University of Rochester

Nora Bredes, Director of Susan B. Anthony Center and Former New York State Legislator, Dies

August 20, 2011

Nora Bredes, director of the Susan B. Anthony Center for Women's Leadership at the University of Rochester, died on Thursday, Aug. 18, of complications from breast cancer. Ms. Bredes, a former Suffolk County (N.Y.) legislator and longtime activist in women's, environmental, and public health issues, was 60.

"Nora Bredes made enormous contributions to the advancement of women in politics in New York State by creating programs and initiatives that support women's aspirations and talents," said University President Joel Seligman. "Her research on women in politics had an impact on the democratic process at the state, regional, and national levels. Nora was a person of extraordinary commitment and intelligence who made a difference in the life of our University. I am deeply saddened by her too early death. She will be profoundly missed."

Ms. Bredes had served as director of the Susan B. Anthony Center for Women's Leadership since 1999. Her work at the center involved celebrating women's achievements and analyzing barriers to their progress. The center conducts biennial surveys of the number of women serving in New York's local governments and sponsors the Women Leading Local Governments Initiative, an effort that links women elected to New York's city and county governments to each other and to public policy experts and resources.

"Nora Bredes was dedicated to furthering Susan B. Anthony's enduring vision for women, both on campus and within the Rochester community," said University Provost and Executive Vice President Ralph Kuncl. "Among her many accomplishments at the University was the expansion of the center's hallmark program, the Elizabeth Cady Stanton/Susan B. Anthony Conversations, and the creation of a history conference about the life and times of Susan B. Anthony. More than that, she was passionate about the substantive political change that women could achieve in American political life if given the chance."

In 2006, she created ''100 Years Since Susan B.," a yearlong, community-wide examination of women's progress since Susan B. Anthony's death in 1906. In 2010, under Ms. Bredes' leadership, the Anthony Center launched the First Women website, an online resource dedicated to the first women elected to political office in New York State.

"Nora Bredes was an incredibly courageous woman who took on some of our state's toughest battles, and inspired countless individuals along the way," said U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York. "From the halls of government to the classrooms of the University of Rochester, and throughout our communities, we will greatly miss her leadership and her pioneering vision. But in the spirit of Susan B. Anthony and Eleanor Roosevelt, Nora's life's cause will continue as we keep fighting for the empowerment of all women. My thoughts and prayers are with her family and loved ones."

Before coming to the Anthony Center in 1999, Ms. Bredes spent more than 20 years working in government and for nonprofit organizations. From 1992 to 1998, she served on the Suffolk County (N.Y.) Legislature, winning passage of comprehensive anti-tobacco measures, improving protections for victims of domestic violence, and sponsoring the Greenways Bond Act, a measure that secured $62 million to preserve Suffolk's open space, parks, and farmlands.

In 1996, she was a candidate for U.S. Congress, winning the endorsement of the New York Times, which described her as "a reform-minded member of the Suffolk County Legislature who has proved a tenacious and effective advocate for the causes she pursues." In 2009, she ran as a Democratic candidate for Monroe County (N.Y.) Legislature.

"Nora Bredes brought to Rochester a woman who possessed integrity, intelligence, dedication, and loyalty," said U.S. Rep. Louise Slaughter, who represents the 28th Congressional District. "Her love for Rochester was sparked by her love for the women's movement and Susan B. Anthony. Her dedication to her family, her profession, and her friends was complete, and I'm sure served as a model for the young people she taught at the university. She truly left a void in us that cannot be filled."

Before becoming a legislator, Ms. Bredes directed the New York League of Conservation Voters. From 1980 to 1989, she led the Shoreham Opponents Coalition in a successful effort to prevent operation of the Long Island Lighting Company's Shoreham Nuclear Power Plant. The grassroots campaign against the nuclear plant eventually won support from a majority of Long Island's citizens and elected officials. In 1987, then-Gov. Mario Cuomo appointed Ms. Bredes as a founding trustee of the Long Island Power Authority.

Ms. Bredes earned numerous honors during her career, including Champion for Public Health (1995/1998, American Cancer Society); Woman of the Year in Government (1995, Times-Beacon Newspapers); Environmentalist of the Year (1994, LI Sierra Club); NYS Environmentalist of the Year (Environmental Advocates, 1986); and one of 10 National Grassroots Heroes (1990, Mother Jones magazine).

Lynn Sherr, award-winning former ABC news correspondent and author, met Ms. Bredes on her travels to Rochester when researching her book, Failure Is Impossible, and later attended several University of Rochester events at Ms. Bredes' invitation. "Nora cared deeply about the issues that affect women today," said Ms. Sherr. "She never compromised her values and she wanted everyone to understand as she understood that equal rights were not a privilege, but they were in fact a right."

Ms. Bredes served on the boards of several not-for-profit organizations. After four years as board member of Eleanor's Legacy, a statewide pro-choice Democratic women's organization, she was elected president in 2010.

Ms. Bredes also served on the boards of NYS Environmental Advocates, the Mid-Suffolk NOW, the University of Rochester Medical Center's Women's Health Partnership, and the Harley School in Brighton, N.Y. From 2005 to 2007, she was president of the First Unitarian Church of Rochester, a 150-year-old congregation of 800 members. As president, she helped guide the congregation through a transition to new ministers and a reformed governance structure.

"Nora was a tremendous source of personal support and inspiration during the early days of my race when very few people believed in my chances," said U.S. Rep. Kathy Hochul, who won a special election in May to represent New York's 26th Congressional District. "Nora was a believer and I will always treasure the faith she had in me. In her memory, I will continue the fight to encourage and support more women in the political process. My friend was taken from us far too young and she will be deeply missed."

Ms. Bredes was regularly sought by media for comments on issues related to women and politics and appeared on CNN, PBS, CBS Sunday Morning, ABC News, and in other print and broadcast outlets. She was featured in Good Housekeeping magazine, New York Woman, Newsday, and the New York Times. Her commentaries on politics and public policy also were carried in Newsday and the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle.

Ms. Bredes was born and raised in Huntington, N.Y., received a bachelor of science degree from Cornell University, and also studied family and community education at Teachers College, Columbia University. She taught "Women in Politics" in the University of Rochester's Department of Political Science.

Allida Black, project director and editor of the Eleanor Roosevelt Papers, is former president of Eleanor's Legacy, and knew Ms. Bredes well. "It's an unfathomable loss," said Ms. Black. "Nora took the best of what a university should be and combined it with her commitment to public service." Ms. Black's project at George Washington University is designed to preserve, teach, and apply Eleanor Roosevelt's work in support of human rights and democratic principles.

Ms. Bredes is survived by her husband, Jack Huttner of Pittsford, N.Y., and their three sons, Nathan, Tobias, and Gabriel; her mother, Dorothy Black of Lakewood, Ohio; a brother, Donald, of Danville, Vt.; and a sister, Amy, of Port Jefferson. Funeral arrangements are pending.