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Women to remember Tour of Forest Lawn graves unveils pioneering acts of 11 remarkable women who hold an important spot in the city's history

We all know the biggest names in Buffalo history. Twain, Wright, Olmsted, Cleveland, Fillmore, McKinley.

In a way, it's no surprise that they're all men. Buffalo's heyday, in the late 1800s and early 1900s, coincided with an historical time period when males made both news and fortunes -- and women stayed home and stayed quiet.

But not every woman did that.

Not in Buffalo -- the Great Lakes city that has long made room for smart, passionate women who want to raise their voices and achieve great things.

It's time to uncover -- and celebrate -- a few of these remarkable women of the city's past.

Some of these women advocated social causes. Others achieved high levels of education. One served in Congress, and another stood pat when an invading army tried to torch her home.

They can all be found today in Forest Lawn, where the rolling green hills and towering old trees set off the gravesites of generations of the city's former residents -- the famous and obscure alike -- like a gold band sets off gemstones.

"They were pretty brave," said Ed Dibble, a docent and researcher at Forest Lawn, of these women. Dibble has been studying the women of Forest Lawn, along with its more famous male residents, for years now. Someday he hopes to offer a tour of the grave sites of notable women on the grounds.

The list below highlights 10 women from Buffalo's past that you should know.

Consider it an informal walking tour of some of the key figures who helped build Buffalo into a great and important American city.

Overlooked no more.

1.) Margaret St. John

Today, the St. John family marker, a tall, square tower topped by an ornamental urn, looks about as solid and sturdy as any stone inside the Forest Lawn gates.

Margaret would have appreciated that.

After all, her defining moment -- an outrageously brave one -- came down to just that: her wish to stand strong and stay put, in her house on Main Street, in the face of an invading British army during the War of 1812.

Margaret K. Marsh, a substantial, open-faced woman, married Gamaliel St. John and bore nine children. The family lived in Buffalo. After the war began, in 1813, her husband and son Elijah drowned while trying to take supplies across the river to troops at Fort Erie.

Margaret was left alone to defend her home and children. Which she did, vehemently, when the British army invaded the city and burned all the buildings to the ground.

Margaret stood up to them -- even when another woman, who lived across the street from her, was murdered in the melee. Margaret argued to the British that she was a defenseless widow with children, and told the soldiers that they were not gentlemen.

They let her house stand. It was the only house in Buffalo to survive.

Margaret lived to be 78. She died in 1847, and lies buried in Section 2 next to her husband and son Elijah.

2.) Marian de Forest

Marian de Forest was a wizard with her pen. When she died in 1935, it was as the author of plays, including a stage adaptation of the novel "Little Women" -- a play that helped launch the career of actress Katherine Cornell.

At the turn of the century, de Forest, who was unmarried and lived on Irving Place, was among the first women of the city to make writing a profession. She worked as a reporter and critic for the Buffalo Express. She also helped found Zonta, an international organization for executive women which exists to this day.

She's buried in Section 1, on a steep hillside covered with pines and shrubs and filled with beautiful examples of Victorian-era sculpture.

3.) Sara M. Hinson

While you're in Section 1, stroll over to the gravesite of Sara M. Hinson -- one of only two graves in the cemetery with an American flag stationed permanently above it. The other is Millard Fillmore's.

That's a perfect tribute to Hinson, who died in 1926. A teacher, she worked to establish Flag Day as a national holiday. It's celebrated each year on June 14th.

4.) Mary Burnett Talbert

Born the year after the Civil War ended, Mary B. Talbert grew to become one of the most prominent black Americans of her time. Today, her grave bears a simple stone decorated with an engraved lily and one word: "Mother."

Talbert moved to Buffalo when she married William H. Talbert. A highly educated woman -- she spoke several languages and earned her doctorate from UB in 1921 -- Talbert became a leader in some of the most important social causes of her time.

She held one of the first meetings of the Niagara Movement of Colored People, a forerunner of the NAACP, in her Michigan Avenue home. She toured the United States, speaking out against lynching. And she served as the national president of the Federated Negro Women's Clubs.

For her work, she was honored by the NAACP with its Springarn Medal, for the nation's outstanding black citizen. Talbert died in 1923.

5.) Anna M. Reinstein

Anna M. Reinstein's simple, ground-level slab in Section 27 marks the resting place of Western New York's first female obstetrician-gynecologist.

Anna Mogilova was born near Warsaw in Poland in 1866. She moved to Buffalo in 1891 with her husband, Boris Reinstein, a Socialist activist. Dr. Reinstein used her medical degree to open a family practice and ob-gyn office on Broadway on the East Side, where she worked with many Polish-American families. She was a well-loved doctor to many of the city's residents for 57 years.

Dr. Reinstein believed in advocating for working people and did so at every chance.

Her husband eventually moved to Russia, where he headed Lenin's office of propaganda.

But Dr. Reinstein stayed in Buffalo. Before her death in 1948, she had delivered four generations of some of the city's families.

6.) Mary Seaton Kleinhans

While you're in Section 27, stop by the Kleinhans monument and visit the grave of Mary Seaton Kleinhans, wife of Edward L. Kleinhans, the Buffalo clothier. She died in 1934, as did her husband.

The Kleinhans couple, childless, left the bulk of their fortune to build the Kleinhans Music Hall for the enjoyment of future citizens of Western New York. The Mary Seaton Room, a small auditorium in the hall where parties and concerts are held, pays tribute to the former first lady of Buffalo clothing stores.

7.) Shirley St. Hill Chisholm

OK, she's a little more recent than the others. But she's too important to leave out.

When Shirley Chisholm spoke to graduates at Buffalo State College in 1981, she urged them to think big -- and act big, too.

"Don't just collect your paychecks, tend your gardens and watch TV," said Chisholm, who died Jan. 1. "Do not assume that you are powerless, that you cannot make an impact. Be as bold as the first man or woman to eat an oyster."

That was pure Shirley -- enthusiastic, courageous, funny, in your face. She followed her own advice, trading in a calm life as a Brooklyn schoolteacher for the hurly-burly of politics -- and then succeeding at it beyond anyone's expectations.

She was the first black woman elected to Congress, in 1968. She was the first black woman to seek the U.S. presidency, too, in 1972.

"I'd like them to say that Shirley Chisholm had guts," she once said, about what her epitaph should be.

It's close. On the marble marker in Birchwood Mausoleum that she shares with her husband, Arthur D. Hardwick Jr., the following words appear: "Unbought and Unbossed."

8.) Dr. Ida Catherine Bender

Ida C. Bender was born in 1858 into an influential family in Buffalo's German-American community. Her father, Philip Bender, was a state Assemblyman and owner of the Telegraph, a German newspaper in the city.

Dr. Bender spent her life pursuing academic excellence. As superintendent of Buffalo public schools for the primary grades, she was credited with modernizing the schools. She wrote textbooks, too, and served as president of the Women Teachers' Association.

Dr. Bender earned a medical degree from the Buffalo Medical School -- a rare accomplishment for a woman at the time -- in 1890.

Dr. Bender, who never married, lived on Parkside Avenue. She was praised in a city newspaper at her death in 1916 as "a woman with high ideals and broad appreciation, one who built for the future -- a woman with a vision."

9.) Jane Meade Welch

A small stone on a sweeping curve in the cemetery marks the place of Jane M. Welch, a genteel woman from a well-to-do, socially connected family who rose to prominence in the city as a newspaperwoman.

Welch, who was born in 1854 and died in 1931, was so ahead of her time as a journalist when she started in 1880 that she had to write her stories in the Buffalo Courier anonymously, in order to get them printed.

She started as a music critic, then became a chronicler of the city's social scene -- Buffalo's first society reporter.

"If some of the older members of society of that day were living today," said Welch, a Delaware Avenue resident, in an interview late in life, "they would be horrified at the things mentioned in our newspapers."

10.) Abagail Powers Fillmore & Maria Maltby Love

OK, so this is two women, not one. But they're buried mere yards from one another, so you can easily visit both graves at once.

Abagail Powers, a minister's daughter born in Stillwater in 1798, married Millard Fillmore and rose to become first lady of the United States. She died in 1853. She's buried in a gated enclosure near her husband and alongside her mother, also Abagail.

Just outside the fence surrounding the Fillmore gravesite lies Maria M. Love, a wealthy woman who made social causes her life's work. She believed that problems like poverty and illness and the neglect of children could be cured by better hospitals and day care centers, which she founded in Buffalo. Love died in 1931.

Two more women who stepped into the public arena to serve others -- part of a long tradition in Buffalo.

e-mail: cvogel@buffnews.com

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