Women’s History Month. An oxymoron if we ever heard one. Just a month? But there’s no complaining here. We’re going to be like our honored FIRST, First Lady, Martha Washington, and just continue on with the work at hand. And, in her case, some of the most important work in our history. Little did she know that after marrying the eligible bachelor George in 1759, this wealthy widow would have a life like no other before, or since. Lady Washington (the title “first lady” would not be coined until the mid-1850’s) went about her day, as she writes, “steady as a clock, busy as a bee, and cheerful as a cricket.”
It was in 1775 that she heard her husband had been named Commander of the Continental Army, and spent half the war with him, either in nearby homesteads or at the General’s camp. During that time, she was his sounding board and confidant; she copied letters, represented him at functions; comforted the sick and wounded soldiers; raised funds; and “brightened the darkness of the long winter days.” Her presence boosted the morale of the weary army, and its leader.
No wonder then, that at one of the more notable places where they worked side by side – his stone-house headquarters in Newburgh, New York – that Martha is honored every March. But it’s not all about Martha, but rather the tireless women who have come since, making a difference in the field of history and keeping Hudson Valley’s glorious past alive. The Martha Washington Woman of History Award has been bestowed upon 20 women since its inception in 2003, and this year, it goes to Warwick, New York resident, Sue Gardner, historian, author, and librarian.
Earlier this month, the Historic Site Manager of Washington’s Headquarters, Elyse B. Goldberg, presented the golden disc award in a small gathering of five, a much smaller audience than in past events due to Covid restrictions, and beneath a towering portrait of George. With her name added to the illustrious list of past “Marthas” — an affectionate term for the growing roster — another life’s work dedicated to a worthy cause was recognized. Along with authoring two successful books on Orange County history, Gardner has been digitizing documents; organizing annual community re-enactments; fundraising and saving a historic Warwick home; researching and making accessible documents on key women in Hudson Valley history; creating local history curriculum; and as Deputy Town Historian for Warwick and Reference Librarian at the Albert Wisner Library, continues to assist those researching their own family history. And, as they say in the movies, “she ain’t done yet.”
Gardner responded with humility, much like Martha would herself. In her remarks earlier this month, she deemed it an “honor to be included in the group of dedicated women,” and thanked those who have helped her along the way. “I’m a firm believer,” Gardner shares, “that listening to the voices of those who have gone before us is a path to better understanding our own time…moving ahead, by looking back. For me, one of the most meaningful things is to know something of the lives of ordinary people who inhabited the landscape I travel today.”
We congratulate Sue Gardner, and all the “Marthas” around the State and around the Country who carry on similar work, mostly unseen, but if left undone, how much poorer our world would be.
MJ Hanley-Goff, WAT writer and former assistant to the Orange County Historian, nominated Sue Gardner for this award and was present at the March 3rd ceremony. In lieu of a public event, the presentation was video recorded for airing beginning March 21st at 2 p.m. as part of “The General’s Lady” program which pays tribute to Martha as well as recognizing the impact of noteworthy historical and contemporary women making a difference in the field of history and preservation in the Hudson Valley.
The free online event can be accessed by searching YouTube for “Palisades Interstate Park Commission Television” on and after Sunday, March 21st at 2pm. For further details please call the site at 845-562-1195.
For more information on Washington’s Headquarters in Newburgh, New York, visit the state’s site for parks, recreation and historic preservation.
Top photo of Sue Gardner by Jerry Kuntz
Photo of Martha Washington’s portrait, Sue Gardner’s headshot, and flyer provided The George Washington National Historic Site