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Top 10 Women Who Influenced Dutchess County's History

Date Published: February 21, 2024

There are a multitude of amazing Dutchess County women to celebrate. Learn more about these different women who made history, and become inspired!

Eleanor Roosevelt, First Lady and Human Rights Advocate

Visit: Eleanor Roosevelt National Historic Site, Hyde Park

Eleanor Roosevelt was much more than The First Lady and wife of Franklin Delano Roosevelt. She was an advocate for an expansion of women’s roles in the workforce, civil rights for African Americans, as well as rights of World War II refugees. Harry S. Truman referred to her as “The First Lady of the World” in regards to her advocacy for human rights. A permanent exhibit in the Stone Cottage at Val-Kill, "Eleanor Roosevelt and Val-Kill: Emergence of a Political Leader," examines Eleanor's world during the 1920s and ‘30s and the influential people she worked with to shape a national political agenda during the New Deal. After her husband’s death in 1945, she remained active in politics. She became a delegate for the United Nations and the first Chair for the United Nations Commission on Human Rights.  

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Janet Livingston Montgomery, Independent and Powerful Woman

Visit: Montgomery Place, Annandale On Hudson

Janet Livingston Montgomery, the wife of Richard Montgomery, the man often called "The First Hero of the American Revolution," was a strong and powerful woman. Richard was killed at the Battle of Quebec in 1775, only two years after they were married. Janet remained interested in politics throughout the war, and was a harsh critic of loyalists. In 1802, she shocked her family by purchasing a 434-acre farm and building a new home that she called Montgomery Place. Janet entertained family and friends, and planted flowers, trees and fruits on the property. She even established a successful commercial nursery adjacent to her estate. Janet died at Montgomery Place in 1827 at the age of 85.

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Margaret “Daisy” Suckley, Developer of FDR Museum and Library

Visit: Wilderstein, Rhinebeck and Franklin D. Roosevelt Museum and Library, Hyde Park

Margaret “Daisy” Suckley was born and raised at Wilderstein, overlooking a bend in the Hudson River, in Rhinebeck. Daisy was a distant cousin to Franklin Delano Roosevelt, traveled with him extensively and was even with him when he died in Georgia. She was a close friend and confidant of FDR and played a key role in setting up the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Museum and Library until 1963. Suckley died when she was 101 years old, on June 29, 1991. The letters they exchanged throughout their friendship were discovered in a black battered suitcase at Wilderstein. They have provided some of the best resources for understanding the private side of Roosevelt’s life during his presidency. 

Learn More About Wilderstein | Learn More About the FDR Museum and Library

Joan Tower, Composer

Visit: Bard College, Annandale-on-Hudson

Joan Tower (1938-present) is a Grammy Award-winning concert pianist, conductor and composer, as well as professor at Bard College in Annandale-on-Hudson. She has made a significant contribution to musical life in the United States through her compositions and performances and her work as a conductor and an educator.  Her works have been commissioned by major ensembles, orchestras, and soloists. A recording of her work, “Made in America,” won three Grammy awards in 2008. Read more about Joan here.    

Catch a performance at the Fisher Center at Bard!

Catheryna Rombout Brett, Business Woman

Visit: Madam Brett Homestead, Beacon

Roger and his wife, Catheryna Rombout Brett, built their homestead in 1709 on a property that was inherited from Catheryna’s father, Francis Rombout. She became a successful businesswoman after her husband’s Hudson River drowning in the early 18th century. She remained in the wilderness and took control over their home and property. Brett managed her own estate and her own wealth, which she would have been unable to do if she had remarried. Along with 21 men, Brett organized the first producers' co-operative and was an equal partner with the men. Brett raised her three sons by herself and lived at the homestead with her son Francis until she died in 1764. She was a generous patron of her church and is buried under the pulpit of the First Reformed Church of Fishkill. The 17-room Madam Brett Homestead was inhabited by seven generations of the Brett family for nearly 250 years. The tour allows you into all 17 rooms and to experience the period furnishings used by this extraordinary family during nearly 250 years of life in the Hudson River Valley. The property's six acres remaining from Madam Brett's original inheritance of over 28,000 acres feature a garden, woodlands, and a meandering brook. Located at 50 Van Nydeck Avenue, at the corner of Teller Avenue, and one block off Main Street in Beacon. You can go on a tour every second Saturday, May-December, from 1-4 p.m.

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Maria Mitchell, Astronomer

Visit: Vassar College, Poughkeepsie

Maria Mitchell was the first American woman to work as a professional astronomer as well as being the first person, regardless of sex, appointed to the faculty at Vassar College in 1865. She was named as Director of the Vassar College Observatory and continued to teach until her retirement in 1888. By using a telescope, Mitchell discovered a comet that became known as “Miss Mitchell’s Comet.” Mitchell also used her observatory dome as a gathering place for the discussion of politics and women's issues. In addition to her achievements in astronomy, she was the first woman elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Read more about Maria here. The Vassar College Observatory is not open to the public but welcomes visitors from the community for Open Nights, weather permitting, on Wednesday and Friday nights from 9-11 p.m. during the school year and for special events. 

Jane Matilda Bolin, First African American Female Judge

Visit: Dutchess County Courthouse, Poughkeepsie

Jane Matilda Bolin (1908-2007) is a native of Poughkeepsie but spent her career in the five boroughs of New York City. She holds the honor of being the first African American female judge in the entire United States. Judge Bolin’s family has a longtime connection with Dutchess County and were among the earliest African American families in the region. Her grandfather was born in Dover Plains, and her father was the first African American president of the Dutchess County Bar Association. He practiced law in the county for more than 50 years after courageously attending Wellesley College as one of only two African American freshmen. Judge Bolin then enrolled in post-graduate studies at Yale Law School and was the program's first female African American graduate in 1931. Judge Bolin, along with her father, Judge Gaius Bolin Sr., are prominently featured in a mural at the Dutchess County Courthouse in Poughkeepsie. In addition, her achievements are honored by the renaming of the Poughkeepsie City School District Administration building to the Jane Bolin Administration building.

Read more about Judge Bolin in the Poughkeepsie Journal.

Learn More about the Dutchess County Court


Beatrix Farrand, Landscape Architect

Visit: Beatrix Farrand Gardens at Bellefield, Hyde Park

Beatrix Cadwalader Farrand (1872-1959) was a landscape gardener and architect in the United States. Her career included commissions to design nearly 110 gardens for private residences, estates, country homes, public parks, botanic gardens, college campuses, and even the White House. Her work defined the American taste in gardens throughout the first half of the 20th century. Rather than the traditional design of tender and annual plants set out each year in elaborately shaped beds cut into lawn, Farrand joined the likes of England's Gertrude Jekyll and William Robinson by championing the use of perennial plants in combinations based on color harmony, bloom sequence, and texture. This was the birth of the mixed border that is standard in gardens today. 
The Beatrix Farrand Garden at Bellefield is located on the property of the Home of Franklin D. Roosevelt National Historic Site in Hyde Park and is a beautiful revival of a private garden created by one of America's celebrated landscape designers.

Margaret Fuller, Women’s Rights Activist and Journalist

Visit: Beacon

Sarah Margaret Fuller Ossoli, (1810-1850) commonly known as Margaret Fuller, was an American journalist, critic, and women's rights advocate associated with the American transcendentalism movement. She was the first full-time American female book reviewer in journalism. Fuller, the first woman reporter hired for Horace Greeley’s New York Tribune, spent seven weeks in Fishkill Landing (now a part of Beacon) in the fall of 1844 revising her Transcendental Dial article “The Great Lawsuit” into the first American feminist book, Woman in the Nineteenth Century, which is considered to be the first major feminist work in the United States. A marker, dedicated to her time in Fishkill Landing, is installed at the original site of the Van Vliet boarding house where she wrote her book. Fishkill Landing is one of four sites in New York State associated with Margaret Fuller from 1844 to 1850, including the Greeley Farm at 49th Street and Lexington Avenue on Turtle Bay and 30 Ann Street in Lower Manhattan, where the New York Tribune office was located. Read more about Margaret here

Edith Wharton, Pulitzer Prize-Winning Novelist

Edith Jones Wharton (1862-1937) was an American author best known for her stories and novels about the upper-class society into which she was born. Her most noted works include "Ethan Frome," “The House of Mirth” and “The Age of Innocence” (1920) for which she won a Pulitzer Prize. Wharton was a frequent childhood visitor to Wyndcliff, the Hudson River mansion owned by Wharton’s aunt, New York City Socialite Elizabeth Schermerhorn. Wharton referred to Wyndcliff in at least two of her books and her time at the mansion strongly influenced her writings in "Hudson River Bracketed." Unfortunately, Wyndcliff underwent several owners and years of neglect since Wharton’s time there and is now in a state of ruins.

Learn More About Wyndcliff Mansion 

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