Women in Rensselaer County History

Resources for Study

Women played a variety of significant roles in the story of Rensselaer County as mothers, factory workers, labor leaders, educators, in charitable organizations, founders and board members of community organizations. Names such as Emma Willard, Margaret Olivia Slocum Sage, Mary Warren, Kate Mullaney, and others set examples of leadership and intelligence that resonate to the present. The Rensselaer County Historical Society’s library considers the collecting of the archives of the history of women and woman-led organizations to be a major part of its mission.

The following is a sample of the archival collections available for researchers studying women’s history of Troy and Rensselaer County. The library is open to the public Tuesday to Saturday, 12 to 5 p.m.

Diaries of women include among several others: 
Mary Sanford, 1901-02, diary of her travels in England and Europe.
Ellen Julia Lesley Stevenson, diary for 1862-63
Ruth Howe’s Diary, 1942-1971
Harriet G. Hart, travel journals in Europe, England and Egypt, 1841-42 and 1857-59
Martha Weisbrod, Snyders Lake, NY diary, 1943-1958.
Diary of an unknown young woman, 1866 and 1870
Diary of Amanda Cluett, 1847-1918

There are hundreds of photographs in the collections that show women depicted in individual portraits, as workers, in family portraits, in street scenes and other views. There are also many family photograph albums. Cluett, Peabody and Company, Archives, include photographs of women collar workers. The company magazine, The Arrow, dating from the early 20th century has photographs showing women and articles about the women factory workers who manufactured the collars and shirts.

Records of organizations founded and/or led by women:
Deborah Powers Home for Old Ladies, 2 cu. ft., 1883-1950. Deborah Powers, a manufacturer and banker, who owned the very successful Powers Oil Cloth and Linoleum Co. in Lansingburgh, New York in the 19th century, became a philanthropist in her later years. Probably her most significant philanthropy was the Home for Old Ladies she established in Lansingburgh in 1883. The bulk of the Powers Home collection consists of correspondence of the staff and women who lived at the Home, papers related to the management of the Home including application forms from prospective residents and signed agreements by residents, financial records of the Home and correspondence related to complaints by residents.

Troy Day Home, 3 cu. ft., 1858-1954. The Day Home was founded in 1858 and was the oldest day nursery in the United States. It was incorporated in1861 by the same women who were its founders and was the first incorporation in New York State comprised solely of women. The Day Home with approximately 100-150 children per day, provided these pre-school age children with some basic education, taught handicrafts, meals and had onsite medical examinations and care. The records include the charter and by-laws, annual reports, scrapbook of clippings, photographs, meeting minutes of the Day Home trustees and other material.

Presbyterian Home Association of Troy, 2 cu.ft., 1871-1984. The Presbyterian Home Association of Troy was founded in 1871 and survived until 1984 when it closed and donated its property and moved its remaining residents into local nursing home in Troy. The Home Association was formed to provide a place for aged and infirm women to reside until their decease. The records consist of minutes of the Board of Managers and Advisory Committee, financial records, correspondence, journals recording the meals served, a history of the Home Association and papers related to the final years and closing of the Home.

Mary Warren Free Institute, 6 cu. ft., 1839-1970. The Mary Warren Free Institute had its origin in a Saturday Sewing School begun by her mother Phebe Warren at   St. Paul’s Church in 1815 for orphaned children. In 1846, Mary B. Warren founded the school that would be renamed the Mary Warren Free Institute in 1859. The school was dedicated to educating economically deprived girls. The school taught girls reading, writing, religion as well as sewing skills. The records documenting the Free Institute include photographs dating from the late 19th to early 20th century, several ledgers listing the names of children attending the school with additional information, many volumes of music used by the children in their choruses, manuscript copies of The Portfolio, the Institute children’s magazine, and other material.

Rensselaer County Almshouse Records, 1 cu.ft., 1875-1892. The county almshouse must have served hundreds of county residents in the 19th century. Almost all these clients remain anonymous. This small collection consists of records of 250 of the inmates, many of whom were women, of the almshouse over two decades. It is a sample of the inmates only, because it appears that all other inmate and administrative records of almshouse are no longer extant. These records are very interesting because they describe each inmate in great detail on a form that includes 30 questions about each inmate. An index to the names has been created and is available on genealogy web sites, but the collection has never been cataloged in a national online catalog.

Wiawaka Holiday House, 18 cu.ft., 1905-1990. Wiawaka Holiday House, Inc. is located on Lake George, New York, but was founded and has always been lead by women from Troy and has its winter office in Troy, New York. Wiawaka was a camp created by prominent women in Troy as a vacation retreat for working women, particularly collar workers in the early 20th century. The records document the work of the board of directors and staff of Wiawaka, their programs for women, financial records, newsletters and other material.

Bethesda Home, 3 cu.ft., 1901-1969. The Bethesda Home was founded in 1901 to provide for the care of homeless girls and women. It remained in existence until about 1969. The records consist of minutes of meetings of the board of directors, reports to the New York State Department of Social Welfare, records of residents at the home, journals of daily activities of the residents, financial records, wills and other documents of donors to the Home and other material.

Samaritan Hospital School of Nursing, 30 cu.ft., 1899-1980. This collection includes photographs, photograph albums, scrapbooks, artifacts of nursing, curriculum materials, Faculty Association minutes, Board of Directors minutes, Traveling School material, annual reports and other materials. The Samaritan Hospital was planned beginning in 1896 and was opened in 1898. The School of Nursing, originally called the Training School, was begun in 1898. The School trained nurses and provided a residence for them as well. In 1922, the school became affiliated with Russell Sage College where students could pursue a five-year degree in nursing. The School of Nursing continues to the present day.

Family Papers Collections:
There are many family papers here. These list just a few collections:

The Hart Family Papers include a vast collection of financial records kept by Betsey Howard Hart over nearly half a century as she managed a large household, the Hart family home, now the Hart-Cluett House Museum, and her many business interests.

Julia Dickinson Tayloe. This is a collection of Tayloe’s diary, commonplace and poetry manuscript books and correspondence from her homes in Troy and Washington, DC, dated mainly from about 1830-1846.

Emma Willard: There are letters and other papers of the Willard family.

Lansing family of Lansingburgh and Troy collection includes correspondence and other archival material of this family.