In observance of Women’s History Month, we thought it fitting to highlight some notable women who were instrumental in shaping present-day Long Island. From spies to suffragettes, these women, and many others like them, left their mark on the area.
Many of the early records of life here came from the writings of these women — and life was harsh. Mary Cooper began writing a diary when she was 54, revealing the many hardships she faced taking care of her family on her Long Island farmstead. On Nov. 20, 1768, she wrote, “… a very grevous storme of rain and snow. It has beene a tiresom day to me. It is now bed time and I have not had won minuts rest today.”
Anna Smith Strong (1740-1812) was one of several women who supplied information to Gen. George Washington during the Revolution in what was called the Setauket Spy Chain. She reported on the movements of British troops on Long Island.
One method Strong had of signaling American soldiers was with her choice of undergarments. Most of the petticoats worn by the women in those days were red, so if she attached a black one to her clothesline, the men knew that it was not safe to land their boats. Strong was never found out by the British.
Newspaper and magazine critic Harriet Quimby became interested in aviation in 1910. After attending an air show at Belmont Park that October, she decided to take flying lessons at the Moisant School of Aviation at Hempstead. The following year, she became the second licensed woman pilot in the world, following the Baroness de la Roche of France, and on April 16, 1912, Quimby became the first woman to pilot an aircraft across the English Channel.
As early as 1848, women were campaigning for the right to vote, and many Long Island women fiercely supported a constitutional amendment that would give them that right. They were able to cast ballots in school elections, but not in federal or state elections, so in Lynbrook in 1914, local suffragettes urged other women to vote in that year’s school election. Their numbers almost matched the men, and their turnout was considered a resounding success. Six years later, the Nineteenth Amendment to the Constitution was passed.