennial exhibition (the cover shown on the screen behind them)


L to R: Jennifer Lemak, Chief Curator of History, State Museum of New York; Robert Chiles (Maryland); Karen Pastorello (Tompkins Cortland CC); Jessica Derleth (Binghamton); Traci Langworthy (Jamestown CC); Shannon Risk (Niagara); Susan Goodier (SUNY Oneonta); and (not pictured) Ashley Hopkins-Benton, Senior Historian/Curator for Social History, State Museum of New York.

And, to top off the evening, there was a discussion of, and brief performed segment from a forthcoming opera, “Aleda or the Flight of the Suff Bird Women.” Its composer and librettist, Max Caplan, spoke for the performers, known as the Musicians of Ma’alwyck. The story centers on the suffragist and aviator, Leda Richberg-Horsnby, and an ill-fated effort at an airborne publicity stunt for the suffrage movement, which you can read about here.


Max Caplan and the troupe.


All in all a great day. Many thanks to the organizers and SUNY Albany.