When Donna Schildt Avery began reporting for her local newspaper in the town of Conesus, N.Y., the grandmother of four had no idea she would soon become the first woman elected supervisor in Livingston County in 1995. On Thursday, Aug. 26, on the 90th anniversary of national women's suffrage, Avery will be among the many women whose journey into politics will be publicly available in an online resource dedicated to the first women elected to political office in New York State.
Created by the Susan B. Anthony Center for Women's Leadership at the University of Rochester, the First Women website provides personal accounts from the women and their surviving relatives, in addition to a searchable county-by-county database about the first women elected in New York State.
According to Nora Bredes, director of the Anthony Center, the site was created to "insure that the work of these women will not be lost or forgotten, and is available to people wanting to learn more about the political pioneers of New York State. These are women who broke cultural barriers and continued work that Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton launched when they began the drive for women's suffrage."
Over the past year, Bredes and Anthony Center program director Rebecca Rafferty have worked with county historians, librarians, and political researchers to gather information on the first known women elected to a variety of local, state, and national offices, from the county level to the United States Congress. Bredes said this is the first time that people will have access to this information in one place.
Bredes and her staff plan to continue to update the site, which they describe as a work in progress, with the goal of establishing a complete record of every first woman who ran and served in New York's village, town, county, and state governments, and on the federal level. "By being able to look back to people like Ruth Sears Baker Pratt, the first woman from New York elected to the House of Representatives (in 1923), you're able to see that these women are not that different from women serving in government today. Their mission to serve their communities paved the way for the glass ceiling-cracking political career of Hillary Rodham Clinton," she said.
The online resource will go live at 3 p.m. on Aug. 26, in celebration of Women's Equality Day—the day the women's suffrage amendment became law.
"Voting was the first step to women's political engagement, but Anthony never saw it as the end of our ascendance," commented Bredes. "Voting rights were a first plateau on the road to women's full equality in American society."