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Edna St. Vincent Millay | 8th Ave station on the L train

Today marks a shift of focus for the City of Women project: we begin riding the rails, line by line.

First up is the L train, moving from Eighth Avenue in Manhattan’s Chelsea neighborhood to Rockaway Parkway in the Canarsie section of Brooklyn.

We begin with Edna St. Vincent Millay, born February 22, 1892 in Maine, the eldest of three daughters. She was publishing poetry as early 1906 and it was “Renascence” that brought her to the public fore and the attention of a wealthy benefactor who sponsored her attendance first at Barnard and then at Vassar.

Vincent, as she was known, was the very model of the “flaming youth” era of Greenwich Village. She had affairs with men and women, drank and smoked, wrote prose under a pen name, acted and wrote an opera that was performed at The Met. While labeled frivolous and unquestionably pretty, she forged her own route to power in a male dominated world. In 1923, Millay became the first woman to win the Pulitzer Prize for poetry.

Though she thought there was “a beautiful anonymity about life in New York,” she left in 1925 with her husband for a 600-acre farm in Austerlitz, NY. Millay continued to travel, going on reading tours, and working on radio broadcasts of her poetry. She was wildly popular, with ”no other voice like hers in America. It was the sound of the axe on fresh wood.”

A freak accident in 1936 left her in chronic pain and a drug addict. Vincent kept tabs on her own intake: morphine, two gin rickeys, one martini, a beer, and half a pack of cigarettes – all before lunch. She eased off the drugs with her husband’s help, but not the alcohol. After he died, she feel into a deep depression. ”I have been ecstatic; but I have not been happy” she wrote in her dairy as a young girl. It was to remain true most her life.

My candle burns at both ends;

It will not last the night;

But ah, my foes, and oh, my friends —

It gives a lovely light!

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Toni Morrison | WTC Cortlandt St station on the 1 train

I saw the below quote posted on @__nitch today and since @reginaaustinart had already made me this truly transcendent Toni Morrison, it felt fitting to share them on day two of #womenshistorymonth

“I am staring out the window in an extremely dark mood, feeling helpless. Than a friend, a fellow artist, calls…he asks, “How are you?” And instead of “Oh, fine…and you?” I blurt out the truth: “Not well. Not only am I depressed, I can’t seem to work, to write; it’s as though I am paralyzed, unable to write anything…I’ve never felt this way before…” I am about to explain with further detail when he interrupts, shouting: “No! No, no, no! This is precisely the time when artists go to work…not when everything is fine, but in times of dread. That’s our job.” I feel foolish the rest of the morning, especially when I recalled the artists who had done their work in gulags, prison cells, hospital beds; who did their work while hounded, exiled, reviled, pilloried. And those who were executed…This is precisely the time when artists go to work. There is no time for despair, no place for self-pity, no need for silence, no room for fear. We speak, we write, we do language. That is how civilizations heal.”

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Emily Warren Roebling | High Street station on the A train

It’s Women’s History Month. Wow! A whole month just for us. So generous.

I certainly don’t want to miss out on day one, so here’s a quickie on a woman who did all the work while the Roebling men get most of the credit.

Emily was born in 1843 into a family that supported her education. She met herself a nice man named Washington, the son of Brooklyn Bridge designer John Roebling, got married and travelled to Europe to study caissons, as one does, and had a son while abroad.

Shortly after returning to New York, John Roebling was dead from typhus and Washington became chief engineer. He soon fell ill and was bed-ridden from decompression disease. Emily took over: managing, liaising and politicking between city officials, workers, and her husband’s bedside. Her dedication to the completion of the Brooklyn Bridge was unyielding.

She would become the first person to cross the bridge by carriage — carrying a rooster with her for good luck. Later in life, Emily studied law at New York University and argued in an Albany law journal article for equality in marriage.

Today a plaque can be found on the bridge which reads: “Back of every great work we can find the self-sacrificing devotion of a woman.”

Ain’t that the truth.