Tag Archive | "Betty Friedan"

Walking with Women in Sag Harbor

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Mrs. Russell Sage is responsible for building Mashashimuet Park, Pierson Middle-High School and John Jermain Memorial Library. 


By Mara Certic

As you walk down the streets of Sag Harbor, its history is palpable. Treading in the footsteps of sea captains, authors and artists past, you pass buildings on Main Street that date to the 1770s. The histories of Mashashimuet Park, Pierson High School and the John Jermain Memorial Library share one thing in common: they were all funded and built in the first 10 years of the 20th century, by a woman.

“It was so unusual then for a private, independent benefactress to pay for those municipal buildings,” said Tony Garro, who along with Annette Hinkle, hosts a women’s history walking tour of Sag Harbor on Thursday, May 22, sponsored by the League of Women Voters.

Mr. Garro moved to Sag Harbor shortly after retiring from his teaching job of over 30 years in the Massapequa School District. His love of history quickly had him enamored of Sag Harbor. “A little town with this much history is just incredible,” he said. A combination of research, curiosity and long walks led him to start leading historic walking tours in the village. “I thought to myself, instead of putting together a walk in the woods, it would be great to start a walk in Sag Harbor.”

When Mr. Garro first began his tours, they tended to be more generic. The tour would begin at Mashashimuet Park and would continue down Main Street, pausing to look at and learn about some of the historic houses along the street. Continued research prompted Mr. Garro to look into doing themed walks.

A maritime tour during HarborFest one year was his first venture into the world of specialized historical tours.

“But I had an idea for a woman’s tour, and a man leading a woman’s tour doesn’t have too much credibility,” he said. So Mr. Garro brought on writer, Annette Hinkle. Since then, the two have formed “Sag Harbor Sidewalks” and plan to offer tours through the Sag Harbor Whaling Museum this summer.

This Thursday’s tour will explore the homes of four women who played major roles in history, both local and on the larger stage.

Margaret Olivia Slocum Sage, who even today is still most often referred to as Mrs. Russell Sage, did not live in Sag Harbor, or own a home in the village, until she was 74 years old. When her reportedly tight-fisted husband died in 1906, she inherited a fortune estimated at over $50 million to be used at her own discretion.

Mrs. Sage spent the rest of her life spending that money, supporting education, programs for women and also several “pet projects,” including Sag Harbor. As a descendant of both Abraham Pierson and Major John Jermain, she named the school and library that she built after them, respectively.

“She didn’t grow up here, she grew up in Syracuse, but she almost had an unrealistic romanticism about Sag Harbor because her grandmother had grown up here, and I guess she had regaled her with stories of Sag Harbor when she was younger,” Ms. Hinkle said.

In 1912 Mrs. Sage left Sag Harbor never to return. From 1908 until she left, she lived in the Huntting House, where the Sag Harbor Whaling Museum is now located, and where this tour of Sag Harbor begins.

Another stop on the tour is the former home of the feminist pioneer Betty Friedan, author of “The Feminine Mystique,” whose family still owns the house.

“But it’s not just the Betty Friedans that we look at,” said Mr. Garro, mentioning the lesser-known women whose lives are explored on the Sag Harbor Sidewalks tour.

One of the houses the tour will visit was home to Annie Cooper Boyd. At the age of 15, she began keeping a diary, which has since been published. Her writings offer an intimate look into what it was like for a “wild child” to grow up in Sag Harbor in the end of the 19th century.

“She was really trying to be a free spirit in a society that didn’t reward women for being free spirits. On her 17th birthday she talks about not being able to climb trees—at least in her front yard—anymore.”

Annie Cooper Boyd was an artist as well, painting wherever she could—including on the walls of her Sag Harbor home, now home to the Sag Harbor Historical Society and open to the public.

In her artwork, “you can see some really cool views of Sag Harbor that don’t exist anymore,” said Ms. Hinkle. Mr. Garro added “She, in essence, became a historian of Sag Harbor through her art.”

Also included on the tour is the former home of Nelson Algren. “I mean obviously not to talk about Nelson, really.” Mr. Garro said. The tour stops at the Glover Street house because of a torrid love affair the writer had with one of the most celebrated feminists and philosophers of the 20th century, Simone de Beauvoir.

Just a few yards away, on the corner of Glover and Green Streets, is what Mr. Garro refers to as an old “Sag Harbor B&B—a bar and brothel.”

“In the end, it all comes back to the economics, women doing what they had to do to survive,” Ms. Hinkle said.

 Sag Harbor Sidewalks will be putting on themed tours throughout the summer, including maritime tours, cemetery tours and their popular haunted house tours. For more information call the Sag Harbor Whaling Museum at (631) 725-0770.

Friedan’s Headstone, for Friends and Readers, Unveiled in Sag Harbor

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web Betty group

Betty Friedan’s legacy is twofold, said Rabbi Jan Urbach at an unveiling ceremony of Friedan’s headstone on Sunday. Friedan is best known as a feminist writer and activist who pioneered the “second wave” of the women’s movement in the United States, but she was also a mother of three and a close friend to many.

Since Friedan’s passing in 2006, her children, Emily, Daniel, and Jonathan, delayed in selecting a headstone to mark their mother’s grave at the Jewish Cemetery in Sag Harbor. Emily explained that the family searched for a balanced design that would resonate with both her family and friends, as well as with those who followed her work.

“We wanted to include her identity as a writer,” added Emily. “We were interested in something special and unique.”

In the last few years, New York City-based sculptor Mashiko worked with Jonathan on a concept for the headstone.

“This was definitely a collaboration between myself, Mashiko and Betty’s ghost,” remarked Jonathan at the ceremony.

For Mashiko, the challenge was crafting a design to capture who Friedan was. At the onset of the project, Mashiko bought several copies of Friedan’s writings and read her work as a way to understand Friedan’s personality.

“I wanted to know how her ideas came to her,” said Mashiko of her research.

The end product is a perfect melding of Friedan’s private and professional lives. The front of the headstone is smoothed over and has a slightly rounded left side, giving it the appearance of a closed book. However, the headstone’s side and back are marked with a series of chiseled curved lines that overlap. This part of the stone looks at both times like a collection of waves or a head of long flowing hair.

“She had an endless wave of ideas,” noted Mashiko, pointing to this portion of the headstone after the close of the ceremony.

At this point, an onlooker turned to Mashiko and complemented her work, saying, “It is most appropriate for someone who made waves in the world.”

Before the ceremony, the gray sky threatened to rain, but the weather cooperated long enough for Rabbi Urbach of the Conservative Congregation of the Hamptons to speak of the Jewish tradition of marking a grave. Rabbi Urbach said after the mourning and pain of the loss subsides a physical marker is placed on the grave to continue the deceased’s legacy. She added that the ceremony was meant to “consecrate the monument as an expression of love” and encouraged people to place stones on top of the grave.

“[The stones] symbolize the eternity of the soul . . . and that which we can rely on unfailingly,” explained Rabbi Urbach.

Although Friedan has passed, her work as an author and activist lives on. The publication of her book “The Feminine Mystique,” in 1963, helped inspire a second wave of feminism in the United States, a movement that increased female social and economic equality with their male counterparts.

“All of us women owe her a debt,” noted Rabbi Urbach, who referenced a time when female rabbis did not exist.

Friedan’s long list of accomplishments illustrates the tenacity with which she lived her life. An engraving on her headstone displays the sentence “And if not now, when?” which is the last line of a famous saying by the ancient Jewish religious leader Hillel.

Rabbi Urbach recited the saying in its entirety during the ceremony: “If I am not for myself, then who will be for me? And if I am only for myself, then what am I? And if not now, when?”

Jonathan said his mother had always loved that phrase.

“She always had a sense of immediacy and the moment,” remembered Jonathan. “She was great at seizing the moment.”