Presiding Over Nassau’s History

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Natalie Naylor (Photo by Jonathan Heisler)

While the future is uncertain, one thing is for sure: history tends to repeat itself. The cyclical nature of life is part of what drew Natalie Naylor to become an expert in the past.

“I find it interesting to see what happened in the past and I think it can be helpful looking at the present and future,” Naylor said. “It’s interesting to see how we got here.”

Naylor is a retired Hofstra University history professor and current president of the Nassau County Historical Society, an organization which dates back to 1915. The 103-year old organization now boasts 240 members, and regularly sponsors historical programs with speakers who are authorities on Long Island life and history, as well as publishes a journal and collects materials related to the county’s former days.

The society’s next meeting is on Sunday, April 22, at the Jericho Public Library where author Brooke Kroeger will speak on her book, The Suffragists: How Women Used Men To Get The Vote. It’s an especially timely topic as it comes on the heels of Women’s History Month and a year after the centennial anniversary of women receiving the right to vote in New York State. And though women like Rosalie Gardiner Jones, a suffragist from Cold Spring Harbor, led marches from New York City to Albany and Washington, DC, more than 100 years ago, Naylor notes there are parallels in today’s current events.

“Rosalie Gardiner Jones walked to Albany and DC to get publicity and raise people’s awareness. That’s the same reason marches and events are taking place today in terms of current concerns about women’s issues,” said Naylor.

Gen. Rosalie Jones and gospel wagon Miss Alice Freeman in background (Photo source: Steel Family Album)

She compares the Women’s Marches and #metoo movements to the prohibition or temperance movements of the 19th century. And though the fight for equal rights for women and a ban on alcohol sales may seem like they have nothing in common, Naylor said they were both about protecting women.

“Women were involved in the temperance movement in part because men would beat their wives. Besides spending money on alcohol, that was a cause that enlisted women,” said Naylor. “The Women’s Christian Temperance Union was the largest organization of women in the world. It brought many into the suffrage movement.”

Women didn’t just affect the national landscape, but the local one as well. The role of females in shaping Long Island has been “underestimated,” said Naylor, who put a spotlight on the area’s invisible influencers in her book, Women in Long Island’s Past: A History of Eminent Ladies and Everyday Lives.

“There have been significant women in Nassau County who have made contributions as philanthropists, civic activists and partners in terms of benevolent activities, churches and volunteer activities,” said Naylor. “They played important roles over the years. More visibly so in recent years, but it goes back to Native Americans who were women cultivated the land.”

Just like a century ago, women still have a lot of social concerns. But Naylor pointed out the many advances that have been made in the last four or five decades.

“There have been, certainly in recent decades, major changes in women’s status and position,” she said. “Sometimes younger generations take the gains for granted. People have lived through those changes and maybe are not always as aware or conscious of them.”

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