POUGHKEEPSIE – In commemoration of the 100th anniversary of the passage of the 19th Amendment that gave women the right to vote in federal elections, communities across the country are remembering and honoring the achievements of outstanding women residents throughout history. Dutchess County Clerk Bradford H. Kendall highlights one of the many remarkable women who called Dutchess County home, whose accomplishments and indominable spirit continue to inspire us today.
Local historian Helen Wilkinson Reynolds (December 9, 1875 – January 3, 1943) was a member of the prominent Reynolds Family of Poughkeepsie and a prodigious historian of Dutchess County. In a career spanning 32 years, she conducted research into practically every aspect of county history, publishing numerous articles and books. Though best known for her two groundbreaking works on local architecture (Dutch Houses in the Hudson Valley before 1776 and Dutchess County Doorways), her writings spanned the spectrum between studies of local plants to the records of churches and municipalities.
She joined the Dutchess County Historical Society soon after its founding in 1914, becoming editor of the annual Dutchess County Historical Society Yearbook in 1921. In partnership with Franklin Delano Roosevelt, she launched the society’s long-running publication series, which documented details ranging from gravestone inscriptions to early colonial municipal records. She confronted difficult challenges including inaccessible and decaying historical records, vanishing local landmarks, limited publication opportunities for local historical research, and the tendency by some scholars to dismiss the importance of local history.
Her diverse projects frequently brought her to the Dutchess County Clerk’s Office to consult deeds and other records maintained by the county. As part of that work, Reynolds developed an index of maps contained in early deeds that are not replicated in the other county map collections. The index and corresponding maps have been digitized with searchable features and full color scans. The atlas is accessible by visiting: dutchessny.gov/historicalresources.
Dutchess County Clerk Bradford H. Kendall stated, “Helen Wilkinson Reynolds demonstrates how women found ways to better their community through acts of courage, creativity and compassion. She was a historian, researcher, writer, institution leader, and advisor to public officials – by her own making. The atlas she developed and which is now available on our Historical Resources page demonstrates Reynolds’ energy and impeccable standards of scholarship that elevated local history to a new level of timelessness, usefulness, and reliability even today.”
“Although she never served as Dutchess County Historian, Helen Wilkinson Reynolds looms large in the history of Dutchess County and as a historian of our county,” said County Historian William P. Tatum III, “She truly established Dutchess County History as an independent field of study. Her works from over 100 years ago are still relevant today and serve as a testament to its usefulness and the timelessness of her work.”