Her new book, “Remarkable Women of Hartford,” is not the first time author/editor/ professor/playwright Cynthia Wolfe Boynton has promoted the role of women in history. The freelance writer who lives in Connecticut wrote the play “Dear Prudence,” about Connecticut educator and activist Prudence Crandall. Her book brings to light the stories of 12 Connecticut women who played major roles in Connecticut politics, civil rights, the arts, education, and business in times when women were fighting for social and legal rights and respect. Among the CT Women Hall of Famers who are featured are Courant publisher, Hannah Bunce Watson Hudson, children’s rights activist Virginia Thrall Smith, civil rights champion Mary Townsend Seymour , education pioneer Edythe Gaines and late Gov. Ella T. Grasso. Boynton admits she not only learned a lot about a handful of strong women in Connecticut’s history as the book unfolded but that she also learned more about herself, as she Spilled the Beans with Java.
Q: Where did the idea for the book come from?
A: This is not impressive at all, believe me. I am a freelancer and I am always looking for ways to support myself. I was vacationing in Martha’s Vineyard and wherever I go, I like to go to author’s signings and readings. There was a book signing in Edgerton for a book called “Remarkable Women of Martha’s Vineyard.” I love stories of strong women and bringing back women’s voices of the past, so I went to the event and saw the book and talked to the author and asked if I could do a book like this. I basically looked up History Press that published the series and saw there were none about Connecticut. And it seemed like Hartford was the place to start.
Q: Do you like history?
A: Growing up in Milford, my parents were always into history and antiques and every vacation was to a historical place of some kind. As a kid I vowed I would never turn into an adult who loved history. I mean how many times can you go to historic Williamsburg? But I did grow into an adult who loves and is fascinated with history. One of the things that continues to amaze me is there are so many people and events from history that have been forgotten. An English major in college
Q: Why do you think no one ever wrote a book like this before? It’s not like we don’t know about these women or do we?
A: I think it is partially because it’s women and I think women are still dismissed. It’s Stowe House’s Katherine Kane’s quote that I use twice in the book, that as a society we tend to look forward all the time. I feel strongly that if we don’t take the time to look to our past, and look at the people before us, then how to we effectively look forward. Women are just dismissed too quickly so it was logical for me to look back at these women and find their amazing stories.
Q: Which story were you most surprised by?
A: Mary Townsend Seymour. I was just horrified that there was no information about her and her work as a civil rights advocate. In fact her grave is listed on the Connecticut Freedom Trail Old North Cemetery in Hartford but there is no specific location given. I visited the cemetery twice and there is no one there to help you out and I walked up and down every aisle because there was no way to find her grave. And this woman did so much. she helped establish the NAACP here, she helped organize the first union for women, she was the first woman to run for legislative office and yet there was barely any information on her. Her story took the longest to write because I had to do so much research and piece her story together.
Q: What story did not surprise you at all?
A: None of them. I was surprised by some aspect of every woman in the book. I think that information about the women became more accessible when as a society, we became better documenters. But it was still hard. Hannah Bunce Watson Hudson, publisher of the Courant was a challenge because there were no bylines in the news then so you didn’t know what she wrote. Women’s lives then were recorded by their husband’s names. Linda Huntley Sigourney, a writer who is also in the book, led a very unconventional life and her husband didn’t want a wife who was a writer. So she compromised and did not use her name on her writings. So you had this dichotomy where she was independent and modern but living by the rules of the time. Hundreds of years have passed since many of these women lived and worked so hard for societal changes, but when we look at today, too much is the same. We are a society that still does not value diversity, gender and civil rights. We are still far behind.
Q: I love that you included the signatures of each of the featured women. What was your intent?
A: I was determined to do that because I feel a signature is such an intimate expression of who somebody is. It was the closest way to actually show their authentic voices.
Q: Did any family members object to your research or the women you chose for the book?
A: there was no push back. I was disappointed however because I could not track down any family of Elizabeth Colt and she was such a remarkable women. Actually there were families that were crazy excited over the stories being told.
Q: Besides the obvious of reading it, do you see the book as having some kind of academic value in the future?
A: I would love to see it used in schools and am in the process of writing a teacher’s guide to go with it. I think it’s a book that would have tremendous value to school because it really does bring our state history, and the women who affected change here, to life.
Q: Will there be a second book?
A: I absolutely would do a second book and there are more than enough remarkable Connecticut women to fill one. I am thinking of a Volume II for Hartford and looking at New Haven as well.
Q: What did you learn as you wrote this book?
A: Oh my God that is such a hard question. I learned, so much that it is impossible to sum up everything. I think the biggest take away for me was that all these women’s lives overlapped in some ways even if they didn’t live at the same time. Someone who died was someone else’s mentor or what one did in one century somehow helped another do what she did years later. They all had a strong sense of purpose and they knew what they wanted to accomplish and took the time to figure out what they wanted to use their lives for. We move so quickly now we don’t take the time to figure out what we want to be and what is important when it comes to what we want to accomplish. These women took the time to live the best life possible and made amazing impacts on their community. I find I want to be like them, it’s how I want to live my life.
For more information go to cindywolfeboynton.com.