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Kathryn Freeman


The New York State School of Agriculture at Farmingdale, Long Island
Class of 1919
March 19, 2019

By April Lynne Earle

Kathryn Freeman was the only female graduate in the first graduating class. It might have been easier to say that she was the first female graduate, but the there is something to be said for being the ONLY female.

This photo from the personal collection of Bradford Southard, lent to the College by his daughter Jane Southard-Horowitz, in memory of her father, clearly shows Kathryn was not the only woman here. With the help of her great nephew, Jim Platz, who attended the Phenomenal Womyn’s Award Ceremony on March 12, 2019 in honor of his great aunt, we were able to identify Kate as the woman in the center of the front row in the white shirt, dark bow, and belt.

Kathryn Freeman

Upon first glance, the 15 members of the Class of 1919 might look pretty homogenous; Kathryn and a bunch of white men. On closer examination, though, the group is actually quite diverse.

class of 1919

Alphonse Tello was from Mexico. He came to the United States when he was 15 and graduated our program at age 20.

Eight of the graduates were first-generation Americans, meaning that at least one, but sometimes both, of their parents were born outside the U.S. Their parents came from Holland, Denmark, Italy, Russia, Germany, and Austria. Kathryn’s parents came from Bohemia, which is now the Czech Republic but then was part of Austria. At least three were of Jewish ancestry, including Freeman.

Nine of the 14 U.S. born students were born in New York. The other five U.S.-born students were born in Delaware, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Ohio, and Pennsylvania, which is where Kathryn was born.

It is also worth noting that Scott Hutchins was born deaf.

kathryn freeman headshot

Kathryn Freeman was born on December 12, 1898 in Plymouth, Pennsylvania.

Kathryn Freeman Family Photo

She was the 11th of 12 children born to Leopold and Rosa (nee Steindler) Freeman. This photo was taken in 1897, before Kathryn was born. Kate and her younger sister, Miriam, are included here in oval inserts at the top of the photo. Our Kate is circled in green.

The Freemans are credited as one of the founding families of Plymouth, PA. Leopold, born in Bohemia in 1850, came to the United States in 1870. He returned to Austria to marry and then came back to the U.S. with his wife, Rosa, in 1875.

Kathryn’s father, Leopold, was director of the First National Bank of Plymouth, not a farmer. When I think of farming, I think of a trade that is passed down from father to son.

women mobilize to produce food from the land

Above image appeared in the Buffalo Courier Sun on April 22, 1917

Kathryn stated in the July 19, 1919 issue of Country Gentleman that, “I was born to be a farmer. I have always known I should do this, ever since I could tell a seed from a pebble.”

When you are born to be a farmer and your father is a bank president, you need to go somewhere else to learn about farming.

Some of her siblings went on to be lawyers, doctors, and architects.

women mobilize to produce food from the land

Above image appeared in the Buffalo Currier Sun on April 22, 1917

She went on to say in the same interview, “They thought I was crazy when I insisted on coming here [to Farmingdale] after graduation from Wadleigh [High School]. But there was a war and the need for girls on the farms, and so the family couldn’t say no.”

school for women farmers

Above image taken from the Country Gentleman, July 28, 1917

Farmingdale was branded as a school for women and city boys to learn the skills needed to feed a nation at war.

“At the New York State Agriculture School at Farmingdale, Long Island, women are being taught the ins and outs of real farming. Also, because some of them may go west and take up homesteads, where they will have to be their own women-of-all-work, they are learning carpentry and cement work. This side of the game was so novel that the photographer got the girls doing all the hard jobs that usually fall to the men.”

These female students pictured above are constructing a campus building that they actually worked in. This clearly shows that we have always been an institution of applied learning. We have always been using our hands and minds to alter the world around us. It is what we do. It is what Kathryn did. It is what our Phenomenal Womyn’s Award winners do every day.

Kathryn did go out west. She worked for a short time on a ranch in Montana, after graduation. She then returned to New York, and during the Great Depression, in the 1930 census, she is listed as a landscape architect living on 5th Avenue in Manhattan.

24 fifth avenue

Above image shows present day 24 5th Avenue in Manhattan where Kathryn lived in 1930

kathryn freeman payroll

She was an independent, strong, smart woman who not only successfully managed her inheritance during a period of true economic challenge, but worked to make her own income in a time when women were not typically taught to be independent.

kathryn freeman obituary

Obituary published in the Citizen Voice [Pennsylvania] on April 25, 1984.

Kathryn died April 23, 1984 at the age of 85, in Kingston, Pennsylvania, not far from where she was born. She never married. She did not have children. She had many, many nieces and nephews who remember her fondly as their favorite aunt. She left an indelible mark on the loved ones around her.

We remember her today as a woman of great substance and strong character. The first of many phenomenal woman who have called Farmingdale home.

 

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