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5 Inspiring Women Who Made History in the Hudson Valley

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Jane Bolin

Judge Jane Bolin, first black female judge to occupy a court bench / Photo by employee of the US Office of War Information

 

Jane Bolin

Jane Bolin was a woman of many firsts. She was the first black woman to graduate from Yale Law School, the first to join the New York City Bar Association, and the first black woman to serve as a judge in the United States. But before she made history, Bolin was born in Poughkeepsie in 1908.

Her father, Gaius C. Bolin, was the first black president of the Dutchess County Bar Association. In 1939, Bolin was appointed as judge of the Domestic Relations court and remained the only black female judge in the country for twenty years. She was the driving force behind many court rulings that shaped the criminal justice system in the U.S., such as the assignment of probation officers to cases without regard for race or religion. 

Bolin also worked with First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt to support the Wiltwyck school, a program to fight juvenile crime among boys. Poughkeepsie native Jane Bolin fought to defend the voiceless — allowing true change to occur in the United States.

 

Jean Murphy

At first, Jean Murphy was just another 1950s mother and housewife living in Poughkeepsie. Then she decided to do something for herself and joined The Hudson Valley Philharmonic, The League of Women Voters and the Dutchess County Women’s Republican Club.

The latter club sparked her interest in politics, which led her to run in, and eventually win, the election for Republican Committeewoman. In 1967, she became the first woman elected to Dutchess County government and participated in Dutchess County Legislature for six terms. She spearheaded many projects, including a prison initiative reform and funding for daycare budgets to assist working mothers.

Murphy caused a stir in 1976 when she made the front page of the New York Times because of her switch to the Democratic Party. She continued public service for the rest of her days, acting as head of the Town of Poughkeepsie Historic Commission and Town Historian.

 

Margaret Suckley

Margaret “Daisy” Suckley on the veranda of her family estate, called Wilderstein. Rhinebeck, NY, 1988. Photo courtesy of Wilderstein Preservation

 

Margaret “Daisy” Suckley

Margaret “Daisy” Suckley was Franklin D. Roosevelt’s friend and confidante, and went on to become one of his most trusted advisors throughout his presidency. Born in Rhinebeck in 1891, Suckley enjoyed the lifestyle of a wealthy Hudson River family.

She kept FDR company in Hyde Park, where he struggled to regain control of his legs. Suckley even gifted the president his beloved dog, Fala. She was invited to Roosevelt’s 1933 inauguration and stuck by the president’s side ever since. In 1941, Suckley became the archivist at the FDR library in Hyde Park, where she remained for 22 years. But she held her own archives secret, keeping her journals chronicling the time spent with FDR in a suitcase under her bed.

Her perspective on some of the most significant moments in history was revealed when those journals were discovered after she died in 1991 — six months before her 100th birthday.

 

Frances “Franny” Reese

The world’s largest hydroelectric power plant was almost built on Storm King Mountain, but Frances “Franny” Reese stopped production in its tracks when she and the Scenic Hudson Preservation Committee challenged Consolidated Edison in court.

The legal battle was the first of its kind; citizens were allowed to intervene even thought the environmental effects would not directly damage their properties. It was also the first court case in which citizens took part in a site-licensing decision, and the first of many preservation successes from Scenic Hudson.

Reese served as chairwoman from 1966 to 1984 and, under her leadership, Scenic Hudson stopped a massive coal plant from settling in Hudson. Without Frances Reese, who knows what the Hudson Valley would like today.

 

Margaret Sanger

Margaret Sanger / Photo by Underwood & Underwood

 

Margaret Sanger

Margaret Sanger was a liberal feminist before it was cool. Known as the founder of Planned Parenthood, she advocated for women’s reproductive rights in New York for most of her life. Yet before becoming a birth control proponent, she served as a nurse in White Plains and studied at Claverack College and the Hudson River Institute. Eventually, she switched her nursing career for a writing one and began a column for New York Call entitled, “What Every Girl Should Know.” It was through writing that her passion for sex education and women’s health ignited and her uphill battle for birth control rights began.

From the start, it wasn’t easy. Sanger was indicted in 1914 for violating the Federal Comstock Law, which prohibited the distribution of any contraceptives. The nine charges against her — which were eventually dropped — didn’t slow Sanger down and, in October of 1916, she and her sister opened the first birth control clinic in the United States.

The clinic was short-lived; it was closed by police nine days later, and Sanger spent 30 days in jail. Her arrest brought the public’s attention to the birth control controversy, and Sanger found herself a new set of supporters. In 1921, she initiated the American Birth Control League, which later became the Planned Parenthood Federation of America. Sanger served as president of the group for seven years and, in 1923, her dream came true.

The first legal birth control clinic opened its doors, finally allowing women access to contraceptives and reproductive medical practices.


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