Historic, but not famous

Christine Beshar, Trailblazing Lawyer

Christine Beshar (born Christine Luise Luitgarde Annette von Wedemeyer), one of the first women to be named partner in a Wall Street law firm, established a pioneering child-care service for its employees. Ms. Beshar specialized in trust and estate law. She was made the first female partner in 1971 at  Cravath, Swaine & Moore. She worked there until her death, in 2018, at the age of 88.

In 1989, she proposed that the firm offer onsite child care for their employees. The firm had moved and a back up child care facility was no longer available to the employees.  They were the first firm in the city to begin the service in 1991. Many firms and businesses followed throughout the decades.

Ms. Beshar, an immigrant from Germany,  passed the New York bar exam in 1959 on her first try without having attended law school. She had clerked for her husband’s firm for four years. Now classroom attendance in law school is required before someone can take the bar exam. She was the daughter of farmers in Prussia and born in November of 1929. Her father was killed fighting for Germany in World War II. With her 3 siblings, she fled the advancing Soviet army in January 1945, a few months before the war in Europe ended. After attending the University of Hamburg and the University of Tuebingen, she won a Fulbright Scholarship to attend Smith College in Northampton, Mass. She graduated with a bachelor’s degree in 1953. She met her husband, who attended Yale Law School, on a blind date. She would not accept his proposal until he met and gained the approval of her mother, still in Germany. They were married in December 1953 and returned to the United States, where Ms. Beshar became a citizen in 1957.

She formally retired in 1999, but remained active in law and counseled many non-profits throughout her retirement as well as continuing her work with Cravath, Swaine, & Moore.

When Ms. Beshar was elected as a partner at the law firm, her boss, Roswell Gilpatric, told her that there was one issue that had yet to be resolved: The firm had only one restroom reserved for partners.

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Historic, but not famous

Eliza Southgate Bowne, NYC mayor’s wife, homemaker, letter writer

Eliza Southgate was born in Maine, on Sept. 24, 1783,  the daughter of a wealthy landowner. Eliza was the third of 12 children. Her father was a doctor and eventually he became a judge. She attended boarding school and like her siblings, was very educated and traveled often. She met Walter Bowne while visiting Saratoga Springs. Bowne was a wealthy Quaker from Long Island, and he would later be elected the 59th mayor of New York City in 1829. They married in the spring of 1803 and moved to New York. She loved NYC immediately and often wrote letters to family and friends of its adventure. She also was overwhelmed as a young wife of setting up a household and receiving guests associated with her husband and his political career. The letters were compiled into a book and give an insight into the life of the “homemaker” in colonial NYC.  The book is entitled, A Girl’s Life Eighty Years ago ; Selections From the Letters of Eliza Southgate  and is no longer in print.

The Bowne’s had four children, Walter, Mary, Octavia and Frederic. Eliza’s health was poor, and they decided the winters in NYC were too severe for her. She spent the winter of 1808-09 in South Carolina. Eliza Southgate died on Feb. 19, 1809. She was 25 years old.

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Historic, but not famous

Madame Marguerite de Bonneville met Thomas Paine (writer, Common Sense) during the time he spent in Paris after the Revolutionary War. She was his landlady and they became close friends. Her husband, Nicholas, was devoted to the same principles of freedom of speech and freedom of the press as was Paine. Ms. Bonneville was a disciple of the radical feminist, Etta Palm d’Aelders, an outspoken Dutch Feminist. 

When Paine came back to America, she and her 3 sons (Benjamin, Louis, and Thomas, of whom Paine was godfather), accompanied him. She was his caretaker, moving him from Washington DC, to New Rochelle New York where he had been given a farm and eventually to his final home in the West Village of NYC. She attended to Paine throughout his illness and final days, renting him a home in her name on Grove Street.  Rumors often circulated that she was the mistress of Paine, but was devoted to her husband and the causes they believed in. Her husband joined the group in New Rochelle after the death of Napoleon and unfortunately Paine. Paine sued the newspaper for libel that accused them of the affair and won.

Madame Bonneville assisted Paine with keeping religious fanatics from his deathbed and was one of 8 people at his graveside along with her sons.

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Historic, but not famous

Elizabeth Jackson Sands, mother, wife, farm manager and agent in an undercover munitions ring run from her Port Washington property, from the Battle of Brooklyn through to her daring contraband shipment run across the Long Island Sound. With the help of her friends, family, military contacts and slaves, she balanced taking care of her family, raising her crops and cows, and running a contraband munitions smuggling ring out of her cellar and backyard for the Continental Army.

The Sands family was one of the original three families that settled in and owned what is now Sands Point, N.Y. Elizabeth married into the Sands family, wedding John Sands (1737-1811), the eldest of the sons. John served as a colonel during the Revolutionary War and was also a member of the New York State Assembly for Queens County, 1784 to 1785. Elizabeth and John has 10 children. Elizabeth served her country from her Brooklyn home while maintaining property and family while John traveled to battle points during the Revolution.

To learn more about Elizabeth and her heroics during the Revolutionary War, follow the play written by Sarah Lyons (actress, writer, tour guide) on Facebook.

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