The Awesome Ladies of the New-York Historical Society


The New-York Historical Society and DiMenna Children’s History Museum are celebrating Women’s History Month in full force!  At our Museum, we are all about shining a light on the little-knowns of history who have nevertheless deeply affected our world. Here are profiles of some fascinating ladies we think deserve to be discussed this month, and really all months. From now through March 31st, you can see objects related to each of these women when you tackle the Women’s History Scavenger Hunts.

Anthony Meucci, Mrs. Pierre Toussaint, ca. 1825, Inventory Number: 1920.5, New-York Historical Society

Juliette Toussaint

Juliette Noel was born as a slave to a French family in Haiti in 1786. When she was 15, a fellow Haitain named Pierre Toussaint purchased her freedom and brought her to New York City, where he also lived. In New York City, Pierre had grown wealthy as the city’s most fashionable hairdresser. Despite his wealth, he remained a slave, financially supporting his owner and purchasing the freedom of others instead of himself. Pierre was freed upon his owner’s death and he promptly married Juliette. Together, they were known as the most kind-hearted, generous couple in the city and were both devout Catholics. Juliette donated land on which the African Mutual Relief Society built its first headquarters, and she nursed victims of Yellow Fever in her home. Today, Pierre Toussaint has the title of “Venerable” and may become America’s first black Saint. Juliette was no less remarkable.

Nellie Bly circa 1890, Wikipedia Commons

Nellie Bly

Born Elizabeth Jane Cochran in 1864 and nicknamed “Pinky,” she began supporting her family as a young girl after her father died and left their family with nothing. While living in Pittsburgh, she read a column in the Pittsburgh Dispatch in which the columnist claimed that working women were a disgrace. Pinky wrote a letter to the editor shaming the columnist for his words. The editor loved it, offered her a column, and named her Nellie Bly after a song. She went on to write for newspapers in New York. Throughout her career, she covered the plight of women, working people, immigrants, and the poor. She pioneered undercover journalism by posing as a mentally ill person in order to expose the abuse of patients on New York’s Blackwell’s Island. In 1898, she circumnavigated the globe by steamboat in 72 days, beating the record of fictional character Phineas Fogg in the popular book Around the World in 80 Days by Jules Verne. She wrote about her worldly adventures in hugely popular columns in The New York World. Even today, Nellie Bly is considered a hero of journalism.

Eva Zeisel for Red Wing Pottery,Pitchers, 1946-1960, Inventory Number: 2003_56_1-3, New-York Historical Society

Eva Zeisel

Eva Striker (Zeisel is her married name) was born in Budapest, then part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, in 1906. Eva was inspired by her aunt’s pottery collection to become a ceramicist. The art movements of her time, such as Bauhaus, Modernism, and the International Style, focused on minimalism and sharp angles. Zeisel felt these styles were “too cold” so she designed forms that had soft edges and a sense of humor. She was commissioned to design dinnerware and other ceramics for companies around the world. Zeisel created objects that were beautiful, functional and often quite affordable.  In 1935, she was living in Russia and was falsely accused of plotting to kill Joseph Stalin. She spent 14 months in prison, mostly in solitary confinement, but emerged to create beautiful ceramics until her death in 2011 at the age of 105. She was the first woman to have a solo show of ceramics at the Museum of Modern Art, and earned a National Design Award for Lifetime Achievement from the National Design Museum, Smithsonian at the age of 99. A trend-setter and innovator for nine decades, Eva Zeisel blazed a trail for women in the art world.


Come by to learn about these and other awesome ladies! See you in the galleries!


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *