Influential Women of Buffalo’s Past at Forest Lawn Cemetery
One of the most beautiful outdoor landscapes within the city of Buffalo, the grounds of Forest Lawn Cemetery, the city’s largest, beg to be explored no matter the season. Aside from the marvelous natural sights, like reflecting ponds, a forest of trees, picturesque bridges and even a family of deer, the cemetery, founded in 1849 across 269-acres, is the ideal place to literally walk through Buffalo’s past. And as spring approaches, tours or private walks have us yearning to learn more about Buffalo’s rich history.
During Women’s History Month, we take remember women who had a tremendous impact on Buffalo, the region and beyond:
Mary Burnett Talbert
Civil Rights Leader
Born in Ohio, Mary Burnett Talbert moved to Buffalo with her husband in 1891. An already accomplished social activist, she continued her work in Buffalo, helping form the Niagara Movement in 1905 which was a catalyst for the formation of the NAACP in 1915. What’s more, Talbert served as nurse in France during World War I. Talbert was inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame in 2005 and Talbert Hall on the University at Buffalo campus is named in her honor.
Louise Blanchard Bethune
Louise Blanchard Bethune was a pioneering architect in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and the first professional female architect in the United States. She was born in Waterloo, New York, but spent much of her career in Buffalo, where she designed numerous significant buildings, including the Hotel Lafayette. Bethune’s work was instrumental in shaping the architecture of Buffalo, and she paved the way for future generations of women in the field. Her contributions to the city’s built environment and her status as an influential woman in a male-dominated industry make her a significant figure in Buffalo’s history.
United States Congresswoman, Educator, Author
“Fighting” Shirley Chisholm was the first African American woman elected to Congress in 1968, even winning re-election in 1970 before making a bid for the presidential seat in 1972. Although she did not win the election, Chisholm received an impressive 151 delegates. Posthumously in 2015, Chisholm was awarded the highest civilian honor, presented to individuals who have made especially meritorious contributions to the security or national interests of the United States – the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
Civil Rights Leader
Annie Singleton, a civil rights pioneer. She rented an upper bedroom of her house to Robert Harold Ogle, a black student from Washington, D.C. who was not allowed to live on the Cornell campus due to discriminatory policies. Ogle invited six other black male students to join him at the Singleton house, where they formed the first black Greek letter college organization, Alpha Phi Alpha. Annie Singleton provided maternal support and hot meals for the young men, who eventually grew the fraternity into a national organization. Singleton was officially designated the “Mother of Alpha Phi Alpha.”
Opera Singer, Actress, Magazine Editor
A Canadian citizen, Kathleen Howard spent her childhood years in Buffalo. She created the role of Zita in Giacomo Puccini’s Gianni Schicchi at the Metropolitan Opera in 1918 and was also memorable as Amelia, the wife of W.C. Fields in the film It’s a Gift. She appeared in two other films of W.C. Fields – You’re Telling Me! and Man on the Flying Trapeze. She told of her life as an opera singer in an autobiography, Confessions of an Opera Singer.
Mary Jane Rathbun
Mary Jane Rathbun, a pioneering marine biologist, began working on crustaceans at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., first on a voluntary basis and later as assistant curator in charge of the Division of Crustacea. She continued to work at the museum for 28 years, and after her retirement, the Smithsonian Institution designated Rathbun an “Honorary Research Associate”. She was granted an honorary master’s degree by the University of Pittsburgh in 1916.
Margaret L. Wendt
Daughter of William and Mary Geis Wendt, founders of the Buffalo Forge Company, Margaret L. Wendt lived on to become a widely known charitable contributor. To the present day, the Margaret L. Wendt Foundation continues to provide funding for organizations across the area in the spheres of education, arts, social services, public interest and youth agencies.
Dr. Ida Katherine Bender
Dr. Ida Catherine Bender, a renowned educator, was born into an influential family in Buffalo’s German-American community. She earned a medical degree from the Buffalo Medical School in 1890, an exceptional feat for a woman at the time. Dr. Bender served as superintendent of Buffalo’s primary schools and modernized them. She also wrote textbooks, was president of the Women Teachers’ Association, and received the Jesse Ketchum Award Gold Medal for excellence in academics.
Katherine Pratt Horton
Leader, Public Figure
Before Buffalo hosted the Pan-American Exposition in 1901, Katherine Pratt Horton assisted in planning as a manager of the Board of Women before, during and after the event. As the years passed, Mrs. Horton was named president of the City Federation of Women’s Clubs and Regent of the Katharine Pratt Horton Daughters of the Revolution Chapter in Buffalo, in addition to Daughters of the War of 1812 chapter. The Daughters of the Revolution was provided her namesake and continues to this day.
Marian de Forest
Journalist, playwright, activist
Marian de Forest was known for her roles in journalism, playwriting, and women’s rights activism. She founded Zonta, a service organization for female professionals, and helped establish the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra. She also worked as a critic and editor for the Buffalo Express and Buffalo Commercial newspapers, and also wrote the play “Little Women: A Comedy in Four Acts,” launching the career of Katharine Cornell. She was also a member of the Scribbler’s writing group, served on the board of the SPCA for 14 years, and was inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame at Seneca Falls, the first woman from Buffalo to carry such an honor.