What women have really impressed you, have inspired you?
For some, of course, it is Mother Teresa, Eleanor Roosevelt, or, perhaps Billy Jean King. What about a little more personal, a little more directly? Was it Adele Sanderson, Mary MacKenzie, or perhaps Shirley Seney?
While the glass ceiling has yet to be broken at the White House, women have certainly taken a leadership role in local politics. There are though many extraordinary women whose lives and impact have not been so publicly acknowledged.
Marcy Neville, left, and Peggy Lynn (Photo — Naj Wikoff)
"A woman who impressed me was Taylor Prudence," said Marcy Neville. "Pru ran Rivermede Farm. She was the first woman I remember seeing who worked hard, knew what she was doing, and ran a farm. She grew all the veggies, harvested and sold them, drove the tractor, and she wore blue jeans. Her uniform was blue jeans and a white Oxford shirt, and a sweater if it was cold. Back in those days you did not see women in blue jeans. I always thought she was amazing."
"There are so many women who have impressed me, and a couple of them are here," said Jim Rogers. "Fran Yardley is an amazing woman as is Margaret Gibbs, the director of the Adirondack Center Museum. But I have to tell you the most amazing woman I have ever known has put up with me for fifty-seven and a half years. She still blows my mind with what she accomplishes. I think Carolyn Hopkins was an exceptional woman. She made herself a ton of enemies but she accomplished a hell of a lot of work. And, of course, there was Mrs. W. Walton Jones."
On Saturday, March 22, the Adirondack History Center Museum (aka Essex County Museum) hosted a benefit concert, "Wild Spirits: Song and Stories of Remarkable Adirondack Women," featuring the considerable talents of singer-songwriter Peggy Lynn and author-performer Sandra Weber, at the Lake Placid Center for the Arts. As the titles says, the show was about women, each of whose accomplishments were truly outstanding, yet few known by the general public.
"Long ago, decades ago, I wrote a song about Lydia Martin Smith (wife of famed North Country hotelier Paul Smith)," said Peggy Lynn. "I started performing it in any concert I had anywhere in New York state. People would come up to me and say, 'Oh, you should do a song about so and so, or I have done research on so and so.' I was told the story of Mary Brown, shown letters from Mary to John, and that captured my imagination so I wrote a song about her. Then Sandra Weber, my partner in crime, told me the story of how Esther Mountain came to be named for a woman. Sandra had written a poem about Esther, so I adapted that and set it to music."
"At one point I was sitting on a stage, I think at the Paul Smith Visitors Center, and I said, 'I think there should be a book about Adirondack Women.' And Sandra said, 'I have a publisher, let's do it.' So we interviewed people. We went to archives at museums and historical societies throughout the Adirondacks. We really wanted women to be part of the record of Adirondack history because women did amazing things. They founded organizations. They brought people together. They were outdoors women and sports women."
Where would Paul Smith have been without is wife?
"He might not have been successful at all," said Peggy.
"It all started because of cloth diapers," said Sandra Weber. "I had two young daughters both in diapers. I was out there hanging diapers a lot, and I got to thinking, 'How am I going to teach my daughters about the Adirondacks?' So I went in search of a woman's story and that's when I found Esther, the young girl who went off climbing and had a mountain named for her. That was the beginning. I just kept going from there. Next was the story of Henry, Josephine, and the Adirondak Loj. Then I started to investigate the history of Mount Marcy and I noticed no one wrote about the women who climbed, what it was like for a woman to climb back in the 19th century. It started going from there, and then Peggy started singing a song about Esther. Then I started writing more about women, and then we decided to partner on a book. That was ten years ago. Now we are working on Volume 2."
"I love these stories," I said. "I believe Mrs. Pardee is on record as the first women to climb Whiteface, but my great-grandfather had his wife Efie climb it first to make sure she could make it, after all, what were servants for."
"There are just so many wonderful stories to be told," said Sandra. "I just so love this work. Most of history has been told by men, and if they tell a woman's story, it is from a man's perspective, 'Oh, she cooked our meals and did this.' I realized that there are lots of undiscovered gems of material out there that nobody has talked about because they haven't come at it from that perspective. It is like a mystery and a puzzle that no one else has gotten into. I hope that people will leave here tonight realizing that there are a lot of wonderful women who have lived, played, laughed, climbed, snowshoed, ran hotels, and done extraordinary things in the Adirondacks, and also that they have wonderful women in their life today and think about that and appreciate that."
"We are having an exhibit this summer about Grace Hudowalski, the first woman to climb all 46 High Peaks," said Gibbs. "One of the Dixes will be named Grace after her. We are going to have a lot of her materials on loan from the 46'ers Trust. She was one of the founders of the 46'ers and the keeper of who climbed the peaks. For years she would personally write letters to people as they finished. The exhibit will open in June and go through the season."
The museum is a jewel. Their exhibits are professionally designed, engaging, educational, and one walks away having learned something new. So, too, are their Tuesday night summer lecture series at 7 p.m. Check out their calendar of events and plan to visit: www.adkhistorycenter.org.