No city shines brighter than Manhattan, the American hub of business, art, and entertainment. Throughout its history, women have made contributions that helped form New York into the dynamic city it is today and prevented its valuable past from being erased. Here are a few of the most influential women who helped shape New York’s social framework.
Emily Warren Roebling
One of the most distinct landmarks of NYC is the Brooklyn Bridge, built in 1883 and spanning the East River between the boroughs of Manhattan and Brooklyn. It’s fair to say that New York wouldn’t be New York without the Brooklyn Bridge, and the Brooklyn Bridge wouldn’t even exist without the efforts of Emily Warren Roebling.
As the wife of chief engineer Washington Roebling, Emily took over his efforts to build the bridge when he fell sick with caisson disease and became bedridden. When he was unable to continue supervising its construction, Emily served as a liaison and supervisor of construction to the on-site personnel. When the bridge was finally done, Emily was one of the first people to cross it, which she famously did while holding a rooster to symbolize the victory. Her contributions and leadership are commemorated by a plaque at the base of the bridge.
Shirley Chisholm worked tirelessly to advocate for equal rights on behalf of women and minorities. Although she was born in Brooklyn and later elected to the House of Representatives to represent New York’s 12th congressional district, her work in politics created lasting effects felt all throughout the country. She was not only the first African American woman elected to the US Congress, but also the first African American and female candidate for a major-party nomination for President of the United States.
During her time in Congress, Chisholm led the expansion of food and nutrition programs for the poor. She also co-founded the National Women’s Political Caucus, a grassroots organization dedicated to recruiting, training, and supporting women who seek elected and appointed offices within the government. Her legacy lives on within the city, with her memory celebrated by Shirley Chisholm State Park located in Brooklyn’s East New York neighborhood.
Another woman who helped shape New York was the unforgettable Billie Holiday, the famous jazz singer who left a lasting influence on the world of jazz and pop music. Holiday started her career singing in jazz nightclubs in Harlem during the height of the Harlem Renaissance. Within the next decade, she scored a record deal that produced the hit song “Strange Fruit”.
Over the course of her career, she performed in venues across New York City, including dozens of performances at the Apollo Theater. Holiday had a pronounced effect on jazz music as well as the nightlife community in NYC. Her performances, defined by her unique style and voice, helped integrate the nightclub community into the city in the 40s and 50s.
Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis
When it comes to the life of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, her role as the wife of President John F. Kennedy is only one of the many ways in which she shaped the world. She began her work on historic preservation during Kennedy’s presidency with efforts to restore Washington DC’s Lafayette Square. Upon moving to New York following her husband’s death, she continued working to preserve and safeguard NYC landmarks such as Lever House and St. Bartholomew’s Church.
Perhaps her most accomplished work was her role in saving Grand Central Terminal from being demolished. Her fierce advocating for its preservation led to the passage of a Landmark Law that now protects thousands of other historic buildings in the city. Without Onassis, New York City would lack much of the style that makes it so unique.
Another woman who had a profound effect on the landscape of New York City was Jane Jacobs, an author and urban activist who fought to preserve the city’s character. She was instrumental in advocating for quality of life and community-building, which she wrote about in her urban planning text The Death and Life of Great American Cities.
She is most known for her battle against Robert Moses, the New York City planner who undertook a program of “urban renewal.” She prevented him from constructing the Lower Manhattan Expressway, which would have run through several downtown neighborhoods and destroyed the city’s beloved Washington State Park. Thanks to Jacobs, New York City retains some of its most community-oriented features – and lacks a massive highway running smack in the middle of them. Thanks for that, Jane!
Women-Owned Businesses You Need to Check Out in NYC
There are so many women who contribute to the power, energy, creative spirit, and diversity that Manhattan is known for. These female-owned businesses are proof that New York is still shaped by amazing women.
Cafe Mogador’s Moroccan cuisine has been blowing guest’s minds since 1983. Located in the East Village, founder Rivka Orlin pushed standard culinary boundaries while honoring the traditional recipes that her mother used to make for her and her twelve siblings as kids. Orlin’s family still owns and operates the cafe which is still touted as a true East Village anchor.
Sarah McNally knows a thing or two about books. Founder and owner of this beloved bookstore for nearly 20 years, McNally claims to spend most weekend nights going through publishers’ catalogs – looking at around 80,000 books every year. Like we said – a thing or two. With curated selections of books, cool merchandise, and both live and virtual events, McNally Jackson is an iconic bookstore with multiple locations across the city.
Owned by Krissy Harris, Jungle Bird cocktail bar in Chelsea serves tropically-inspired food and drink. It’s name comes from a classic beverage, and the retro vibe and great cocktails this popular watering hole is known for are sure to make your night in the city that much more fun. Or your day – we don’t judge.
After years of traveling and collecting, Lori Leven created a lifestyle store that offers artisanal home decor and vintage jewelry. Her focus is on one-of-a-kind pieces that incorporate craftsmanship, utility, and amazing aesthetics. With two locations in the city there’s no excuse to miss out on this one!
Three words: secret dumpling recipe. We knew that would get your attention, just as it does so many people in Manhattan. Sisters Hannah and Marian Cheng opened Mimi Cheng’s in the summer of 2014 and have been making their mother Mimi’s secret-recipe Taiwanese dumplings by hand every day since. Formerly both in the corporate world, they now create meals from pasture-raised pork, organic chicken, and local vegetables, and continue to live by their mother’s advice on making food the right way.
More than just a place to score a great manicure, Sundays’ owner Amy Ling incorporates nail care with self care. Not only does she offer non-toxic, salon-quality products and services, but her focus on relaxation and wellness means that you even have the option to listen to a guided meditation while getting your nails done. As the company says, your experience with them is gentle on both your mind and your nails. Not sure we could ask for more than that.
You’re not just supporting a woman-owned business when you pick up a cup of joe from Bean & Bean Coffee Roasters in NYC, you’re also supporting a mother-daughter team that works with women farmers in order to bridge the gender gap in the coffee industry. Since they started in 2008, Rachel + Jiyoon Han’s four locations around the city source more than half of all of their organic and fair-trade coffee from females. We can’t say for sure, but our guess is that not a lot of other coffee companies can claim that.
Not all doughnut shops can claim to have a cult following, but this one can’t claim not to. Tucked in the West Village, owner Leslie Polizzotto says that customers come every weekend from as far away as Connecticut, New Jersey and Long Island to taste these hand-crafted wonders that draw their inspiration from food and cocktails. So whether you’re in the mood for a vegan Cereal Milk Crunch, a Bacon Maple Bar, or the Those Beetz Are Dope House Fave, this is your do-nut-miss destination.