Historic Huguenot Street Celebrates Women’s History

2017 is the centennial of women’s suffrage in New York State. In celebration of the anniversary of a landmark in women’s rights, Historic Huguenot Street (HHS) has created “In Her Words: A Women’s History Tour.” 

The program, which began in March and runs through October, highlights the role of women in the history of New Paltz and Huguenot Street.

“We as an organization wanted to find our own special way to honor that specifically, as well as women’s history in general,” said HHS Director of Public Programming Kara Gaffken. “We wanted to do something completely out of the box, something we hadn’t done before.”

The program is a departure from the typical tour offered at HHS. Instead of solely being a guided tour with a “regurgitation” of facts, the staff has created monologues based on research conducted by intern and fourth-year history major Allison Surgeary.

The monologues, which take creative liberty, are meant to allow attendees to hear what the women may have said about their experiences based on Surgeary’s research.  

“We make it a point to present not only historic fact on this tour,” Gaffken said. “Obviously it’s the base of everything we do at HHS, but there is that theatrical, creative side to this tour which you wouldn’t see if you were to just walk in and purchase a ticket.”

The monologues were recorded by students in SUNY New Paltz’s theatre arts department and add a level of intimacy to the tour, according to Surgeary.

The program aims to differentiate itself from most other historic tours by presenting the women as prominent figures. This is a strength of the tour that both Gaffken and Surgeary said helps to differentiate it from the typical male-driven narrative of most historical accounts.

“Women were there for everything,” Surgeary said. “They weren’t behind the men, they were in front of them, next to them and doing the same things.”

Gaffken heavily emphasized Surgeary’s role in the project, saying that it had been her idea to research the role of women in local history.

“She decided that she was going to make this her project,” Gaffken said. “She was going to do all the research behind specific women in local history and really get to the finer details.”

Surgeary, who will be graduating after the Spring 2017 semester, wants the tour to be her legacy. She believes that, though the tour was created to celebrate the centennial, it should continue to be used as an educational tool for the community.

“The tour is my way of giving back to the New Paltz community,” Surgeary said. “I want it to be continued as long as possible so that people can be educated that there were women here and they did incredible things.”

The “In Her Words: A Women’s History Tour” program spans from the founding of New Paltz to 1917, when women won the right to vote in New York State. Tours are conducted once a month until October with the next tour being offered on May 14.