It is more than appropriate to set aside some time to reflect on an important book by Natalie Naylor, Women in Long Island’s Past: A History of Eminent Ladies and Everyday Lives (The History Press, 2012). This book has been winking at me every time I dust near the stack of books that I consider a “must read.” Natalie’s “eminent ladies” is no best seller, but I’ve grown to accept this when it comes to women’s history. This is an arena where those of us who love history must stick together. And Natalie has gone beyond the call of duty in terms of following this subject for years and then leaving something behind of substance for people like us to reflect on.
I remember getting to know Natalie years ago at a Long Island library where she met with me during the very early stages of researching my grandmother Edna Kearns’ suffrage activism on Long Island. She was generous with her own research, which isn’t always the case with scholars. Natalie’s support and encouragement has been extremely important for me, and I’ve grown to respect the time and commitment she has put into documenting the long and what she calls the “invisible” history of Long Island women.
The first chapter on native women is a no-nonsense account of a culture where women were respected and honored. Their contact with the so-called civilized world of colonial settlers must have been an eye opener to these women, and Natalie’s painstaking work to present this sorry history is a major contribution to those of us who like to know the real story. Some of these images of native women are profound.
“Colonial records usually include only names of men among the original settlers, but Long Island towns were settled by families,” notes Natalie as we descend into the past with her as a guide. We follow along with details about Quaker settlements on Long Island that preceded William Penn’s settlement in Philadelphia, slavery, women’s journals, witchcraft, the British occupation of Long Island, the agricultural economy, artists, historians, civic and political activists, plus the movers and shakers of a wide range of Long Island women over the years.
There are the usual big names, like Jackie Kennedy Onasis and Eleanor Roosevelt, plus numerous examples of ordinary people who made significant contributions. Natalie states upfront that space limitations prevented her from making the book more of a representational document of women who made a difference. That Grandmother Edna Kearns made it into the collection is, of course, a source of delight to me. And it suggests that those writers and historians looking for documentary projects have Natalie’s book to launch their efforts.
There’s so much great material in this 192-page work. In one interview that Natalie gave about her book, she mentioned that suffragist Rosalie Jones has been a source of considerable fascination for her over the years. Thank you, Natalie, for your persistence in bringing all these women to light. It’s an accomplishment much needed and appreciated.
Don’t forget the Cradle Blogging Tour that’s soon to begin. Follow the Suffrage Wagon on the “Let’s Rock the Cradle” road trip in late September 2013. “Marguerite’s Musings” is a regular feature of Suffrage Wagon News Channel.