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WNY women who made their mark on history

Celebrating local pioneers on International Women's Day

BUFFALO, N.Y. — When you think of Buffalo's architectural gems, particularly those polished in recent years, the Hotel Lafayette certainly comes to mind. While this historic building-turned modern attraction certainly represents the resurgence of the Queen City, it also represents a first for women and an incredible feat.

Louise Bethune was the mind behind the design. 

As a part of the firm Bethune, Bethune and Fuchs, she had a hand in designing several schools and public buildings, but the Lafayette was one of her masterpieces.

Bethune is widely regarded as the first woman in the country to practice as a professional architect. Bethune Hall, the former Buffalo Motor Company Building at Main across from Hertel, now the School of Fine Arts building at U.B. is named after Louise.

Another WNY women's rights pioneer was Belva Lockwood. Born Belva Anne Bennet in 1830, on a farm in Royalton, she was married as a teenager and a widowed mother by age 22. To support herself and her daughter, Lockwood worked as a teacher. She didn't stop there, she had bigger dreams, and wasn't going to let conventional thinking stand in her way.

Denied entry into several law schools, because she was a woman, Lockwood studied law privately until the National University Law School opened its doors to women. That is the spirit that drove her to become the first woman to ever argue before the U.S. Supreme Court and 5 years later, in 1884, the first woman to ever run for president.

Maryann Saccomando Freedman is the president of the Association for a Buffalo Presidential Center, a group trying to build a facility to showcase the presidential history of Western New York. She says Belva Lockwood is a big part of that heritage. "She had a disagreement with Susan B Anthony, and so you don't see her name in relation to the suffrage movement as frequently as you should be seeing her name." Especially when you consider this Western New Yorker ran on the Equal Rights Party line in both 1884 and 1888, against fellow Western New Yorker Grover Cleveland. That was more than 30 years before the ratification of the 19th amendment giving women the right to vote. But a fire that burned inside of her drove her to become a true pioneer of women's rights. A fire that was shared by another woman with ties to Western New York...more than a century later.

In 1969, Shirley Chisholm became the first black woman elected to the U.S. Congress and was re-elected six times until she retired from political office in 1983. In Congress, she spoke out for civil rights and women's rights, advocated for the poor and opposed the Vietnam War. She ran for the Democratic Nomination for President in 1972. Her connection to Buffalo would come years later, when she married Assemblyman, Arthur Hardwick, Jr. of Williamsville, eventually moving here... and sharing more than just a dream with Lockwood.