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Historic Women Honored at Woodlawn Cemetery

By Jeanmarie Evelly | October 23, 2012 9:09am

WOODLAWN — Though they lived in different eras and in different parts of the country, a group of four women who hold significant spots in American history now all reside in the same place: the Bronx’s Woodlawn Cemetery.

The 400-acre cemetery in the northwest Bronx is the final resting place for a number of celebrities and well-known names, among them civic power broker Robert Moses, jazz greats Duke Ellington and Miles Davis, and newspaperman Joseph Pulitzer.

But on Monday, the women of Woodlawn were in the spotlight. The cemetery and the Bronx Chamber of Commerce held a special event and tour to honor four historic women who are buried at the site: Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Celia Cruz, Madam CJ Walker and Alva Belmont.

“Stanton, she was truly a leader,” said U.S. Rep. Carolyn Maloney, who made a presentation about the life of early women’s rights activist, who died in 1902. “The intellectual leader of the women’s movement, and she is buried right here, in New York. There she is, right here in our cemetery.”

Maloney was one of four prominent women who led the event, each presenting the accomplishments of the cemetery’s “sheroes.” Bronx Deputy Borough President Aurelia Greene, State Sen. Ruth Hassell-Thompson and Bronx Chamber of Commerce Vice President Lisa Alvarado Sorin also gave tributes.

Greene spoke of the groundbreaking life of Madam CJ Walker, who started her own company selling hair products and cosmetics to African-American women to become one of the first and wealthiest American female business owners.

“That was so unique then, and it’s still unique for today,” said Greene, who has a personal connection to the entrepreneur — her stepmother worked with Walker and inherited one of her Manhattan beauty parlors.

Lenny Caro, president of the Bronx Chamber of Commerce, said they wanted to honor pioneering women who paved a path of success for today’s generation, and to highlight Woodlawn Cemetery’s tourism appeal.

“It’s showing off our borough,” he said.

Woodlawn, founded in 1863, was declared a National Historic Landmark last year. Earlier this month, the cemetery got its second Landmark designation for the grave site of Admiral David Glasgow Farragut, who died in 1870 and is regarded as one of the most prominent naval officers in American history.

In addition to historic headstones, the cemetery is home to more than 1,000 mausoleums, many of them elaborately designed and artfully decorated, according to Susan Olsen, Woodlawn’s historian.

“These are secret, private spaces filled with historic art and architecture,” she said.

One such mausoleum is that of Grammy-award winning salsa legend Celia Cruz, who was laid to rest after her death in 2003 in a granite monument adorned with stained-glass windows.

Another is the elaborate final resting ground of Alva Belmont, a New York City socialite and prominent early feminist and suffragette who died in 1933. Her tomb is a miniature chapel modeled after the Saint Hubert Chapel in Amboise, France, where Leonardo Da Vinci is buried.

The structure is one of several that was deeded back to Woodlawn and is open to the public for tours, according to Olsen. The cemetery recently won a $150,000 grant from the Partnership for Preservation to restore the Belmont Mausoleum, work that will begin this spring.