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Book profiles prominent women of Long Island

Sally James Farnham (1869-1943) was a sculptor who

Sally James Farnham (1869-1943) was a sculptor who had commissions around the world. She is shown in 1921 in her West 57th Street Studio in New York City next to her bust of Herbert Hoover. Earlier in her career, she lived in Great Neck. Credit: Library of Congress, Bain Collection

Although Natalie Naylor's book on prominent women in Long Island's history was recently published, its genesis dates back three decades.

The now-retired Hofstra University professor was teaching a summer graduate course in Long Island history in 1982.

"A student asked me one day, 'Why are there no women in our Long Island history textbook?' " she recalled. "I was embarrassed because I should have realized that."

So Naylor began researching women who had played a significant role in local history or had high visibility here. The result is "Women in Long Island's Past: A History of Eminent Ladies and Everyday Lives," a paperback published by The History Press ($19.99).

"I had been thinking about it for a long time. It kind of combines my interest in Long Island history and women's history," Naylor said of the book, which is her first and follows many articles on both subjects.

"Traditional histories give very little attention to local women, and Long Island is not unusual in that," said Naylor, who left Hofstra in 2000 after teaching there for 32 years.

Naylor, who lives in Uniondale, began her research with the three-volume reference work "Notable American Women." She found about 150 women with a connection to Long Island, from Brooklyn to Suffolk. That led to a two-part article in the history journal Long Island Forum and more research.


Focus on first ladies

Eventually she found more than 300 women -- including five first ladies -- to mention in the volume.

Thanks to good teachers, the history bug bit Naylor when she attended Peekskill High School in Westchester. At Bryn Mawr College in Pennsylvania, she majored in political science and minored in history before earning a master's degree in the teaching of social studies from Teachers College at Columbia University.

After graduation, she taught at Tuckahoe High School in Westchester before moving to Hofstra. There she started in the School of Education, focusing on the history of education. In 1976, she moved over to teach history at Hofstra's now defunct interdisciplinary New College while also teaching women's history courses for the university history department. She was director of the Long Island Studies Institute from its founding in 1985 until she retired.

In researching the book, Naylor initially focused on famous women, including first ladies. "Edith Roosevelt was here the longest," she said of Theodore Roosevelt's wife. Eleanor Roosevelt, the wife of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, "lived in Hempstead-East Meadow when she was very small for a brief period of time," Naylor added. "William Henry Harrison's wife, Anna Symmes Harrison, was born in [New] Jersey but grew up with her grandparents in Aquebogue and attended Clinton Academy" in East Hampton.

"Harrison died in office, and [John] Tyler becomes the first vice president to become president, and his wife had been an invalid and died while he was in office," Naylor noted. "The second Mrs. Tyler is Julia Gardiner of Gardiner's Island. And Jackie Kennedy was born in Southampton and spent many summers there" with her grandparents.

In her book, Naylor also writes about women in the aircraft industry during World War II and others who are not household names, because "I also wanted to give some idea of what everyday lives were like," she said.


Artists get recognition

The largest group of women in the book are artists. Naylor, president of the Nassau County Historical Society, identified seven of note, many from the East End. A few, such as sculptor Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney, of Old Westbury, and East Enders Lee Krasner and Elaine de Kooning, are well-known, but the others are more obscure. Naylor said her research turned up many women she had never heard of, including Sally James Farnham, a sculptor from Kings Point whose works include an equestrian statue of Simon Bolivar in Manhattan's Central Park.

Asked to identify the woman she found most interesting, Naylor named Cold Spring Harbor suffragist Rosalie Gardiner Jones, "who's been overlooked. She was known as General Jones. She led a hike to Albany and then to Washington D.C. They walked 170 miles [to Albany] in December through the mud and snow. She was quite a character."

Besides Jones and Edith Roosevelt, the other women Naylor deemed most important or interesting were Plandome novelist Frances Hodgson Burnett, who wrote "The Secret Garden" and "Little Lord Fauntleroy," pioneering pilot Elinor Smith of Freeport, Newsday co-founder Alicia Patterson and geneticist Barbara McClintock.

Naylor said that researching and writing the book has prompted her to seek public recognition for some of the women whose achievements are not well known. One of them is right at Hofstra, where Mason Hall is named for Kate Mason Hofstra. The widow of William Hofstra left her inherited fortune to be used for a memorial to him, which led to the creation of the college. Naylor said other campus buildings have plaques explaining who the buildings are named after, but not Mason Hall, an oversight she said she would like the university to rectify.

For Hofstra and the other women she profiled, Naylor said, "I hope the book brings some recognition to them."


Book discussion with author

Natalie Naylor, author of "Women in Long Island's Past: A History of Eminent Ladies and Everyday Lives," will discuss her book at events in March, which is Women's History Month:

March 10 1:30 p.m., Rock Hall Museum, Lawrence

March 11 7 p.m., Comsewogue Library, Port Jefferson Station

March 18 7 p.m., Huntington Library

March 22 7 p.m., Port Jefferson Library

For other events, email

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