First passenger to cross the Brooklyn Bridge, Emily Warren Roebling

The third stop on our tour is located at the Manhattan side pedestrian entrance to the Brooklyn Bridge. There, we highlight the woman behind this monumental construction, Emily Warren Roebling.

Brooklyn BridgeIt was on May 24, 1883 — 133 years ago! — that the longest suspension bridge in the world at the time was opened to the public. The first passenger to cross the completed bridge was Emily, as requested by her husband and the chief engineer, Washington Roebling. Since 1872, when Washington was struck by caissons disease (aka  decompression sickness or the bends), Emily had taken over as “Field Engineer” of the Brooklyn Bridge’s
construction. Already a well educated woman, she further expanded her knowledge by studying mathematics and bridge engineering to competently manage this critical role.

Opening the Way’s guidebook features a contemporary account describing the moment Emily made the crossing:

She and a coachman had crossed over from Brooklyn in a new Victoria, its varnish gleaming in the sunshine. She had taken a live rooster along with her, as a sign of victory, and from one end of the bridge to the other, the men had stopped their work to cheer and lift their hats as she came riding along.

To really appreciate the feat of the Brooklyn Bridge, take a moment to visit and read these image-filled posts detailing the construction of the bridge along with fabulous historical photos:

130 Years Of Brooklyn Bridge Photos, Decade By Decade, Curbed New York.

Brooklyn Bridge History and Photography, James Maher Photography.

Extra Historical Connection!: Another famous nineteenth-century figure was present at the Bridge’s opening, President Chester A. Arthur. At the age of 24, long before he was president, Arthur was a junior partner at the law firm hired to represent Elizabeth Jennings (Opening the Way’s sixth stop) in her suit against the Third Avenue Railroad Company for racial discrimination. He was the lawyer who successfully represented Jennings, resulting in an 1855 ruling by the jury to award $225 in damages and setting a precedent that aided the desegregation of New York’s public transportation in 1861.




Happy Birthday Margaret Fuller, Correspondent for Equality


On this day in women’s history, we celebrate the birth of Margaret Fuller, a woman whose name is associated with several important contributions to American history.

5. Margaret FullerFuller was born on May 23, 1810 in Cambridgeport, Massachusetts to Unitarian parents, and received a strong classical education from an early age, becoming well-versed in languages such as French and German. She became a passionate advocate for transcendentalism, a philosophy that developed as a critique to the state of ideas in society and at Harvard in particular. A core belief of transcendentalist philosophy was the belief in an ideal spirituality that goes beyond the physical and empirical and is fulfilled only through a person’s intuition rather than organized religious doctrine. It affected literature, poetry, art and music from about 1835-1880. Fuller worked with prominent figures such as Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, and Walt Whitman, and gained a respected reputation in this field, becoming the first editor of the transcendentalist journal The Dial in 1840.

In 1844, Fuller came to New York to work for Horace Greeley’s New-York Daily Tribune, one of the most influential newspapers in the country. There, she became the first full-time female book reviewer in America. She was considered one of the most well-read people in New England, and became the first woman admitted to use the library at Harvard College. In 1845, she published Woman in the Nineteenth Century, which is considered the first major feminist work in the United States. The book was based in part on a series of “Conversations” or seminars she had held for women social reformers while in Boston, to compensate for their lack of access to higher education.

In 1846, Fuller left for Europe as the Tribune’s first female international correspondent. She settled in Rome and covered the Italian revolution. She had a son with Giovanni Ossoli, whom she married; and the three of them left on a ship on May 17, 1850 to return to America. But en route to New York, their ship was wrecked in a storm and the family tragically perished.

Margaret Fuller died at only 40 years old, but left a legacy in which she is considered one of America’s first feminists. She fought fiercely for women’s rights, particularly in the areas of education and work. On May 25, 2011, she was celebrated through the Margaret Fuller Bicentennial Celebration, in Boston.