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Abigail Eliza Leonard: A Selfless Woman Remembered

(Editor’s note: At the Village Pops Concert at the Farmingdale Village Green on Wednesday, July 10, Frances Rotondo, former president of Women’s Club of Farmingdale delivered this speech. The “Minute of History,” is a series of speeches delivered at the Pops Concerts throughout the summer.)

 

Abigail E. Leonard had a title given to her by Dorothy Ruettgers who wrote a scholarly article in a book entitled, Long Island Women: Activists and Innovators (in the article, Miss Leonard was given the title of “quiet innovator”). Empire Books published the book in 1998. This evening, I will do my best to pay tribute to this woman who came to Farmingdale in 1911 at the age of 60.  In 1912, Miss Leonard had her home built in Farmingdale and it still stands.

 

Miss Leonard was a courageous woman who brought change to Farmingdale in a short time after her arrival. In 1852 she was born in Woodstock, VT to a farmer and his wife. She began her career as an educator in a one-room schoolhouse.  

 

At the age of 25 she moved to New York City where she began teaching at a high school in Brooklyn – mathematics and Latin and later Erasmus High School in the English department. She remained there until her retirement in 1911.  

 

For more than 30 years, a group of students from the class of 1902 regularly took her to lunch on her birthday. These students included a member of the governor’s cabinet,

several attorneys, a prominent judge and a university administrator as well as Lawrence Sperry, a pioneer inventor and son of the founder of Sperry Aviation (quite a tribute!).

In 1912, Miss Leonard built a home in Farmingdale and named it “after-math.

 

In 1913, she founded the Women’s Club of Farmingdale along with a small group of women.  

 

The women’s suffrage, the right to vote, was one of her early causes. She urged participation in suffrage marches and in 1917 formed a local “committee of 100”.  

 

In 1920, the enactment of the 20th amendment of the U.S. Constitution marked victory for the women’s suffrage movement.

 

In 1923, one of the most significant achievements during her presidency was one of the co-founders of the Farmingdale Public Library.

 

Jesse Merritt, a long-time friend and editor of Farmingdale Post and village historian worked together and in 1924 the library opened.

 

The Kolkebeck house, once on Main Street, was owned by the board of education.  

 

The Women’s Club received permission to use a room as the library. They asked local residents to donate books in good condition to start the library. As time progressed, Miss Leonard and Jesse Merritt went to Garden City to purchase new books from a book company. 

 

In 1925 she was instrumental in establishing the Farmingdale Parent-Teacher Association at Main Street School.

 

Miss Leonard and the Women’s Club successfully lobbied to have a school nurse five-days a week at Main Street School.

 

In June 1920, the Abigail E. Leonard Scholarship was awarded to a senior at the Farmingdale High School and that has been award each year since then. Dr. Benjamin

Giminaro was a recipient of this scholarship and was interviewed by Miss Leonard.   

 

In 1918, Miss Leonard was appointed to a vacancy on the Farmingdale Board of Education and was re-elected to a full-term in 1919.  She was the first woman to serve on the local school board.

 

In 1918, while president of the Women’s Club, they were able to raise $147 and purchased 23 street signs.

 

Under her leadership, the Women’s Club encouraged the village to pave the streets and have regular collection of garbage.

 

Women’s Club, from 1916-29, sponsored a tree lighting on the front lawn of Main Street school. Carols were sung and candy distributed to the children.      

 

We cannot forget our village flower—the forsythia (also known as the yellow bell). With the assistance of Miss Leonard and the Women’s Club, Jesse Merritt was able to inspire the community to vote for the forsythia as the Farmingdale flower. The residents were asked to plant the yellow bell in their garden.

 

Miss Leonard was a familiar sight to the community residents walking three-quarters of a mile to the village from her home and back. For many years she would make the trip in the evening to attend meetings.

 

In 1945, at the age of 93, Abigail Eliza Leonard passed away at her home in Farmingdale and went back to Vermont to be placed to rest.   

Merritt wrote her obituary with warmth and sincerity. 

 

Abigail Eliza Leonard was a humble woman who expected no returns for what she accomplished and what she had done for the community of Farmingdale. She did what came naturally educating and improving - so much so, that Adelphi University named one wing of a dormitory in her honor.  Over the years she held such titles as teacher of teachers, and dean of Long Island women.

 

While a resident of Farmingdale, she was an honorary member of the Nassau President’s Association.  At a convention in 1998, to commemorate the anniversary of women’s rights, village historian, Mr. William Johnston nominated Abigail E. Leonard as one of the outstanding women of our area. For all these reasons and more we remember Abigail Eliza Leonard and say thank you.  

 

A special thank you to Mr. William Johnston, village historian, for all he does in keeping the history of Farmingdale.