women’s history month

Olympian Connie Darnowski: Greenpoint’s Greatest Ever Female Athlete

Connie Darnowski

Hurdler Connie Darnowski represented the United States in the 1952 and 1956 Olympic games and is the greatest female athlete our area ever produced. Her success is all the more amazing because she succeeded at a time before Title IX opened up women’s sports. She competed when there were only two women’s college track teams and Connie never had the chance to compete on the college level. Connie graduated from St John’s University in 1956, but the school had no college women’s teams. It is ironic that Connie is in the St. John’s Athletic Hall of Fame, yet never had the chance to compete for her school. Continue reading

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The Greenpoint Woman Who Ran For President?

Belva Lockwood was an early feminist and one of the first women to ever run for president. She ran twice in 1884 and again in 1888 in the days before women even had the right to vote. While doing research on Greenpoint history I have come across sources, including Memorable Greenpoint by Professor Virginia Felter, stating Lockwood was from Greenpoint, however other sources contradict this claim. At any rate, her story is fascinating.
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Women’s History Month: Mae West, Feminist and Progressive

Mae West, via Wikipedia

A lot of people know that movie star Mae West was born in 1893 on Herbert Street and that she became a and one of Hollywood’s first sex symbols, but a lot of people do not know that she was an outspoken feminist and a social progressive who successfully challenged bigotry and narrow-minded conventional morality.

West grew up at a time when women’s social roles were changing. She explained, “I was born just at the right time. A little earlier and they would have put a scarlet letter on me and burned me at the stake. A little later and they wouldn’t have been shocked any more.” West came of age at a time when vaudeville was America’s most popular form of entertainment, and Greenpoint had seven vaudeville theaters. West had little formal schooling, but her huge exposure to vaudeville theater shaped many of her avant garde ideas. In a day when most whites were prejudiced, her favorite male vaudeville actor was African American Bert Williams, from whom she took many of the aspects of her stage persona. She copied Williams’s uses of double entendres, innuendo and answers with multiple and conflicting messages where rebelliousness hid just below the surface. Later, when she directed plays, she insisted on racially integrated casts.
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The Unlikely Story of The White Greenpoint Woman Who Co-Founded America’s Most Influential Black Political Organization

Sometimes an unexpected event is a turning point in a person’s life. The story of Mary White Ovington’s trip to Prospect Park was just such a turning point. Ovington was born in 1865, just at the end of the Civil War in Brooklyn Heights. Her defining characteristic was idealism, which she inherited from her parents, who had been upper class Brooklyn abolitionists and taught Mary to fight for social justice. Ovington attended Packer Collegiate Institute, and then went on to Radcliffe, where she was greatly influenced by the ideas of professor William J. Ashley who convinced her to dedicate her life to helping the underprivileged.

Ovington worked for social justice, instead of marrying and raising a family. Ironically, despite the fact that her parents were abolitionists, initially, her work did not focus on African-Americans. Deeply influenced by the ideas of Jane Addams and her charitable Chicago Hull House settlement house, which sought to help the millions of uneducated immigrants, living in dirty, overcrowded tenements, White dedicated herself to aiding poor immigrants. She soon met the millionaire oil refiner Charles Pratt, who built the Astral Building on Franklin Street as affordable model housing for our area’s poor. A vital part of this building was the settlement house, which taught local immigrants important urban survival skills. Ovington impressed Pratt greatly, and he chose her as co-founder of his Greenpoint Settlement House. For four years she taught the immigrant poor of Greenpoint the skills they needed to succeed in New York.

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Women’s History Month: Peter McGuinness and Dangerous Smoking Women

Local lawmaker Peter J. McGuinness began his first term as alderman at the end of World War I when female behavior was rapidly changing, outraging conceptions of proper female behavior. Young women called flappers defied traditional ladylike behavioral expectations by cutting their hair short, wearing pants instead of skirts, and—most shocking for McGuinness—even smoking in public. These rule-breaking new women, like Greenpoint’s Mae West, flouted conventions, shocking traditionalists like McGuinness. Smoking was not just considered unladylike; it was for many a black mark on a woman’s character. A Washington Post editorial in 1914 declared, “A man may take out a woman who smokes for a good time, but he won’t marry her, and if he does, he won’t stay married.”

In 1921, McGuinness, determined to protect public morality, proposed a notorious ordinance in the Board of Aldermen banning women from smoking in public places in New York City. The bill, though was misfiled as a law, although it was never enforced., which only added to the firestorm or controversy around it. McGuinness, asked to explain the smoking ban, answered:

“Young fellows go into our restaurants to find women folks sucking cigarettes. What happens? The young fellows lose all respect for the women, and the next thing you know the young fellows, vampired by these smoking women, desert their homes, their wives and children, rob their employers and even commit murder so that they can get money to lavish on these smoking women.” Continue reading

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Women’s History Month – In Conversation with Sisters-in-Law Katherine Conkling Thompson & Elizabeth Thompson

Katherine Conkling Thompson (left) & Elizabeth Thompson (middle), with cousins Penelope, Beatrice, and Abby (right) - © Fabian Palencia

Today we present the grand finale of our Women’s History Month interview series, which began in March and introduced us to some wonderful women through the thoughtful nominations our readers submitted. We’ve already posted interviews with six Greenpointers who are doing exceptional things in the neighborhood – Amy, Jay, Sogoal, Lauren, Nackie, and Meg – and today we have a unique final post to share.

Allow us to introduce two sisters-in-law, Elizabeth Thompson and Katherine Conkling Thompson, who both nominated each other! Their Greenpoint homes are just three blocks apart, on Milton and Calyer Streets respectively, so we arranged to sit down with them together at Katherine’s house on a misty gray Sunday evening. Her daughter Abby (17) and Elizabeth’s daughters Beatrice (8) and Penelope (4) joined us in the living room and took part in our interview. Katherine’s older daughter Charlotte (20) is away at college and was sorely missed, especially during the photos – and her eldest son, Eliot (22), also deserves a mention, as his childhood soccer adventures play a large role in why his aunt Elizabeth nominated his mom. Continue reading

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Women’s History Month – In Conversation With Meg McNeill

Meg McNeill © Fabian Palencia

The page on the calendar may have turned, but we had such a great response to our Women’s History Month interviews in March that we still have a couple of fantastic ladies to showcase throughout early April. This next profile took us to Dandelion Wine on Franklin Street on a quiet Monday night, to meet with the inimitable Meg McNeill, who was nominated for these reasons by her friend, Rachael:

Meg is an all-around wonderful person and especially awesome Greenpoint woman! She’s thoroughly involved in the neighborhood and Greenpoint community. From servicing it directly and providing us all with wonderful wine at Dandelion Wine, to supporting neighborhood businesses and friends, attending her friends’ music and art shows, to bringing a positive ‘tude to nearly every situation. PLUS she just became a Certified Sommelier, which is no small feat. All-around stand-up lady.

Meg opened a bottle of wine for us, set out some She Wolf Bakery bread for snacking, and a fascinating conversation followed with a very smart, warm, and funny neighborhood fixture. Continue reading

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Women’s History Month – In Conversation With Nackie Karcher

Nackie Karcher © Fabian Palencia

Greenpointers contributor Eddy Vallante heard about our Women’s History Month series and suggested we take the opportunity to speak with his friend Nackie Karcher, owner of The Parlour Brooklyn, a popular hair salon on Greenpoint Avenue. Eddy nominated Nackie because she’s “super awesome,” so how could we resist? We visited her at the salon after-hours and got to know this thoughtful, hardworking local businesswoman.

GP: I loved that your bio on The Parlour website refers to you as a Florida sun-child. How did you end up here, so far north of that?

Nackie: It’s a great question. I never expected to be here; I never had plans to be in New York. But doing hair did pull me here, and that’s how my career ended up evolving. To me, New York is a coastal city; especially in Greenpoint, we’re on the water, and I think that if I didn’t hear seagulls here, I probably wouldn’t be in Greenpoint, or wouldn’t be in New York, as long as I’ve been. That’s one of the things I love about Greenpoint – being by the water. Part of my passion for boating and all things maritime just clicks well in New York. Continue reading

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Women’s History Month – In Conversation With Sogoal Zolghadri

Sogoal Zolghadri © Fabian Palencia

We have another awesome Greenpoint woman’s tale to tell today. Sogoal Zolghadri’s talents as an artist and baker came to our attention through her roommate Nina’s glowing nomination:

Sogoal Zolghadri is not only a fantastic Greenpoint-based cookie decorator (and baker), but also an incredible watercolourist. Her cookies have been featured by Vogue, Martha Stewart, Free People, Nasty Gal, and countless blogs. She makes Greenpoint awesome by headquartering her incredible Sogi’s Honey Bakeshop here. Continue reading

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Know An Awesome Greenpoint Woman? We Want To Meet Her!

1917 picket line, c/o Library of Congress

March is just a few days away, and it signals Women’s History Month. We want to honor this nationally recognized time period on a local level by meeting some of the women who make our neighborhood stronger and better. To do that, we need your help! We’ll be accepting nominations all month for the Greenpoint women you think we should know. Continue reading

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