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CURIOUS | Researching Women’s Past and Present? Head to the Finger Lakes

CURIOUS | Researching Women’s Past and Present? Head to the Finger Lakes

Seneca Falls Convention 1848. Photo from Votes for Women

In recent years, the Finger Lakes has become one of the world’s top destinations for wine-lovers. VinePair ranked it No. 2 this year, and last year, USA Today named it the best in its annual Readers’ Choice poll. It’s easy to see why. Hovering 200 miles northwest of Manhattan, the Finger Lakes feel like a universe away: apple orchards, vineyards, hiking trails, rustic red barns, and woodland creatures frolicking in fields.

The Finger Lakes are named for the 11 glacial lakes — teaming with fish underwater and kayakers gliding along their mirrored surfaces — splashed between Rochester and Syracuse, running north to south like the fingers of a bizarre beast-hand.

Photo: Visit Finger Lakes

The five largest and most Instagram-friendly are Seneca, Cayuga, Keuka, Canandaigua, and Skaneateles. (Don’t try to spell or pronounce any of them after consuming more than an ounce or two of the vino that has made them famous).

Canandaigua Lake. Photo: @michelleames

It would be easy to leave the Finger Lakes to the wine bloggers and tourists, but, if we did, we’d be losing a real opportunity to take a deeper dive into how we got to where we are as a nation, as both women and men.

March, as we know you know, is Women’s History Month, and the movement to give women the vote — and all of the feminist waves that followed — was born in Seneca Falls. So whether you’re a wine lover, a farm lover, a mountain lover, a lake lover, a history lover, a woman lover or — really any type of sentient human being will do — now is arguably the best time of the year to visit the Finger Lakes.

Winter is receding, Spring is peeking in, and there are more opportunities to learn more about and celebrate — well, everything — here than ever.

The Finger Lakes is an ideal destination for anyone that wants to be immersed in all things women’s history,” says Lisa Burns, the executive director of the Finger Lakes Regional Tourism Council. “We are where the movement truly began. Dating back to the first women’s rights convention in 1848, which took place right here in Seneca Falls, the Finger Lakes region has remained at the center of the movement since, with so many historic events and historical figures calling the region home. Pioneering residents such as Susan B. Anthony, Matilda Joslyn Gage, and Elizabeth Cady Stanton set the stage for our current climate in which a true female entrepreneurial spirit is alive and thriving.”

It was in the Finger Lakes region that Elizabeth Smith Miller wore a Turkish-inspired pantaloon design under a knee-length skirt because she wanted to wear more practical clothing to do her gardening. She showed the outfit to her cousin, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, in Seneca Falls, who also began wearing the style. After, Amelia Bloomer wrote about them in her women’s rights paper The Lily, the pantaloons were dubbed “bloomers”. While this trend caught on among some women, it was mocked and eventually abandoned, though that slow and sporadic train had left the station. Since the 1960’s pants have become a staple of the female wardrobe.  

HISTORICAL LANDMARKS TO VISIT

The birth of the women’s movement took place in Seneca Falls in July of 1848, when Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Lucretia Mott, and 100 supporters signed the Declaration of Sentiments that issued the — at the time — revolutionary proclamation that “all men and women are created equal.”

Outside of Women's Rights National Historic Park. Photo: @mc.frenchiee

While it took until 1917 for women in New York to win the vote, it may have taken even longer without the unflagging efforts of the suffragettes. You can stroll through Women’s Rights National Historic Park and the National Women’s Hall of Fame in Seneca Falls and consider how far we’ve come. And how far we still have to go. (Consider this: Globally, 12 million girls are still married off each year before the age of 18. Only six countries — Belgium, Denmark, France, Latvia, Luxembourg, and Sweden — are giving women the same access to work as men, according to a Women, Business and the Law report issued by the World Bank. It will still take 108 years to close the gender gap, according to the World Economic Forum.)

Photo: The Rustic Boheme, a crystal, herbs, and handmade jewelry shop in Seneca Falls

After those cheery ruminations, head over to Rochester’s National Susan B. Anthony Museum & House, a treasure trove of artifacts related to Anthony and the women’s movement. Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Matilda Josyln Gage’s homes are also worth a visit. Surely, the reminder of how fearless they were in the face of unimaginable odds, will gird visitors for their own present and future.

Photo: @cayetanovalenzuela of Black Rabbit Studio

BITES AND SIPS

There is so much more to do in the Finger Lakes than “just” soak up history. As Burns explains, female winemakers, brewers and distillers, artists, chefs, and events-planners abound and have created products, spaces, and activities that celebrate the feminist roots here, while also looking forward to a new and exciting era ahead.

“Today, award-winning women winemakers, brewers, chefs, and entrepreneurs dot the region and offer up truly creative experiences,” Burns says. “From programming catering to women's adventures, history buffs or cooking classes, to family-focused learning experiences, the Finger Lakes region of New York sets the bar and delivers value for all visitors.”

Indeed. Some of the  sought-after drink and food emporiums in the Finger Lakes that also just happen to be run by women include Red Tale Ridge Winery, run by winemaker Nancy Irelan, who was recently named a semifinalist by James Beard in the category of Outstanding Wine, Spirits, or Beer Producer. She and her husband, Mike Schnelle, own and operate Red Tale, which produces some of the most highly awarded wines in the region; they specialize in estate-grown Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and Riesling wines. Visit the winery, wander the vineyard. Chances are you’ll run into Irelan or Schnelle, who love to answer questions from curious oenophiles.  

Then there’s Finger Lakes Cider House, with Melissa Madden at its helm. Madden is lauded not only for helping to foment a hard cider renaissance in New York, but also for her sustainability efforts and her work on Good Life Farm, a diversified ecologically minded farm adjacent to the cidery. The cidery and the farm are open for visits, tours, tastings, and meals.

Hearts & Hands is run by Susan and Tom Higgins, who left corporate jobs in New York City to pursue their passion for winemaking and a simpler life. They specialize in estate-grown Rieslings and Pinot Noirs. They have landed on some of Manhattan’s most prestigious restaurant lists and critics at The New York Times and Wine Spectator are fans. They are open year-round for walk-ins, but offer curated tours and tastings by appointment.

Young Lion Brewing's Jennifer Newman. Photo: Matt Wittmeyer

Beer lovers flock to Young Lion Brewing, run by analyst-turned-hophead Jennifer Newman. Young Lion serves up iconoclastic beers from a laid-back taproom made for making every #Sunday a #Funday. (Our favorites: the Scarlet Haze IPA, the Cranberry Berliner, the Mexican Lager).

BIKES AND NAILS

If exploring your inner #wildwoman or learning how to craft a table from a tree floats your boat, there are several female-centric activities and classes to explore in the Finger Lakes.

For visitors who want a totally curated, but rugged experience, there is a fantastic Women Outdoors Adventure Group that organizes weekly seasonal excursions, from cross-country skiing, to bird-watching, to camping. There’s also a female-focused Women in the Wild course run by a bicycling group that aims to show women how to gain confidence on solo or small-scale off-road biking trips.

Photo: Women Outdoors Finger Lakes

The Finger Lakes also has a wealth of events and classes geared toward women who want to gain new skills. There’s the women-only carpentry class at Hammerstone School, which was created to increase the number of women in the trade, but also give women with a DIY bent the confidence to wield their own hand saws at home, and live events sponsored by Women Igniting the Spirit of Entrepreneurship that are designed to teach women how to start a business.

Photo: Hammerstone School

There is never a better time than the present to dig into your past, appreciate your now, and plan your future. Who’s up for a ladies weekend?!