maxresdefault

Investing in Women: Bloomberg Financial Services Gender-Equality Index

3820571032_2976f8201d_z

Photo by Paul Williams via Flickr.

Bloomberg, L.P., the global business and financial information leader, has a finger on the pulse of innovation and diversity.  Inside Bloomberg’s soaring glass-walled headquarters in midtown Manhattan, Bloomberg experts are breaking down glass ceilings and compiling information on the upside of gender equality.  The recently-launched Bloomberg Financial Services Gender-Equality Index (BFGEI) is a guide to best-in-class public companies in the financial services industry providing opportunities and services for women.

Angela headshot (1)

Photo courtesy Bloomberg, L.P.

Every American working woman knows that she earns only 79 cents for every dollar her male colleagues make.  It’s a statistic that cuts like a knife during the morning commute or the race home to prepare dinner for the family and help kids with homework.  Enter Angela Sun, Head of Strategy and Corporate Development, who works in Bloomberg headquarters.  Projecting that 79 cents and gender inequality into the global financial arena, Sun offers a couple of staggering numbers with lots and lots of zeros..

Sun points out:  “According to the World Bank, there are more than a billion women outside the formal financial system.  The McKinsey Global Institute estimates that $12 trillion could be added to the global GDP by 2025 by advancing women’s equality.”  The BFGEI is designed to address all those zeros affecting the global economy.

 

GEI_twitter_003 GEI_twitter_005

Why is now a good time for Bloomberg to launch this initiative?  Explains Sun:  “Investors and managers have long known that diversity is good for the bottom line.  Now, they are looking for solid data to evaluate an individual company’s reputation, value, and performance.”

Bloomberg Index has made a commitment to provide investors with industry-leading market data and analysis in the still-opaque areas of ESG data. Investors are increasingly relying on this data which includes environmental information alongside corporate social responsibility and governance information.  Clarity and transparency in this data bring investors and companies together.

The BFGEI is designed to showcase companies that have made strong commitments to gender equality.  Participation in the Index is voluntary and there are no associated costs. Sun stresses that the Index is not a benchmark:  “We collect data for reference purposes only.  The BFGEI is not ranked.”

The Index provides information on 56 data points in 4 areas for each company: gender statistics, company policies, products and services, and community engagement. These data points provide investors with an objective, quantified comparison of a company’s performance and commitment to gender equality relative to its peers.  The information collected by the Index ranges from the number of women working for the company and serving on the board, to child care services and parental leave provided.  The Index also measures the level of gender consciousness in a company’s products and services, as well as engagement with the outside community.

maxresdefault

Image via commons.wikimedia.org

For participating companies, the BFGEI also provides the opportunity to highlight their accomplishments in improving gender equality.  The Index is also valuable in helping companies to attract potential female talent.  Customers, vendors, governments and community groups all benefit from the information as well.

The BFGEI began with 26 public companies.  Companies with a market capitalization of at least $15 billion and at least one security trading on a U.S. exchange, were invited to participate in the initial survey.

Banking heavyweights JPMorgan Chase, Bank of America and Citigroup, insurance giant MetLife, and credit card company Visa, are in the initial Index.  In response to the overwhelming positive feedback, Bloomberg plans to expand the Gender-Equality Index product to other business sectors in the coming years. Currently, the BFGEI is only available through Bloomberg proprietary terminals.

Photo via commons.wikimedia.com

Photo via commons.wikimedia.com

How do the first group of BFGEI companies stack up?  Women make up 26% of BFGEI company board members versus only 13% for the overall financial services industry.  An impressive 92% of BFGEI companies are committed to increasing the percentage of women they hire by putting mechanisms in place to identify and recruit qualified women.  Fully 81% of BFGEI companies sponsor financial education programs for women in their communities.  Nice going.

The bottom line is that diversity is good for business. The hope is that BFGEI will help to add those meaningful zeros to the global GDP, and bring more women inside the formal financial system.

Mind_the_gap1

Photo by Paul Williams via Flickr.

 

Arrival home, and first meeting with his wife and children. Scene from the slave narrative of Solomon Northup, a free African American captured in New York and enslaved for twelve years. Image date: ca. 1853.

Eliza Jumel & Anne Northup: New York’s Richest Woman & Saratoga’s Most Unfortunate Woman Join Forces

IMG_2071

Portraits of Eliza Jumel and Aaron Burr from the front parlor at the Morris-Jumel mansion.  The couple were married in this room in 1833.

The rags-to-riches story of Eliza Jumel, the wife of wealthy merchant Stephen Jumel, and the second wife of Aaron Burr, made substantial grist for the gossip mills of the New Republic.  The beautiful house Eliza purchased with her first husband (and where she later married Burr) was the largest Manhattan estate at the time, and survives as Manhattan’s oldest house.  Here, Eliza entertained the crème de la crème of New York society in her mad scramble up the social ladder.  Briefly assisting her in that arduous social climb was Anne Northup.

IMG_2060

The elegant mansion in northern Manhattan is now a museum, decorated after careful research on Madame Jumel’s furnishings.

Anne Hampton Northup was an American citizen of mixed European, African and Native American heritage.  She became the wife of Solomon Northup, a free man of African descent, whose harrowing tale is told in the 1853 book and 2013 movie, Twelve Years A Slave.

Anne and Solomon had wed on Christmas Day in 1829.  Their union had resulted in three children:  Elizabeth, Margaret and Alonzo. Solomon Northup had moved his family to Saratoga Springs in 1834 for its employment opportunities.  The town was known as Spa City, and attracted the elite of the New Republic.  Solomon played his violin during seasonal dances.  He is known to have played at the United States Hotel, one of the grandest hotels in the resort town.  He also worked, off season, laboring to build the railroad that served Saratoga.  Anne was a noted cook, working at the town’s many upscale hotels to earn extra money to round out Solomon’s seasonal employment.

Anne Northup likely met Eliza Jumel at the United States Hotel in Saratoga Springs.  Here, Eliza escaped the heat of Manhattan summers at the fashionable watering hole in upstate New York.  It is likely that Anne was hired by Eliza Jumel to cater private dinners. Eliza Jumel enjoyed the role of fashionable hostess at  private parties held during the summer months.

library.csun.edu

Saratoga Springs Marker.     Photo by Ron Cogswell via Flickr.

In 1841, at age 32, Solomon Northup met two men who offered him a job as a fiddler for several New York City performances.   Expecting the trip to be brief, Solomon did not notify Anne, who was working  an extra job as cook  at Sherrill’s Coffee House in Sandy Hill (now Hudson Falls) to supplement their income.  His disappearance left Anne without the knowledge of his whereabouts and without income to support their three children.

IMG_2072

Anne Northup cooked meals to be served in Eliza Jumel’s elegant dining room in northern Manhattan. The emphasis was on products from the estate and wine from its wine cellar.

At the end of the summer of 1841, it appears that Anne accompanied Eliza to work as a cook in her elegant Manhattan home.  There is no documentation of any contract, wages, duties or the reasons behind Eliza’s offer and Anne’s acceptance.  Though Anne had likely cooked for Eliza in the past, and often took on private catering jobs, she usually stayed close to her home in Saratoga Springs.

Anne might have felt that in New York City, she could more easily pick up information about Solomon’s whereabouts.  It seems Anne knew her husband’s initial musical performances took place in the city.  Anne might also have hoped that access to powerful New York figures might offer some clue as to her husband’s fate.

As the widow of a Frenchman who had imported wine from Bordeaux to New York and who had visited France extensively, Eliza Jumel fancied herself a judge of good wine and the good food to go with it.  Likely, Anne Northup’s repertoire of dishes included rich sauces, made flavorful by the addition of wine from the estate wine cellar. As the ex-wife of Aaron Burr (following a scandalous divorce in 1836), Eliza was also anxious to re-establish herself in good society.  Dinners catered by Anne Northup might offer another rung up on the social ladder back into the graces of New York society.

The kitchen where Anne Northup cooked for Eliza Jumel featured a dairy, pantry, laundry and wine cellar.

The kitchen where Anne Northup cooked for Eliza Jumel featured a dairy, pantry, laundry and wine cellar.       Photo by Tom Stoelker, Morris-Jumel Museum.  

For a time, New York’s richest woman and Saratoga’s most unfortunate woman, Eliza and Anne, certainly saw one another each day to confer on menus and discuss the availability of  fresh products on the estate.  At Eliza Jumel’s country estate in northern Manhattan, diners were treated to oysters harvested from the Harlem River.  Grapes from Eliza’s carefully-tended vineyard and choice fruit from her orchards of peach and apricot trees were featured at her table.

Today, visitors can see the restored basement kitchen at the mansion.  It is now furnished with cooking implements and an open hearth that pre-dates Anne’s arrival.  Anne would cooked on a stovetop.  The kitchen also included a dairy, a pantry for storage, the wine cellar and the laundry.

A staircase runs from the kitchen up to a serving alcove on the ground floor dining room.  The treads likely rang with the steps of Anne Northup as she carried dishes up to the sideboard for Eliza Jumel’s formal dinners in the dining room.

Both Eliza Jumel and Anne Northup were unsuccessful in their joint efforts.  Kidnapping was a lucrative business, and Anne was unable to use New York City as a site to help locate her missing husband.  All the elegant dinners in the world could not salvage Eliza’s dubious position in good society.  But for a time, New York’s richest woman and Saratoga’s most unfortunate woman, joined forces. Today, you can visit the site where these fabulous New York women of the past collaborated in order to achieve their individual ends.

As Manhattan’s oldest residence, the Morris-Jumel Mansion Museum presents American life from the colonial era to the present by preserving, collecting, and interpreting history, culture, and the arts to engage and inspire diverse audiences.  Morris-Jumel Mansion is located at 65 Jumel Terrace, a short block which extends from West 160th & West 162nd Streets.  For more information on Eliza Jumel, refer to Margaret Oppenheimer’s book, The Remarkable Rise of Eliza Jumel.

 

 

 

IMG_1856

Hunter College & the Next Generation of Fabulous New York Women

On Thursday, June 2nd, the Theater at Madison Square Garden was the place to find fabulous New York Women of all stripes and colors.  But the color to watch for was purple, as in the violet-colored robes of Hunter College graduates. What a fantastic bunch they are.

IMG_1826

Hunter College President, Jennifer Raab

Hunter College is part of the City University of New York (CUNY) system.  These are the schools where New York City’s best and brightest traditionally come for an education that is both affordable and excellent. The stories of this year’s graduates shared by Hunter College President Raab show that the tradition is alive and well.  She spoke of courage, perseverance and determination to triumph against seemingly insurmountable odds.  It was a day to celebrate.

This year marked Hunter College’s 213th commencement exercises.  Founded by Thomas Hunter in 1870, Hunter began as a school that educated women.  An Irish immigrant, Hunter led the school as president for 37 years.

President Raab is a New York girl, originally from Washington Heights.  She made the schlep to the Upper East Side to attend Hunter High School during her public school days as the first step to becoming Hunter’s President. A fabulous New York woman who helps other fabulous New York women – lots of them.

Today, Hunter’s roster of students includes women (and men since 1964) who hail from 150 countries.  Many of their families traveled from other continents to mark the celebrations with their graduates.  Hunter College is also the only college in America that has two female Nobel Prize winners on its roster of alumnae.  And the roster gains more fabulous New York women each year.

IMG_1912

Hunter graduates celebrate their achievements.

This year, Hunter’s keynote speaker and President’s Medal Recipient was the media mogul, Arianna Huffington, who co-founded The Huffington Post.  Arianna was born in Greece.  But today, she’s an American citizen and fabulous New York woman with an office in Soho.  Here, she works as Editor-in-chief of The Huffington Post.  She has also written 15 books.  Huffington was named one of the world’s 100 most influential people by Time magazine and is on the Forbes Most Powerful Women list.  In short, she fit right into the spirit, the vision and the accomplishments of Hunter College women.

IMG_1839

Arianna Huffington, Hunter President’s Medal recipient and media mogul

What made me particularly happy about seeing Arianna Huffington on the stage at the Theater at Madison Square Garden, was that my daughter, Alexandra Wang, was one of the four Hunter BA recipients who presented her with the President’s Medal.  I couldn’t be more proud.Like Hunter President, Jennifer Raab, Alex is from Washington Heights and attended New York City public schools.  She will stay at Hunter to begin graduate studies at the School of Education.  Her own future will be dedicated to fighting for the rights of people with disabilities.

IMG_1898

Two generations of Hunter women: Klara Silverstein and Alex Wang

Also on stage at Hunter College was another fabulous New York woman, Klara Silverstein, now Dr. Silverstein.  She received an Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters.  A fabulous New York woman originally from Brooklyn, this was Dr. Silverstein’s third degree from Hunter College.  She also holds a BA in social sciences (’54) and an MS in special education (’56) from Hunter College.  She married New Yorker, Larry Silverstein, 60 years ago.  Together, they have supported education, medical research and organizations that meet humanitarian needs. Fabulous New Yorkers.

In her Charge to the Graduates, President Jennifer Raab urged the students to remember the Hunter College motto:  Mihi Cura Futuri, the care of the future is mine.  With such a dazzling array of talent, determination and education, I have never been more confident in the future contributions of Fabulous New York Women to our great city.  And I have never been more proud.  Congratulations, Alex!

IMG_1933

Mihi Cura Futuri

Margaret Corbin Day-West Point-Untapped Cities-Kim Damer.jpg

Women Wearing Hats: Celebrating Margaret Corbin

Molly_Pitcher_engraving

Margaret Corbin “womaning” the cannon at the Battle of Fort Washington, November 16, 1776. Image via Wikimedia Commons.

A heroine of the American Revolution, Margaret Corbin was the first woman to take a soldier’s part in the fight for independence.  She saw action during the Battle of Fort Washington, and was captured in the crushing American defeat on November 16, 1776.

Margaret Corbin lies in eternal rest at West Point.  Here, Margaret Corbin Day is celebrated each year by the National Society Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR).

Margaret Corbin burial-West Point-Untapped Cities-Kim Dramer (2)

Final resting place and monument of Margaret Cochran Corbin, West Point cemetery.

This year’s gathering celebrated the growing understanding and appreciation for the role of American women in the history of our country. At the Old Cadet Chapel, Brigadier General Maritza Sáenz Ryan US Army, Retired, and a 1982 graduate of West Point, US Military Academy, spoke of the many hats worn by Margaret Corbin and other women Patriots.

Through blazing summers and cruel winters alike, these dedicated women endured the privations of war right alongside the soldiers. -Brigadier General Maritza S. Ryan US Army, Retired

It was women like Margaret, explained General Ryan, who provided key and essential field services for the Continental Army.  Women worked as laundresses, seamtresses and nurses.  As water carriers, they assumed a role that was crucial for providing drinking water for soldiers as well as cooling down artillery pieces after firing.

IMG_1528

Old Cadet Chapel and cemetery, West Point.

Prepared to serve in these functions at Fort Washington, Margaret Cochran arrived in New York with her red hair tucked into a ruffled mob cap.  She had accompanied her husband, John, a private in the Pennsylvania Artillery to the field of battle at the northern tip of Manhattan island.  Here, at the height of the battle, Margaret Corbin switched hats, changing abruptly from field service to artillery service.  Still wearing the mob cap of a colonial American woman, Margaret Corbin sprang into active military duty, taking the place of a wounded soldier who was part of the artillery crew.

67538e9720ded2bed1db0d3f19315640

BG Maritza S. Ryan, US Army, Retired, who delivered remarks on Margaret Corbin’s military actions at the Battle of Fort Washington, November 16, 1776.

After her husband fell, mortally wounded, Margaret Corbin continued to man (or more precisely, offered General Ryan, “to woman”) the cannon single-handedly.  It is said that Margaret fought overwhelming British and Hessian forces, swabbing, loading, aiming and firing a 6-pound cannon that was usually handled by four artillerists. Hers was the last American gun at Fort Washington to fall silent as enemy forces overran the American fortifications.

Margaret Corbin was taken prisoner by the British after the American defeat at Fort Washington.  But the Patriot actions during the battle, including the military role of Margaret Corbin, had allowed George Washington to escape capture.  He fled by boat across the Hudson River to Fort Constitution (now Fort Lee) on the New Jersey side of the river.

IMG_1519

DAR Officers assemble on the steps of the Old Cadet chapel before the wreath laying ceremony at the grave site of Margaret Corbin.

Margaret Corbin, now a POW, was sent by horse-drawn cart to the Patriot stronghold in Philadelphia for medical care.  It was a journey of three days before Margaret’s wounds were properly cared for.  Her jaw was shattered.  Grape shot from enemy fire that had likely killed her husband, had injured her neck and rendered her left arm completely useless.

Washington would ultimately return victorious to the battlefield at Yorktown in 1781, gaining independence for our country.  Margaret Corbin was awarded an Army pension.  Changing hats once again, she was assigned to the Corps of Invalids at West Point, assuming the status of wounded veteran.  Here, she spent her happiest hours  as “Captain Corbin” amongst her fellow soldiers.  General Ryan noted:  “She expected, and received, salutes and professional courtesies whenever she came on post.”   The Adjutant at West Point personally saw to Margaret’s welfare as a wounded veteran.

Resolved:  That Margaret Corbin, who was wounded and disabled in the attack on Fort Washington, whilst she heroically filled the post of her husband who was killed by her side serving a piece of artillery, do receive during her natural life, or the continuance of said disability, the one-half of the monthly pay drawn by a soldier in the service of these states. — Journal of the Continental Congress of July 6, 1779

In 1800, at the age of 49, Margaret Corbin was buried without fanfare in the woods near West Point.  Jennifer Voigtschild Minus, current DAR Chairwoman of Margaret Corbin Day, and a 1993 graduate of West Point, US Army (Retired), delivered the narrative of Corbin’s return and burial in the West Point cemetery.  Through the efforts of the DAR, Captain Molly’s remains were located and disinterred, 151 years after her heroic actions on the battlefield at Fort Washington.  She was identified by means of the war wounds she had suffered:  Three grape shot were still embedded in the bones of her shoulder; her shattered jaw bone indicated pain and suffering that were the price of her heroic military actions.  The remains of Margaret Cochran Corbin were re-interred at the West Point cemetery with full military honors on March 16, 1926.

Battle of Fort Washington-Fort Tryon Park-Washington Heights-Untapped Cities-Kim Dramer.jpf

A plaque in Fort Tryon Park in northern Manhattan honor Margaret Corbin’s heroic actions during the Battle of Fort Washington, November 16, 1776.

Each spring , the DAR has celebrated Margaret Cochran Corbin Day; an occasion designed to honor her actions, her bravery and her contributions to American history.  At this year’s services, General Ryan remarked:  “We remember with deepest gratitude, a woman whose heroism transcends the limitations of her time and place to inspire all of us, men and women alike, to walk, if we dare, in her brave footsteps. ”

This year marked the 90th Margaret Corbin Day.  A church service at the Old Cadet Chapel, remarks and wreath laying and 21-gun salute are usually followed by a luncheon with female cadets at West Point, the United States Military Academy.

In 1976, the year the first women cadets arrived at West Point, the Margaret Corbin Forum, a  cadet club, was founded.  Exactly 200 years after Margaret Corbin’s heroic actions at the Battle of Fort Washington, the Forum provides a voice in support of the commitment to the integration of women in the Corps and in the military.  It is a fitting legacy for Margaret Corbin, the first American woman to take a soldier’s part in the war for liberty.

During Margaret Corbin Day in 1978, for the first time, a woman cadet helped place the wreath at Margaret Corbin’s Grave and monument, to this day, the only monument depicting a woman that has been dedicated here at West Point.–Jennifer Voigtschild Minus, USMA 1993 and current DAR Chairwoman of Margaret Corbin Day

7289331366_aeb6e2554e_z

Photo by West Point – The U.S. Military Academy via Flickr

Margaret Corbin wore many hats:  She was an Army spouse, a widow, a soldier, a wounded POW and a disabled veteran. Today, as women expand their role in the military, the hats keep changing.  During Margaret Corbin Day at West Point, DAR ladies in formal hats mingle with women wearing US Army officer caps and female Cadets wearing the white hats of the US Military Academy.  All come together to honor and celebrate the legacy of Margaret Cochran Corbin and her fight for independence.

janeswalk_followup_hero_600w

Jane’s Walk: Let’s Get Walking

Jane_Jacobs

Jane Jacobs in 1961. Photo via Wikimedia Commons.

Jane Jacobs (1916-2006), writer and activist, published her critique of post-World War II urban planning policy in her book, The Death and Life of Great American Cities.    Jacobs begins her book with a pointed challenge: “This book is an attack on current city planning and rebuilding.”  For New Yorkers, these urban policies are personified by Robert Moses, Jane Jacobs’ nemesis.  Jacobs held Moses responsible for the decline of many neighborhoods in New York City.  But enough about him….

Next week, the Municipal Arts Society (MAS),and other organizations in cities across the globe, are sponsoring Jane’s Walk, a series of citizen-led walks throughout the five boroughs.  The initiative is designed to get folks to tell stories about their own neighborhood, explore their community and connect with neighbors.  It’s a community-based effort in urban literacy.  Let’s just call it a celebration of the local; in plain sight, but often overlooked and unappreciated.

5694287441_3bf966a050_o

The 1961 publication, The Death and Life of Great American Cities by Jane Jacobs.  Photo by pdxcityscape via Flickr.

Jane Jacobs’ work was inspired by her years as a fabulous New York woman living in Greenwich Village, a mix of townhouses and tenements on twisting and narrow streets that did not conform to the city’s grid.  She contrasted life in the Village, a cohesive community, with the grandiose plans of Robert Moses.  His “towers in the park” concept, anathema to Jacobs, was then changing the face of New York City.   But really, enough about him….

The Jane’s Walks tours are listed by location and topic on the MAS web site.  The theme of each walk is up to the volunteer organizer, and all walks are free and open to the public.

11144618986_fd3ee614db_z (1)

Flatlands Dutch Reformed Church, Kings Highway.  Photo by Wally Gobetz via Flickr.

In Brooklyn, the Go Dutch in Flatlands! Jane’s Walk led by fabulous New York woman Ellen Halliday, is actually a bicycle tour meeting at the Flatlands Dutch Reformed Church, on Kings Highway.  Her tour description reads:  “Let’s dish some history and gossip while we bike around with a side of vinyl replacement windows!”

Fabulous New York woman Anna Araiza will lead Old Croton Aqueduct Walk.   Beginning in the Bronx, the tour will cross the Hudson River via New York City’s oldest bridge and end up in Manhattan at the Highbridge Water Tower and reservoir (now the Highbridge pool).

Croton_Aqueduct_-_Harper's_1860_-_The_high_bridge_at_Harlem

An illustration of the High Bridge from Harper’s Weekly magazine, 1860.  Picture via Wikimedia Commons.

 

Says Araiza:  “The summer of 2015 brought the inaugural re-opening of the Highbridge, the only pedestrian bridge connecting the Bronx and Manhattan. With the restoration project now complete, I invite you to explore the Old Croton Aqueduct…”

This year, which would have been Jane Jacobs’ 100th birthday, the MAS lists from than 200 Jane’s Walk offerings.  There is no advance registration.  Just turn up at the designated meeting site.  What a fabulous 100th birthday present for a fabulous woman.  Let’s Get Walking!

janeswalk_followup_hero_600w

Photo courtesy Municipal Arts Society.

 

 

IMAG0334

Malli Rembacz: One Hundred Fabulous Years and Counting

 

IMAG6295

Malli Rembacz cutting birthday cake on her 100th birthday.

It’s a story that spans one century, three continents and one life.  The story of Malli Rembacz begins on April 4, 1916 in Cologne, Germany.  The latest chapter takes place on April 4, 2017 in apartment 4L of Cabrini Terrace.  Here, in Hudson Heights, Malli shared cake and memories with her neighbors in celebration of her one hundredth birthday.  Here’s to you, Malli Rembacz: centenarian, fantastic potter, wonderful neighbor and fabulous New York woman.

 

The view from apartment 4L overlooks the schoolyard of PS/IS 187. It’s the perfect view for Malli, who trained as a kindergarten teacher in her native Germany.  The term, meaning “garden for children” was coined by  German Friedrich Fröbel.  He envisioned kindergarten as a place for playing, singing, practical activities such as drawing, and social interaction as part of the transition for children from home to school.  Hitler’s Germany was not the place where Malli could teach and children could enjoy this education.  Malli, who describes herself as “an idealist” dreamt of a place where she could live in safety and practice her profession.

IMAG6262

Malli accepts a Citation from Assemblyman Herman D. Farrell, Jr.’s office congratulating her on her 100th birthday.

 

Malli booked passage aboard a boat to take her to Palestine.  Just as she sailed from Germany, war broke out.  Her ship took her to England where she was given refuge and work as a kindergarten teacher in Birmingham, an industrial city in the north of England.  Explains Malli:  “England was at war and the women had to work.  The government opened schools to care for the children, and I was given a job for the next four years.”  While working as a teacher, Malli perfected her English and began to save money for a new ticket to Palestine.  At the end of the war, she boarded a ship from England to the Holy Land.

Malli chose to live in a kibbutz, a collective community.  Located in the Judean Hills between Jerusalem and Hebron, Kibbutz Kfar Etzion was surrounded by Arab villages and in a vulnerable position.  Palestine was under British rule, and the Jews had no ammunition with which to defend themselves.   It was decided that the mothers of the children and Malli, the kibbutz kindergarten teacher, would take the youngsters to Jerusalem where they would be safe.

When the kibbutz was attacked by Arab forces on May 14, 1949, the inhabitants had no choice but to raise the white flag of surrender.  In the Kfar Etzion massacre, 157 Jewish inhabitants of of the kibbutz, men and women, young and old, were murdered.  Malli’s action had saved the lives of the children of Kibbutz Kfar Etzion.

IMAG6267

Malli pictured with her kindergarten class from Kibbutz Kfar Etzion, Israel, 1948.

Malli continued to work as a kindergarten teacher in Tel Aviv before deciding to join her brother in the United States.  In New York, she quickly found work as a kindergarten teacher in a Jewish school in Queens.  “I spoke both English and Hebrew,” she explains.  “They wanted the children to learn both languages.  I taught kindergarten in Queens for many years.”

Malli moved to Washington Heights, enjoying the area and its parks.  Most of all, she loved making pottery, which she counted as her true vocation.   “I really have been involved emotionally with clay.  It’s the most wonderful medium.” explains the centenarian.

Asked to elaborate, Malli offers:  “I fell in love with clay.  You really can impress your own feeling with clay.  Clay has got something which goes into emotions,” she says, gesturing towards her heart.

IMAG0332

A glazed plate by Malli Rembacz, aka The Pottery Lady.

After studying at Alfred University, a leading New York Design College, Malli devoted her time to pottery.  “I worked 24 hours a day at my pottery,” say Malli.  She bought a wheel and installed it in her apartment in Cabrini Terrace.  “I had a wheel in my bedroom; it got so messy that I had to give it up.”  But word had spread, and neighbors were quick to purchase the beautifully glazed pottery Malli made by throwing on the wheel and by handbuilding.

 

IMAG0335

On her 100th birthday, Malli Rembacz, aka The Pottery Lady, holds a cup and saucer that she made on her wheel.

Malli’s skill and dedication became legendary.  She  became known as “The Pottery Lady.”  In 1990, she made an appearance on the David Letterman Show.  She was introduced as a lady who could “turn a lowly lump of clay into a work of art.”  Malli and David both centered clay on matching pottery wheels and she instructed him on how to throw a pot.  She also managed to engage in a spirited water fight with the TV host.  She won.

Says Malli:  “I love the wheel.  But you can’t really separate throwing and handbuilding.  You have to do both to get what you want.”  As for her beautiful glazes, Malli explains that she first had to learn the chemistry behind the colors.   “When you have something nice, you can make it nicer with glazing.”

 

IMG_1239

A beautifully-glazed bowl from the hands of The Pottery Lady, Malli Rembacz.

Asked to show examples of her favorite pieces, she admits:  “I have nothing left.  I gave it all away.”   This reporter suggests the absence of pottery in the home of a potter known as The Pottery Lady, is the sign of a generous heart, a creative spirit, a lifetime of working with clay and a fabulous New York woman.  Congratulations to you on your 100th birthday, Malli Rembacz, The Pottery Lady.

 

 

Ronda Brands stands in front of an early-blooming

Ronda M. Brands, Garden Designer, Horticulturist, Fabulous New York Woman

A trout lily makes an early spring appearance.

A trout lily makes an early spring appearance.

THE WASTELAND by T.S. Eliot

April is the cruelest month, breeding

Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing

Memory and desire, stirring

Dull roots with spring rain

 

 

Ronda Brands, Garden Designer and Horticulturist, might argue that T.S. Eliot wasn’t much of a gardener.  Her April garden tour in Fort Tryon Park attracted a crowd of New Yorkers eager to share the first signs of spring.

Ronda Brands leads a tour in the Heather Garden during early spring.

Ronda Brands leads a tour in the Heather Garden during early spring.

Ronda’s tour focused on the three acres of Fort Tryon Park known as the Heather Garden. This swathe of garden is planted over 500 varieties of trees, shrubs, perennials and bulbs, including dozens of varieties of heaths and heathers that combine to form a sweep of changing colors and textures in each season.  During early spring, the blooming heaths are a signature plant of the Heather Garden.  They put on a show of waves of pink and white in partnership with the vivid purples and yellows of early spring bulbs.  It’s a signal that a happy change has arrived to bring New Yorkers out of both their apartments and the winter doldrums, and into New York City’s most beautiful park.

Heaths (Erica species and cultivars), usually flower from mid-winter to early spring.  These are followed by heathers (Calluna vulgaris cultivars), which take over in mid-summer. Working over the years with the  Northeast Heather Society, the gardeners and designers have carefully selected plants have been planted to provide year-round interest of blooms and foliage color in the garden.  Both heaths and heathers are evergreens, with foliage of green, yellow and red that might turn silver, copper, red or even chocolate during winter months.  The seasonal change is a particular joy for Ronda, who was called to the Garden by the Fort Tryon Trust in 2009 as design partner to Lynden B. Miller, New York City’s icon of public garden design, to reinvigorate the Garden and develop a plan for sustaining it for the long term.

The shrub Andromeda (Pieris Japonica) has foliage that changes color throughout the year. In early spring, the dark green foliage appears with long, dangling clusters or white flowers.

The shrub Andromeda (Pieris Japonica) has foliage that changes color throughout the year. In early spring, the dark green foliage appears with long, dangling clusters of white flowers.

Lynden Miller and Ronda Brands, fabulous New York women, created a fabulous design for a fabulous garden.  They decided to edit the garden carefully to preserve the spirit of the original plan by the Olmsted Brothers, whose father was the designer of Central Park. They also decided to capitalize on its romantic and rustic feel, taking full advantage of the sloped, rocky topography.  Their design features an overarching feel with carefully selected vignettes of plants punctuating the cohesive rivers of perennials.

An outcropping of rocks adds dramatic interest to the Heather Garden.

An outcropping of rocks adds dramatic interest to the Heather Garden.

 

 

The park is located on a ridge near the highest point on Manhattan.  The area was known as Chquaesgeck by the local Lenape tribe, and was called Lange Bergh (Long Hill) by Dutch settlers.  Visitors enjoy sweeping views of the Hudson River.  These stretches of water are repeated in the rivers of plants that give the garden both unity and movement.   Plants, foliage, structures and shape move the eye through space.

Twitter called the park “The Happiest Spot in Manhattan,”  yet it remains one of Manhattan’s best kept secrets.  At 67 acres,  Fort Tryon Park offers tranquility and calm in a tapestry of plants and flowers over 200 feet above the Hudson River.  It is the city’s largest public garden and is a city, state and national landmark.  Local resident Gabe Kirchheimer has photographed every flower in the park and produced Fort Tryon Park Flowers his own independent and amazing web site of what he calls “The Flower Capital of Manhattan. ” The photographer organizes the flowers by season using over 1,000 photographs.

The garden requires a significant amount of skilled maintenance, provided by Parks Department gardeners.  Each week, a legion of fabulous New York women (and men!) from the neighborhood come together to work as volunteers in the garden.  Speaking of the long flower beds, Ronda says (with great admiration and affection):  The volunteers weed, and weed, and weed from one end of the bed to the other.  When they reach the end, they return to the beginning and start weeding again.”  Fabulous New York women (and men)!

Fort Tryon Park Trust offers free tours of the Heather Garden on the first Sunday of every month.  The Trust raises endowment to help support the park and its year-round horticultural maintenance and offers more than 300 free programs annually, including environmental education programs for children.