Change Agents: Ridgefield Women to be Remembered, Episode 25: The Powdermaker Sisters

Change Agents: Ridgefield Women to be Remembered, Episode 25: The Powdermaker Sisters


Dr. Darla Shaw portrays Florence Powdermaker and tells the story of her sister Hortense, both Doctorates, who in the 1920s contributed greatly to their respective fields. Florence had a doctorate in medicine and psychiatry and Hortense was a doctor of anthropology. They lived on a 103-acre farm in Ridgebury for 30 years. Powdermaker Drive is named after them.

Read two of Florence Powdermaker’s books online.

Series Introduction

Dr. Darla Shaw gives a brief overview of her upcoming new series of podcasts.

Dr. Shaw is a professor of education and women’s studies at Western Ct. State University. Prior to teaching at WCSU, Dr. Shaw was a teacher and administrator in the Ridgefield  School System. She has been teaching for 63 years full time and history and related research are two of her passions.

To keep her college classes motivated, Dr. Shaw became a storyteller and now takes on the role of over 36 different historical characters. She will be sharing the stories of some of these famous Ridgefield women.

Episode 1: Alice Paul

Dr. Darla Shaw portrays Alice Paul, resident of Ridgefield for 40 years and co-leader with Carrie Chapman Catt in the battle for the 19th Amendment, which gave women the right to vote.

*Please note the following correction: It was Harriet Tubman, not Harriet Beecher Stowe, who was selected to appear on the $20 bill.

Also, Read a 1974 interview with Alice Paul.

Episode 2: The Auditorium Ladies, Part 1 - Mabel Cleves

Dr. Darla Shaw takes on the role of Mabel Cleves, an early education specialist who was educated at Columbia University, studied with Dr. Maria Montessori, and was the first certified public kindergarten teacher in Connecticut. The Veteran’s Park Elementary School auditorium is named after her.

Episode 2: The Auditorium Ladies, Part 2 – Anne S. Richardson

Dr. Darla Shaw takes on the role of Anne S. Richardson, prominent philanthropist and conservationist, who donated the land for Richardson Park. The Ridgefield High School auditorium is named after her.

Anne S. Richardson

This presentation is a wonderful complement to Terry McManus’s lecture series about Anne S. Richardson and Anne’s Ridgefield estate and gardens. Click here to view Terry’s program.

*Please note the following correction: Anne Richardson did not like colored lights at Christmas and had an ordinance drawn up to include only white lights in the decorating of the town for the holidays. The ordinance still stands today.

Episode 3: The Women of Weir Farm

Dr. Darla Shaw portrays Cora Weir, youngest daughter of impressionist painter, J. Alden Weir. Cora, her two sisters, and Doris Andrews worked for 20 years to preserve Weir Farm and turn it into Connecticut’s first national historic site.

The Weir Family (L to R) – J. Alden, Dorothy, Caro, a Family Friend, and Cora
Episode 4: Suffragists on Main Street, Part 1 - Laura Curie Allee Shields

In this episode, Dr. Darla Shaw portrays Laura Curie Allee Shields who lived at the corner of Market and Main Streets, Ridgefield. She was a suffragist, civic leader, and along with her first husband, Dr. William H. Allee, was a champion in the improvement of Ridgefield schools.

Episode 4: Suffragists on Main Street, Part 2 - Mary Louise Olcott

In this episode, Dr. Darla Shaw portrays Mary Louise Olcott who lived at Casagmo, a mansion built by her father George M. Olcott, which was razed and is now a condo complex with the same name. She was an ardent feminist, poet, founder of the Ridgefield Garden Club, and a great supporter of woman suffrage.

Episode 5: Border Sisters

In this episode, Dr. Darla Shaw portrays suffragist Elsie Hill who lived just over the border in Redding about one mile from Alice Paul. For over 45 years she worked more closely with Miss Paul than anyone else.

Episode 6: Clare Booth Luce

In this episode, Dr. Darla Shaw portrays child actress, playwright, international correspondent, CT Congresswoman, ambassador, artist, philanthropist, and women’s rights activist Clare Booth Luce.  She lived in a huge mansion with her husband Henry Luce on Great Hill Road in Ridgefield.

Episode 7: Women of the Streets, Part 1 - Sarah Bishop

In part one of this episode, Dr. Darla Shaw portrays Sarah Bishop, known as the Hermitess of West Mountain and the Nun of the Mountain. In the 1700s she came by ship to Stamford and walked to Ridgefield where she lived in a cave for 30 years on the border of South Salem, NY. Sarah Bishop Road is named after her.

Episode 7: Women of the Streets, Part 2 - Liz Leonard

In part two of this episode, Dr. Darla Shaw portrays Liz Leonard, the first female Selectman of Ridgefield. The stretch of highway on Route 116 from Barlow Mountain to Scotland School is named after her. She moved to town in the 1960s and found work as a political journalist for the Danbury News Times and Bridgeport Post, among others, before coming into office as State Representative and later First Selectman.

Episode 8: Typhoid Mary

Dr. Darla Shaw portrays Mary Mallon, more commonly known as “Typhoid Mary” or “the most dangerous woman in America.” In the July 22, 1909 issue of the Ridgefield Press it said: “A woman who worked as cook for Ridgefield people, and who is called ‘Typhoid Mary,’ has been kept a prisoner in quarantine at North Brother Island for the past two years. It is said she was responsible for six cases of typhoid fever in one family in this town. She is said to be immune herself, but can communicate the disease to others. She is known by several persons in Ridgefield.”

Episode 9: Red Petticoat

Dr. Darla Shaw portrays Abigail Ingersoll Olmstead, who allegedly waved her red petticoat from the window of her home to signal to the British that the house sided with the crown likely saving it (and her children hidden inside) from harm. The problem was her husband Captain David Olmstead was a die-hard patriot. After the Battle, and as recounted in Silvio Bedini’s book “Ridgefield in Review,” legend has it that “Livid with rage, Captain Olmstead thundered: ‘Woman, if I had seen you, I would have shot you dead!’ Far better it would have been to have this home destroyed than to have his wife suspected of being a Tory.”

Episode 10: Sybil Ludington

In this episode, Dr. Shaw portrays Sybil Ludington who was born in the mid-1700s and at age 16 took it upon herself to ride on horseback for over 40 miles in stormy weather to sound the alarm that men were needed to fight at the Battle of Ridgefield during the American Revolution.

Episode 11: Fanny Crosby

In the episode, Dr. Shaw portrays Fanny Crosby, who was born blind in the mid-1800s and went on to become a world renowned poet, hymn writer, and missionary. She lived in Ridgefield with the Hawley family between the ages of 8 and 15.
Hymn Blessed Assurance — lyrics by Fanny Crosby
Episode 12: Geraldine Farrar

Dr. Darla Shaw portrays Geraldine Farrar, the toast of the Metropolitan Opera and a “ravishing beauty”, who performed internationally for 20 years in over 80 different countries. After she lost her voice, she became a silent movie star. Later she moved to Ridgefield and helped with the war effort and served on the Military Transport Corps.

Audio recording of Farrar signing opera
Episode 13: Jolie Gabor

Dr. Darla Shaw portrays socialite, jewelry designer, and business woman Jolie Gabor, Countess de Szigethy. She is most well-known for being the mother of actresses and fellow socialites Eva, Zsa Zsa, and Magda. The four Gabors were known as the “blonde bombshells of Bulgaria.” Jolie moved to Ridgefield in the late 1960s.

Episode 14: Lois Bannerman

Dr. Darla Shaw portrays internationally acclaimed harpist Lois Bannerman who later in life had a career in film, television, and on Broadway. She lived in Ridgefield in the 1950s on one of the largest pieces of land in the Turner Road/Saw Mill area of town.

Here is a video clip of Bannerman playing with a jazz trumpeter:

Episode 15: Irene Kampen

Dr. Darla Shaw portrays humorist Irene Kampen who wrote several books about her life. She is less well known than her contemporary, Erma Bombeck, whose work was more upbeat and positive. Irene’s parents lived in Ridgefield and so did she for over 30 years. The Lucy Show, starring Lucille Ball and Vivian Vance, is based on her book, Life Without George. In the TV series, Lucy lived in Ridgebury and often went to the big town of “Danfield”.

Episode 16: Abigail Goodrich Whittlesey

Dr. Darla Shaw portrays editor, journalist, and publisher Abigail Goodrich Whittlesey who founded The Mother’s Magazine in the 1830s. She grew up in Ridgefield and was the daughter of Reverend Samuel Goodrich and the sister of prolific children’s author Samuel Goodrich (Jr.) also known as Peter Parley. Abigail attended the West Lane Schoolhouse until the eighth grade and then studied at Sarah Pierce’s Litchfield Female Academy. She became a teacher and taught school in the Finger Lakes of New York where she met her husband. She had seven children and, given all of her experience as a mother and a teacher, Abigail created and published the first resource for women and parents.

Episode 17: Edwina Eustis Dick

Dr. Darla Shaw portrays internationally renowned opera singer Edwina Eustis Dick who lived in Ridgefield from 1950 to 1980. She was a pioneer in the field of music therapy and was a founding member of the American Symphony Orchestra. Later in life, she became passionate about body surfing. Eustis Lane is named after her family.

Episode 18: Elizabeth Biglow Ballard

Dr. Darla Shaw portrays Elizabeth Biglow Ballard who was born in the late 1800s and came to Ridgefield every year between the ages of 11 and 86. She lived in the former home of Philip Burr Bradley and, in 1964, left the five acres of land where the house stood to the town. This property is now Ballard Park.

Episode 19: Kathryn Morgan Ryan

Dr. Darla Shaw portrays Kathryn Morgan Ryan, an accomplished writer and researcher, who lived and worked in Ridgefield for over 30 years. In addition to writing her own books, she served as the editor, interviewer, and researcher for her husband, acclaimed Irish author Cornelius Ryan, on his series of World War II books including “The Longest Day” and “A Bridge Too Far.”

Episode 20: Dr. Blandina Worcester Brewster

Dr. Darla Shaw portrays Dr. Blandina Worcester Brewster (1902-1984), who was a pioneering pediatrician and professor of pediatrics in New York City. She taught at New York University for 38 years. She was married to prominent New York City attorney Carroll Brewster. Together they purchased The Hickories Farm, which remains in the family today.

Episode 21: Mildred Gilman Wohlforth

Dr. Darla Shaw portrays Mildred Gilman Wohlforth, a well-known and highly paid crime journalist who wrote many magazine articles and was the author of eight novels, one of which was turned into a movie. She lived in Ridgefield for over 60 years and was the first chairman of the Historic District Commission. She and her beloved husband, Robert, lived in a 1730 home on Rockwell Road.

Episode 22: Carmela Sabilia (The Peanut Lady)

Dr. Darla Shaw portrays Carmela Sabilia, better known as “The Peanut Lady” or “Mama Joe,” who emigrated from Italy to Georgetown in 1898. In the 1920s and 30s, one day each week Mrs. Sabilia roasted peanuts over a wood fire and sold them for 10 cents a bag walking a 13-mile round trip from Branchville to Main Street. This 20-year enterprise was undertaken to pay for her son’s college tuition. The other six days she worked in her husband Joe’s store, Sabilia’s Groceries, Fruit & Vegetables, Ice Cream & Candy.

Episode 23: Jacqueline Seligmann, The Cat Lady

Dr. Darla Shaw shares the story of Jacqueline Seligmann, the “Cat Lady” of Barrack Hill and Old West Mountain Road. Darla speaks in the first person about her unusual relationship with Jacqueline who lived on the same street. Following this personal account, Darla tells the rest of the story of Ms. Seligmann’s life.

Episode 24: Jeanne Cook

Dr. Darla Shaw portrays one of the town’s very first female entrepreneurs, Jeanne Cook, who moved to Ridgefield in 1970 and ran her own travel business on Main Street for over 25 years. She was an ardent supporter of many non-profit organizations in town including the Ridgefield Symphony, Ridgefield Playhouse, Ridgefield Historical Society, Keeler Tavern Museum & History Center, and the RVNA, among others. (Note: The correct name of the Music Director of the RSO from about 1996 to 2008 is Sidney Rothstein.)

Episode 25: The Powdermaker Sisters

This episode is featured at the top of this page.


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