Historic, but not famous

Owen F. Dolen, educator, advocate

In 1925, Owen F. Dolen (c.1864-1925) was asked to speak at a ceremony in this park, then known as Westchester Square. The occasion was the unveiling of a new monument to the neighborhood soldiers who died in World War I (1914-1918).  Dolen was a well-respected educator and life-long member of the Bronx Westchester Park community, and had spearheaded the campaign to place the memorial at the square. He gave a rousing twenty-five minute speech, bowed to the crowd, sat down, and died of a heart attack just minutes later. On April 30, 1926, the Board of Aldermen (now the City Council) voted to name the park Owen F. Dolen Park in his memory.

The beautiful park is over 2 acres and has expanded since 1926. The building in the park was expanded 1982 to become the Owen Dolen Golden Age Center, and is now the Owen Dolen Recreation Center with a kitchen, computer lab, fitness room, study room, performance space, and billiards and pool tables for use by area residents. The two halves of the park were joined in 1993. A $4.5M remodeling in 2013 included a new stage for outdoor performances (to the left of the buildng) and a pedestrian plaza, seen in front of the building.

Owen F. Dolen Park in The Bronx
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Historic, but not famous

The Bowne family had a long history of service and Mary Bowne Parsons (1784-1839) opened her home up to run away slaves in the Flushing area of what we now know as Queens. During her residency, the Bowne house was rumored to be a stop on the underground Railroad. Mary Bowne Parsons founded a school for indigent young women called the Flushing School for Young Women. They were taught reading, writing, arithmetic and needle and sewing skills, with the hope that they could go out and be self-supporting.

The Bowne house became a museum in 1947. Up until 1945, members of the Bowne family had lived in the house continually since it was built. The house was deeded to the city that year, for use as a museum. It is located in Weeping Beech Park, named after a Belgian weeping beech tree imported by Samuel Bowne Parsons, a noted horticulturist and husband of Mary Bowne Parsons.

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Historic, but not famous

Catherine Ferguson, educator

Catherine Ferguson (1779 – July 11, 1854) was an African-American philanthropist and educator who founded the first Sunday school in New York City. Ferguson was born into slavery in 1779, while her mother, was being transported from Virginia to New York City. She and her mother were separated when she was 8 years old and never saw each other again. This separation caused her to devote herself to children throughout her life.

Her freedom was bought by a friend during her mid teen years and she worked to pay that off, receiving assistance from her friend, and Divie Bethune. She became a baker in NYC. She married at 18 and had 2 children, who both died during infancy.

Although illiterate, Ferguson took care of poor and neglected black and white children in her neighborhood. Every Sunday, she brought these children to her home on Warren Street, New York, in order to provide them with religious education. She was prompted by a local minister and given a large room for her “Sunday School”, the very first in the United States. Later on, her school became known as the Murray Street Sabbath School. Ferguson’s teaching instructions included the memorization of hymns and Scripture.

Ferguson gained prominence because of her charitable work and received coverage from the press when she died, including the NY Times who ran an obituary on July 13, 1854. She died of cholera at the age of 75.

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Historic, but not famous

Margaret Olivia Slocum Sage, philanthropist

Margaret Olivia Slocum Sage supported herself by teaching for over 20 years in Syracuse New York.  In 1869 at age 41, Olivia Slocum married Russell Sage, a widower, financier and robber baron who was 12 years older than she. They had no children.

Ms. Sage became involved in activities in which her role as his wife defined her.  In 1906 Sage died and left his entire fortune of about $70 million to her, which was unrestricted for her use. In his name she used the money for philanthropic purposes. She established the Russell Sage Foundation in 1907 and founded the Russell Sage College for women in 1916. Ms. Sage was a former educator and strongly supported education, both with program and building grants to Syracuse and other universities.

Her philosophy included “helping the unfortunate by providing them with a good environment, opportunity for self-support and individual responsibility, and protection from the unscrupulous.” Mrs. Sage donated Constitution Island to the federal government as an addition to West Point Military Academy. Ms. Sage became a patron of E. Lilian Todd (the first woman in the world to design airplanes) after seeing Todd’s first airplane design at an exhibition at Madison Square Gardens in 1906.

Her greatest single gift was $10,000,000 in 1907 to establish the Russell Sage Foundation, which continues to study social issues and recommend solutions. In 1908 she donated $650,000 to Yale University, enabling the purchase of the Hillhouse property for the university’s Science Hill. In 1909, she donated Holder Hall to Princeton University, named after her Quaker ancestor Christopher Holder, persecuted for his religion in colonial Massachusetts. Sage gave $300,000 to Cornell University for the construction of a women’s dormitory, Risley Hall, named after her mother-in-law. Her promotion of women’s education also included funding the construction of the Olivia Josselyn House, named for her grandmother, at the then all-female Vassar College in 1912. That year she also acquired Marsh Island in the Gulf of Mexico and dedicated it as a refuge for birds and other wildlife.

In 1916, Sage founded Russell Sage College in Troy, New York, as a comprehensive college for women. It is located within the historic district of Troy, New York. RSC offers liberal arts and professional degree programs to empower students to become women of influence in their careers and their communities.

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