When the neighbors of yesterday are forgotten
Who shall remind us to set value
On the things that made us what we are?
We were founded in hard hammered granite
From the quarry of noble traditions;
Based on character, based on worthiness.
Dig deep, you new men and you new women,
Into the past---the most useful things lie there
In the dust of oblivion.
--- Jeanne Robert Foster, Neighbors of Yesterday
The accomplishments of Adirondack women have remained unknown and unsung for too long. The region’s history is largely defined by the masculine experience. Tales of loggers, hermits, guides, robber barons, and surveyors fill the pages of travel guides and history books. This was predictable given that writers and historians were almost exclusively men. Women tended to leave little record of their lives; thus their stories have been overlooked.
No longer! Sandra Weber and Peggy Lynn dug through archives and into people’s memories to recover pieces of women’s history. Their book, Breaking Trail, presents accounts of 25 remarkable Adirondack women. Now Sandra Weber has placed their stories in this exhibit, Remarkable Women of the Adirondacks.
These women displayed courage, intelligence, fortitude, and backcountry buffoonery. Be prepared to sob and chuckle as you browse through their lives. Be ready to reconsider Adirondack history.
They talk about a woman’s sphere as though it had a limit;
There’s not a place in earth or heaven,
There’s not a task to mankind given,
There’s not a blessing or a woe,
There’s not a whispered “yes” or “no”,
There’s not a life, or death, or birth,
That has a feather’s weight of worth
Without a Woman in it.
--- Kate Field
A woman’s sphere has no limit, especially within the six million acres of the Adirondack Park. A woman can step outside her appointed role and reach to the peak of an Adirondack mountain and the bottom of an Adirondack pond. She can grip the handle of a hoe, swing an oar, cast a fishing rod, or click a camera. She can ride the bare back of a bronco or craft poetic prose or fight illness and injustice.
Women made an impact on the heritage of the Adirondacks. Many had obstacles and setbacks in their lives but learned to accept their circumstances, adapt, and persevere. The status quo would no longer do; they envisioned a brighter world. Often they had to bend the rules, thwart public opinion, and fly in the face of conventional wisdom as they were breaking trail for their children, their students, the community, or the world.
Some women lived traditional domestic roles; some were cooks or innkeepers or independent businesswomen. Meanwhile others pursued non-traditional paths---as career women (writer, photographer, scientist, or lawyer). Just as with men of the region, the women tend to be fiercely independent individuals and the accounts of women’s experiences in the Adirondacks are diverse. This exhibit does not provide a complete representation of Adirondack women. It is a beginning of the many stories that need to be told. The historical record needs to be rebalanced; women’s stories need to be a part of the collective history of the Adirondacks.
Stand a Chance
by Peggy Lynn
What brings us here today
At the threshold of tomorrow
Binding us together in our joys and
In our sorrows
What brings us to this dignity
As we help each other stand
What put this notion in our heads
That we could ever stand a chance
It is the music of our hearts
It is the labor of our hands
It is the love within our homes
The gathered bounty from the land
It is the passing of tradition
Into our children’s hands
And because of all these gifts we stand a chance
Women laid down the foundation
For today’s communities
They were here in these mountains
In the nineteenth century
Their work defines our heritage
The culture of this land
They knew that only sacrifice
Could make us stand a chance
There were women guides, hoteliers
And cooks in logging camps
Writers, artists and a few
Who lit the lighthouse lamps
They started schools and libraries
To help children understand
That only hand in hand and
Heart to heart we stand a chance
We stand a chance of knowing who we are
And how we all belong
We stand a chance of finding harmony
To join in freedom’s song
--- 2000 by Peggy Lynn/BMI