New York State Senate Celebrates Women's History Month

Inducts Three Women into Historic Women of Distinction Exhibit

ALBANY – To celebrate Women’s History Month, the New York State Senate today announced an exhibit honoring historic New York women whose achievements in arts, science, government, military, labor, education, and social reform has earned them recognition as Women of Distinction.

This exhibit includes three new honorees:    America’s first trained nurse Linda Richards of Potsdam, (1841-1930), women’s advocate Mary Wiltsie Fuller of Troy and the Glens Falls area (1862-1943) and the first African-American female doctor in New York, and the third in the nation Susan Smith McKenney Steward (1847-1918) of Brooklyn.

Also, to mark the 10th anniversary of the unprecedented tragedy that befell our State and Nation on September 11, 2001, please take a moment to remember honorees Moira Smith, a decorated NYPD Officer; Captain Kathy Mazza, the first female commandant of the Port Authority Police Training Academy; and Yamel Merino, New York State’s 2001 Emergency Medical Technician of the Year, all of whom were among the first responders on the scene at the World Trade Center, literally saving the lives of hundreds.

The Women of Distinction exhibit features historic New York women, from suffragists to geneticists, labor organizers to entertainers, whose contributions are still felt today and who stand as an inspiration to the next generation of inventors, explorers, and achievers.  The exhibit will be on display in Albany, March 14-18 at the Legislative Office Building.   Senators are also offering an online Women of Distinction exhibit through his/her web site.

Women’s History Month is a time to take stock of the enormous contributions of great women from our past.  The Women of Distinction exhibit singles out just a few of these extraordinary people as an example of women’s achievements that continue to this very day.

Some of the women in the display include Susan B. Anthony, Lucille Ball, “Grandma Moses” Robertson, Harriet Tubman, Emma Willard, among others, all with strong links to New York State.

The online exhibit contains easy-to-read biographies of these great women, as well as identifying resources, many online, to help visitors learn more.

The Women of Distinction program was created by the Senate in 1998 to recognize the historic contributions of New Yorkers in celebration of National Women’s History Month, observed each March.

2011 Women of Distinction Legislative Resolution



Mary Wiltsie Fuller, a progressive activist for women’s rights, established Wiawaka, an Adirondack retreat for women. The daughter of a Troy industrialist, Ms. Fuller became aware of the need for respite for the working women in shirt-collar factories, mills and laundries of Troy and Cohoes. Vacations and recreation were beyond the means of these hardworking women. When it offi cially opened in 1903, Wiawaka (Indian name for the “Great Spirit of Women”), the retreat could accommodate up to 38 women for a weekly rate for room and board of $3.50.

Through her association with the Girls Friendly Society of the Episcopal Church, Ms. Fuller was able to elicit fellow sponsors as well as other infl uential friends from Saratoga and surrounding areas for help. She approached, Katrina Trask (Yaddo - Saratoga) about helping to fi nd a location for her retreat for the women. Ms. Trask was civic minded and leased to Ms. Fuller land located on the southeastern
shore of Lake George. The following year Ms. Trask sold the property to Ms. Fuller for one dollar and a bouquet of fl owers.

A group of about 50 friends helped Ms. Fuller raise money for renovations, and contributed canned goods and vegetables for the kitchen and wood for the fi replaces. Wiawaka is one of the oldest and longest continuously operated non-profi t retreats for women in the United States of America today.

Mary Wiltsie Fuller lived and worked at Wiawaka until her death at Glens Falls in 1943


Dr. Susan Smith McKinney Steward was the fi rst African American woman to earn a medical doctorate (M.D.) in New York State and the third in the United States. Though her early education was musical, Susan Smith entered the New York Medical College for Women in 1867. She earned her M.D. in 1870, graduating as valedictorian.

In 1871, she married Reverend William G. McKinney, with whom she had two children. Dr. Smith McKinney’s professional accomplishments were numerous. She established her own private practice in Brooklyn that she ran from 1870 to 1895. During this time she co-founded the Brooklyn Women’s Homeopathic Hospital and Dispensary, which served the African-American community. Dr. Smith McKinney also completed post-graduate education at the Long Island Medical College Hospital in Brooklyn, practiced at the Brooklyn Home for Aged Colored People, where she also served as a board member, and practiced at New York Medical College and Hospital for Women in Manhattan. Dr. Smith McKinney specialized in prenatal care and childhood diseases and presented papers on both these topics.

Rev. McKinney died in 1892, and in 1896 Dr. Smith McKinney married Theophilus Gould Steward, an ordained minister and U.S. Army chaplain. She traveled with him for several years throughout the West, earning medical licenses in Montana and Wyoming. In 1898, Dr. Smith McKinney Steward was hired by Wilberforce University in Ohio as a resident physician and faculty member to teach health and nutrition.

Dr. Smith McKinney Steward’s activities included local missionary work and women’s suff rage advocacy. She was president of the Brooklyn Women’s Christian Temperance Union (No. 6). She was an accomplished public speaker, and in 1911 addressed the fi rst Universal Race Congress at the University of London. Her presentation was entitled, “Colored Women in America.” In 1914, she gave a speech, “Women in Medicine,” at the National Association of Colored Women’s Clubs Convention.

Dr. Smith McKinney Steward practiced medicine for 48 years. When she died in Brooklyn in 1918, W.E.B. DuBois gave the eulogy at her funeral. In 1974, Brooklyn Junior High School was renamed Dr. Susan Smith McKinney Junior High School in her honor. Two years later, black women physicians in the New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut area named their society after her to honor her life and work


A native of Potsdam, Linda Richards became the fi rst professionally trained American nurse. Credited with establishing nurse training programs in the United States and Japan, she is also recognized for creating the fi rst system for keeping individual medical records for hospitalized patients. The system she created was widely used in the United States, as well as in England where it was adopted by St. Thomas’s Hospital, the institution founded by Florence Nightingale.

The deaths of her parents from tuberculosis and her husband from Civil War battle wounds provided the young Ms. Richards with the opportunity to see fi rst-hand the ravages of human suff ering. Inspired by these personal losses, she moved to Boston to become a nurse. She was one of fi ve women to sign up for a nurse-training program at the New England Hospital for Women and Children, and she was the program’s fi rst graduate in 1873.

After working in Bellevue Hospital in New York City, Ms. Richards returned to Boston in 1874, where she was named superintendent of the Boston Training School. Under her guidance and managerial acumen, she was able to turn the program around, and it became regarded as one of the best nursing programs in the country. Ms. Richards traveled to England to participate in an intensive nurse training program. She studied at St. Thomas’s Hospital in London, where she was able to spend time with Florence Nightingale, who is widely
regarded as the founder of modern nursing. At Nightingale’s suggestion, Ms. Richards studied at King’s College Hospital and the Edinburgh Royal Infi rmary in Scotland.

Ms. Richards returned to America in 1878 to help set up a training school at Boston City Hospital. Named matron of the hospital and superintendent of the school, she stayed there until 1885. Later that year, she traveled to Japan to help establish that country’s fi rst nurse-training program. Ms. Richards supervised the school at Doshisha Hospital in Kyoto for fi ve years before returning to the United States.

Ms. Richards worked in the fi eld of nursing for another 20 years, establishing and directing nurse-training programs in Philadelphia, Massachusetts, and Michigan. Ms. Richards retired in 1911 to write her autobiography, Reminiscences of Linda Richards. Following a severe stroke in 1923, she returned to the New England Hospital for Women and Children where she remained until her death on April 16, 1930. Linda Richards was inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame in 1994



Capt. Kathy Mazza of Farmingdale, Long Island, was the first female Port Authority Officer killed in the line of duty. She died in the World Trade Center tragedy, along with 36 of her Port Authority Police Department (PAPD) colleagues — 3 percent of the entire force that is dedicated to patrolling the New York Metro area’s airports, bridges, tunnels and railways. No police department in U.S. history lost more officers in a single incident as the PAPD on September 11.

Mazza was killed while evacuating people from Tower One of the World Trade Center. Her body was recovered exactly five months after the attack.

Mazza graduated from Nassau Community College with a nursing degree in the mid-1970s and joined the PAPD, which is the nation’s 26th largest law enforcement agency, in 1987, rising through the ranks to become the first female commandant of the PA Police Training Academy. With her unusual mix of medical and police skills, Capt. Mazza was an obvious choice to lead the Academy’s emergency medical care training programs. She was named 1999 Basic Life Support Provider of the Year by the Regional Emergency Medical Services Council of New York City, and launched the portable defibrillators program at PA facilities, literally saving dozens of lives.

Raised in Massapequa, Capt. Mazza leaves behind a husband, NYPD Officer Christopher Delosh


Emergency Medical Technician Yamel Merino of Yonkers was among the first rescue workers on the scene at the World Trade Center tragedy on September 11, 2001. A 24-year-old EMT for MetroCare Ambulance of Westchester County, Merino volunteered to enter the burning towers, displaying that day the compassion and courage she had shown throughout her short but admirable life.

Born to Dominican immigrants, Yamel Merino completed her EMT certification at Westchester Community College, where she received a
Chancellor’s Award from the State University of New York in recognition of scholastic excellence and extraordinary dedication to self-improvement.

Merino was chosen as MetroCare’s EMT of the Year in 1999, and in 2001 she was honored as New York State’s EMT of the Year. Merino was also recognized at Glamour magazine’s recent Women of the Year ceremony.

She left behind an eight-year-old son, Kevin Villa


Police Officer Moira Smith was among the first to respond to the September 11 attack at the World Trade Center on and was last seen
evacuating people out of Tower Two, saving hundreds of lives. Described by the Daily News as having “the face of an angel and the heart of a lion,” Officer Smith was posthumously awarded the NYPD’s Medal of Honor, the department’s highest honor.

Officer Smith began her police career in 1988 when she joined the New York City Transit Police Department. After the department merged with the NYPD, Officer Smith was assigned to Manhattan’s 13th Precinct in 1997. Throughout her police career, Officer Smith exhibited extreme valor, and among her awards was the department’s Distinguished Duty Medal, which she received in 1991 for saving
dozens of lives after a subway crash. She was listed among Glamour and Ms. magazines’ Women of the Year for 2001 and was named Woman of the Year by the NYPD’s Policewomen’s Endowment Association.

Born in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, Officer Smith lived in Queens Village with her police officer husband, James J. Smith, and their two-year-old daughter


2011 Historic Women of Distinction Book



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