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Meet historic heroines of Western New York

Sandy Starks tells stories about women.

Not just any women, but Western New York heroines who shook up the world during their lives. Some created a desire for change. Some were pioneers in newspapers or nursing associations. One brave lady talked a military commander out of burning her home to the ground.

"In each of their lives, something happened that stirred them into action," said Starks, who will present "Historic Heroines of Western New York" at 7 p.m. Thursday, April 20 in the Cheektowaga Senior Center, 3349 Broadway. The free event sponsored by the Cheektowaga Historical Association is open to the public.

As interpretive program director for the Margaret L. Wendt Archive and Resource Center at Forest Lawn Cemetery, Starks is surrounded at work by scores of accomplished women in their final resting spot. Starks will chronicle the accomplishments of 15 during her talk.

Here's a brief account of four of the historic women in her presentation.

Margaret Fotheringham

Margaret Fotheringham

Fotheringham was a suffragist from Buffalo who joined a tidal wave of women from around the country in Washington to picket for political freedom, wrote Doris Stevens in her book "Jailed for Freedom."

It was the summer of 1917. The country was at war with Germany, and President Woodrow Wilson had enough to deal with – never mind thousands of women outside the White House who insisted they be given the right to vote.

Fotheringham was arrested twice for protesting, Stark said. The first time Fotheringham spent one night in jail. After her second arrest, the judge jailed Fotheringham for 60 days. Her letters back home described putrid conditions and squalor.

Upon her release, Fotheringham worked as a dietitian for the American Red Cross. She was stationed at a military hospital in Waynesville, N.C. before moving to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Washington.

Elizabeth Coe Marshall

Elizabeth Coe Marshall.

Midway through the 19th century when tuberculosis was sweeping the country, the young Marshall was seriously injured in an accident. Critical in her treatment was a nurse hired by her parents to provide Marshall in-home health care.

That nurse planted an idea in Marshall that would surface years later when she worked as a Sunday school teacher at First Presbyterian Church. Widespread diseases including malaria, small pox and syphilis had reduced life expectancy to age 40. With Buffalo General School of Nursing opening its doors in 1877, the city's young nurses worked for those who could afford to pay them.

When Marshall approached church officials in 1885 seeking funds to nurse the poor, the Visiting Nurses Association of Western New York was born. Today there are 500 visiting nurse associations employing 90,000 clinicians. Marshall died four years later at age 55.

In addition to her resting place at Forest Lawn, Marshall is memorialized in the Women's Walkway  at the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority’s DL&W Terminal site, adjacent to First Niagara Center downtown.

Marian de Forest

Marian de Forest

De Forest was one of the first woman newspaper reporters in Buffalo, stated Patrick Kavanagh on Buffalo Architectural History, a website created and managed by Charles LaChiusa. De Forest served as critic and editor of the Women's Department at the former Buffalo Express, now The Buffalo News.

In 1911, de Forest wrote the play "Little Women" based on Louisa May Alcott's book. Kavanagh credited de Forest's play with launching the career of Katherine Cornell. De Forest accompanied the cast to London for the play's opening.

Perhaps the crowning achievement for de Forest was the gathering of executive women she organized at the Statler Hotel in 1919. The group would go on to form the Zonta Club of Buffalo, a service organization dedicated to women's empowerment.

In October 2001, de Forest was inducted into the National Women's Hall of Fame in Seneca Falls, the first women from Buffalo to have that honor.

Margaret St. John

Margaret St. John

The year 1813 was a tough one for St. John.  She lost her husband Gamaliel St. John and their son Elijah after a freak ferrying accident on the Niagara River. The two drowned during their attempt to cross the Niagara to resupply American soldiers who occupied Fort Erie.

Six months later, British troops stormed Buffalo on the night of Dec. 30. St. John -- who was 40 at the time -- begged Commander Phinas Riall to spare two structures: her family home and their business, a hotel. That night the British honored her request.

But when the British returned on Jan. 1, the hotel was burned to the ground. The cottage was saved, one of four structures in Buffalo that remained standing after the historic fire.

Today, the St. John cottage would be located at 460 Main St.

Margaret St. John persuaded British troops not to burn her home when the British burned most of Buffalo in 1813.


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