Access, Rights, and Roles

The debate over women’s equal rights and full access to all areas of society are explored beginning with our earliest records.

Selections from the exhibit feature contracts, correspondence, images, and programs/brochures representing women’s voices, civic engagement, and their struggles and victories in securing roles as equal citizens. 

Possibly the oldest holding in the Municipal Archives is the Kieft Patenta deed naming Lady Deborah Moody as the land owner. Moody, a religious dissenter who fled England and later Massachusetts, settled in Gravesend, Brooklyn in 1643. Moody’s contract was unique. The following three centuries represent an unrelenting struggle for education, property, labor rights, suffrage, and quality of life within New York City.

Spirited activism challenged and inspired New York City government to recognize women’s claims to equal access to educational and economic opportunities, the extension of civil rights, and the right to a voice in local political affairs.

For more than three centuries, the archival record repeats a single story of limited access. Political, social and economic freedoms are still being redefined to include women. The current Administration’s focus on equity in New York City is evidence of both the continued fight and the continued progress.

The Kieft Patent for Gravesend, which granted Lady Deborah Moody land ownership in 1645, is the first land patent issued to a woman in North America and is among the earliest record in the Municipal Archives.  The map below outlines the propertya block formation that is still visible today. 

Bella’s freedom from slavery, September 1, 1801

Manumission submitted to the New York City Common Council.

 New York City Common Council Papers

Cause of Arrest: Incitement to Riot, August 1893

Emma Goldman was arrested and charged with inciting a riot while giving a speech to unemployed workers in Union Square. She was ultimately sentenced to one year in the Blackwell’s Island penitentiary.

Court of General Sessions


An original window poster and postcard represent ways women promoted suffrage.  Items courtesy of the Elizabeth Cady Stanton Trust