Women's History Spotlight On: Activists and Organizers

In March, we celebrate Women's History Month by spotlighting the many female-identifying activists and organizers honored in the borough of Queens with place names.

Sarah Whiting Way

Sarah Margaret Washington Whiting (1916 – 2017), was a long-term resident of Flushing, Queens, and a community leader. She founded the Holly Civic Association and was an active member of the Flushing Chapter of the NAACP, and the Flushing Democratic Club. She founded an after-school program at PS 24 – then called the PS24Q Mother’s Club. She volunteered her time with the Concerned African Americans of Flushing, Flushing Hospital, Community Board 7, and the 109th Precinct Community Council. Whiting served on Community Board 7 for 20 years before she stepped down in 2007 due to her health. A deeply religious person, Sarah Whiting was also affiliated with Macedonia AME, Ebenezer Baptist Church, and First Baptist Church of Flushing. She was honored by former Queens Borough President Claire Shulman and former Council Member Julia Harrison with an Unsung Heroine Award.


Sophie Krichevsky, “Street co-named for activist Sarah Whiting,” Queens Chronicle, April 14, 2022, https://www.qchron.com/editions/north/street-co-named-for-activist-sarah-whiting/article_c816c003-7efe-5937-9051-bab833a7e6b6.html

Aurora Pond

Aurora Gareiss founded the Udalls Cove Preservation Committee in 1969. The organization's mission was -- and remains -- the conservation, preservation and restoration of the remaining undeveloped wetlands and wooded uplands in the Udalls Cove watershed. Udalls Cove is the eastern arm of Little Neck Bay, itself part of Long Island Sound. At the time, most of the area that is now preserved as Udalls Cove Park was mapped for residential development. As a result of the efforts of Gareiss and the organization she founded, almost all the undeveloped lands have been protected as part of the park.


Udalls Cove Preservation Committee, https://www.udallscove.org

"Guide to the Aurora Gareiss Papers," Archives at Queens Library, https://www.queenslibrary.org/manuscripts/0107

Lorena Borjas Way

Born in Veracruz, Mexico, Lorena Borjas (1960-2020) was a fierce advocate for the transgender and Latinx communities in Queens. Borjas moved to the U.S. in 1980 and earned a green card through a Reagan-era amnesty program. She was convicted of charges related to prostitution in 1994, but the charges were later vacated, since she was forced into prostitution by human traffickers. However, other convictions remained on her record until 2017, when then-Governor Andrew M. Cuomo pardoned her. She became a U.S. citizen in 2019.

Borjas inspired many people through her advocacy for the LGBT community. She co-founded the Lorena Borjas Community Fund in 2012 and was actively involved in many organizations, including the AIDS Center of Queens County, the Hispanic AIDS Forum and the Latino Commission on AIDS. In 2015, she founded El Colectivo Intercultural TRANSgrediendo, a non-profit organization that works to defend the rights of transgender and gender non-binary people. The organization provides legal and medical services to trans and non-binary sex workers and undocumented members of the community. Although Borjas had already been taking sex workers to clinics to get tested for HIV and helping to get lawyers for possible deportation cases, El Colectivo was a way for her to officially continue that work. She also became a counselor for the Community Healthcare Network's Transgender Family Program, where she worked to obtain legal aid for victims of human trafficking. Borjas died on March 30, 2020, of complications from COVID-19.

On June 26, 2022, a bill was signed by Governor Kathy Hochul establishing the Lorena Borjas transgender and gender non-binary (TGNB) wellness and equity fund, which will be used to invest in increasing employment opportunities, providing access to gender-affirming healthcare, and raising awareness about transgender and gender non-binary people in New York.


El Colectivo Intercultural TRANSgrediendo, https://www.ourvoicesarefree.org/

Daniel E. Slotnik, "Lorena Borjas, Transgender Immigrant Activist, Dies at 59," The New York Times, April 1, 2020, https://www.nytimes.com/2020/04/01/obituaries/lorena-borjas-dead-coronavirus.html

Bill Parry, "Transgender activist Lorena Borjas honored with Elmhurst street co-naming," QNS, April 1, 2021, https://qns.com/2021/04/transgender-activist-lorena-borjas-honored-with-elmhurst-street-co-naming/

Chantal Vaca, "Through Community, Lorena Borjas’ Legacy Lives On," The Know (blog), December 27, 2021, https://wetheknow.wordpress.com/2021/12/27/lorena-borjass-legacy-lives-on-in-her-queens-community/?fbclid=IwAR3CQ6NKK1FZVwF6FH_fQRZuBMijF-WiRyaZ-EQAruBIUeWvwS9uznqRa8w

Queens Stories: The Story of Lorena Borjas: The Transgender Latina Activist, Queens Public Television, https://qptv.org/content/queens-stories-story-lorena-borjas-transgender-latina-activist

New York State Senate, Assembly Bill A9418A, https://www.nysenate.gov/legislation/bills/2021/A9418

Helen Marshall Blvd

Helen Marshall (1929-2017) was the first African American Queens Borough President, serving from 2002 to 2013.

Marshall was born in Manhattan to immigrant parents of African descent from Guyana. The family moved to Queens in 1949, settling first in Corona and then in East Elmhurst. Marshall graduated with a B.A. in education from Queens College. After teaching for eight years, she left to help found the Langston Hughes Library in 1969, where she was the first Director. She served in the State Assembly for 8 years and then served on the City Council for 10 years, before becoming the first African American and the second woman to serve as the Queens Borough President. She supported job training programs and economic development and was a devoted supporter of the Queens Public Library.

The corner at Northern Boulevard and 103rd Street that is co-named for Marshall is next to the original location of the Langston Hughes Library at 102-09 Northern Boulevard.


“The Honorable Helen Marshall,” The History Makers, accessed November 10, 2022, https://www.thehistorymakers.org/biography/honorable-helen-marshall

Bill Parry, “Former Borough President Helen Marshall honored with street co-naming in Corona,” QNS.com, December 14, 2017, https://qns.com/2017/12/former-borough-president-helen-marshall-honored-with-street-co-naming-in-corona/

“The Honorable Helen M. Marshall,” Cobbs Funeral Chapels, accessed September 30, 2022, https://www.cobbsfuneralchapels.com/obituary/5914899

Mary Vavruska Way

Mary Vavruska (1932 – 2015) was a well-known Jackson Heights community activist that served the community for over 50 years and was instrumental in the building of Louis Armstrong Middle School, I.S. 227. She worked as the chair of Community Board 3 for many years, and was especially active on issues of land use, economic development, and education. She helped initiate the building of the 115th Police Precinct on Northern Boulevard.

Vavruska also helped form the Jackson Heights Community Corp. and organized and implemented volunteer services for the homeless at the Blessed Sacrament Roman Catholic Church. She was an active PTA member and championed the Department of Education to receive continual financial support for the maintenance of the Paired Schools under the Princeton Plan to integrate the schools between Jackson Heights, Corona, and East Elmhurst after the decentralization of school districts. She received the Volunteer of the Year from the Regional Alliance for Small Contractors, the Community Service Award from The Asociacion Benefica Cultural Father Billini and the Small Business Person of the Year from the Queens Chamber of Commerce.


Gil Tauber, "NYC Honorary Street Names," accessed June 15, 2022, http://www.nycstreets.info/

Hannah Wulkan, "Street co-named in honor of Mary Vavruska, former CB3 chair who passed away last year," Jackson Heights Post, September19, 2016, https://jacksonheightspost.com/street-co-named-in-honor-of-mary-vavruska-who-passed-away-last-year

"Stated Minutes of July 14, 2016," New York City Council, https://a860-gpp.nyc.gov/concern/nyc_government_publications/df65v8512?locale=en

P.S. 131 Abigail Adams

Abigail Adams (1744-1818) had the distinction of being the first Second Lady of the United States and the second First Lady. She was also the mother of the sixth President, John Quincy Adams. A political influencer, she is remembered for the many letters of advice she exchanged with her husband, John Adams, during the Continental Congresses and throughout his political career. In 1776, Abigail wrote her most famous letter, exhorting the Founding Fathers to “remember the ladies.” She added, “Do not put such unlimited power into the hands of the husbands. Remember all men would be tyrants if they could.”


"First Families: Abigail Smith Adams," The White House, accessed October 3, 2022, https://www.whitehouse.gov/about-the-white-house/first-families/abigail-smith-adams/

Debra Michals, “Abigail Adams,” National Women’s History Museum, 2015, https://www.womenshistory.org/education-resources/biographies/abigail-adams

"Biography: Abigail Adams," American Experience, accessed October 3, 2022, https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/americanexperience/features/adams-abigail/

Wikidata contributors, “Q206191”, Wikidata, accessed December 7, 2023, https://www.wikidata.org/wiki/Q206191

Ann Buehler Way

Ann and two gentlemen (probably members of the board) at Annual Dinner, some time in the 1960's, taken at Waldorf-Astoria.    

Library Dedication at then Boys Club of Queens, Ann is the woman in a dark dress standing in doorway facing camera, Taken in the 1960-70's.  

Mary Demarkos Ann Buehler and Lucille Hartmann posting before bleachers in gym at Variety Boys and Girls Club, taken some time in the early 2000s

Ann working on a crafts project with kids, Taken sometime in the early 2000.  

Ann Jawin Way

Ann Juliano Jawin (1922 - 2019) a Douglaston resident, was an educator, author and activist who was part of the Second Wave of women’s liberation in the 1970’s and a very active member of her community. Jawin was the founder of The Center for the Women of New York (CWNY).

Ann Juliano Jawin was born in Barnesboro, Pennsylvania on May 29, 1922. Her family moved to Brooklyn, NY when she was a child and she remained a New York resident. She attended Hunter College, and soon after met her future husband Edward H. Jawin (d. 2008). Ms. Jawin began her career as a high school teacher and became a Guidance Counselor. She was always active in political movements including opposition to the Vietnam War and support for civil rights and the rights of Italian-Americans and women. Ann and Edward Jawin were founding members of the Bay Terrace Civic Association and the Doug-Bay Civic Association. She was very active in local democratic politics. She served as a State Committeewoman and ran for the NY State Senate against Frank Padavan. She joined the National Organization for Women and became Chair of the Task Force for Education and Employment. In 1979 she published “A Woman's Guide to Career Preparation: Scholarships, Grants, and Loans”.

In 1987 Ms. Jawin founded the Center for the Women of New York (CWNY), a voluntary, non-profit organization in Queens that is a one-stop, walk-in resource center for women. CWNY focuses on issues impacting women, including domestic violence, sexual harassment, healthcare, employment, crime prevention and victims’ services. Over the years, the programs have grown to include a weekly Job Readiness Workshop, career counseling, a help line, a Legal Assistance Clinic, a Money Management Clinic, Support Groups for crisis situations and life issues, instruction in computers and other job training courses. CWNY’s new location in Fort Totten, Queens will allow resumption of programs in self-defense, English as a Second Language, General Equivalency Diplomas, and a Walking Club.

Ms. Jawin was honored by the New York City Police Department at its 3rd annual women's history month breakfast at the NYC Police Museum on March 14, 2012 and was featured in the Veteran Feminists of America (VFA) Pioneer Histories Project. News of Jawin’s death came less than a month after she celebrated the grand opening of a brand-new women’s center in Fort Totten. Members of the community expressed condolences for the pioneer who dedicated her life to women’s equality and empowerment. Ann was an outspoken activist who, for decades, devotedly dedicated herself to improving the lives of all women throughout the City of New York. “Ann was a tenacious and unstoppable trailblazer who devoted her life to empowering women and never took no for an answer. Just last month, she succeeded in her 16-year legal battle with the City to open CWNY’s beautiful new facility in Fort Totten, which is the only building completely dedicated to full equality for women between the New York metropolitan area and Seneca Falls. This new building will ensure that Ann’s unparalleled service and dedication to women’s rights will be remembered by our community for generations to come,” read a statement from the Jefferson Democratic Club.


Gil Tauber, "NYC Honorary Street Names," accessed June 15, 2022, http://www.nycstreets.info/

Marsha;;, Ethan. (2022, May 23) Douglaston street co-named after Center for Women of New York founder Ann Jawin. QNS.com. https://qns.com/2022/05/street-name-center-for-women-of-new-york-ann-jawin/

Donlevy, Katherine. (2020, January 2).Queens feminist icon Ann Jawin dies. Queens Chronicle. https://www.qchron.com/editions/queens-feminist-icon-ann-jawin-dies/article_e8fd5a5a-2d82-11ea-8537-732c47e1c993.html

Assemblywoman Barbara Clark Way

Barbara Clark (1939-2016) represented southeast Queens in the New York State Assembly from 1986 until her death in February 2016. At the time of her death she was the Assembly's Deputy Majority Whip. She also served as Chair of its Education, Children and Families, and Environmental Conservation Committees; and head of the Education Committee of the Black, Puerto Rican and Hispanic Caucus. She was also head of the New York State Women’s Legislative Caucus and a Commissioner of the Education Commission of the States. She was a fierce supporter of quality public education and was a leader in the campaign to obtain funds through the lawsuit of the Campaign For Fiscal Equity. She established the first magnet schools at Andrew Jackson High Schools in Cambria Heights, for she believed that the classes at the High School were too large. She supported schools in the City with such educational enhancements as video studios and legal resource centers. Her legislation included banning predatory lending and increasing support for health care. Her allocations supported important civic and educational groups in her communities. Her colleagues termed her “a bold, courageous and dedicated public servant who defended the well-being of her fellow New Yorkers in every way possible.”


Gil Tauber, "NYC Honorary Street Names," accessed June 15, 2022, http://www.nycstreets.info/

Yee, Vivian. (2016, February 23). Barbara M. Clark, New York Assemblywoman, Dies at 76. New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/2016/02/24/nyregion/barbara-m-clark-new-york-assemblywoman-dies-at-76.html

Monti Castañeda Corner

Monti J. Castañeda Sanchez (1961-2021) was born in Brooklyn, the only child of a Guatemalan-immigrant single mother. Monti, or Chiqui, as she was known in her community, had a profound connection with the challenges and struggles faced by immigrant women, youth, and the elderly in New York City. For over 40 years she was as a member of Queens Neighborhood Advisory Board 4 and the Community Action Board as the Representative of Region 17 for Queens Neighborhood Advisory Boards 3, 4 and 17.

Motivated from a young age, Chiqui earned two Master’s degrees from New York University; the first on Latin American and Caribbean studies (1995), and the second on Global Public Health (2008). After almost two decades working at the Institute of International Education's Fulbright Program, Chiqui decided to focus her attention on underserved immigrants in her community by working as a researcher for various health related organizations such as Community Health Care Association of New York State (CHCANYS, 2008-2010), NYU Langone Cancer Center at Bellevue Hospital (2009-2015), and Americares Foundation (2005-2021).

From 2012 until her death, she worked closely with the Ecuadorian International Center in Jackson Heights writing grants to raise funds for free mammogram services for low-income women, among other causes. There, she also mentored young people - especially DACA youth. In 2018, Chiqui helped start the Luz Colón Memorial Fund, which provides small college grants for young Latinas in New York interested in civic affairs and community leadership. She also supported the Mexico Now Festival since 2004 to reshape Mexican culture and identity preconceptions and to promote racial justice while highlighting the work of Mexican artists in New York City. Lastly, Chiqui had a particular passion for advocating for elderly migrants living in Jackson Heights. She devoted her personal life to the care of her elderly mother, who suffered from Alzheimer’s disease and with whom she lived in the same apartment in Jackson Heights for over 40 years. In 2008, while at the New York Academy of Medicine, she published a paper on the needs of older immigrants and their perspective on growing older in New York City. Chiqui also maintained close connections with other community advocates and public servants to help promote much needed policy changes for migrant women, youth and the elderly.

Monti J. Castañeda Sanchez passed away unexpectedly on June 11, 2021 as she went to bury her recently deceased mother in Guatemala, far from her beloved community of Jackson Heights, but surrounded by close family members.


Gil Tauber, "NYC Honorary Street Names," accessed June 15, 2022, http://www.nycstreets.info/honorStreetd5f6.html?b=Q&letter=M

I.S. 238 - Susan B. Anthony Academy

Susan B. Anthony (1820-1906) was a towering figure in the arena of equality and women's rights, especially in the movement to grant women the right to vote. Born in 1820, she was raised with the Quaker idea that all people are equal under God. Her parents and several siblings were active in the abolition movement, and Anthony herself became a leading speaker and activist in that cause at a young age. When the women's suffrage movement was born following the seminal Women's Rights Convention in Seneca Falls, NY (1848), Anthony joined the cause with enthusiasm and quickly became its most visible advocate. With her friend and fellow activist Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Anthony gave speeches and organized protests around the country, and published a newspaper, "The Revolution," focused on women's rights.

In 1872, Anthony was arrested for attempting to vote in the presidential election, and the resulting trial brought significant national attention to the women's suffrage movement. Thereafter, the organization founded by Anthony and Stanton -- the National Woman Suffrage Association -- focused on calling for a constitutional amendment to give women the right to vote.

Anthony died in 1906, 14 years before the 19th Amendment was passed, guaranteeing women's voting rights. Her grave in Rochester, NY, attracts many visitors who often leave thank-you notes and other memorials for her work on women's behalf. In 1979, she was selected as the first woman featured on a U.S. coin, the Susan B. Anthony dollar.


Hayward, Nancy. “Susan B. Anthony.” National Women’s History Museum, 2017. Accessed June 28, 2022. https://www.womenshistory.org/education-resources/biographies/susan-b-anthony

Find a Grave memorials, https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/31/susan-b-anthony

Claire Shulman Way

Claire Shulman, née Kantoff (1926-2020) was born February 23rd, 1926 in Brooklyn, NY, to a Jewish family. She attended Adelphi University and was one the first women in their nursing program, graduating in 1946. Shulman worked as a registered nurse at Queens Hospital, where she met and married Dr. Melvin Shulman. The couple had three children: Dr. Lawrence Shulman, Dr. Ellen Baker (née Shulman), and Kim Shulman.

Claire Shulman started her political career as president of the Mothers Association of her local public school, P.S.41. She served on multiple non-partisan community boards before being appointed the director of Queen Community Boards in 1972 and was later appointed Deputy Borough President in 1980. She was initiated as the Seventeenth President of the Borough of Queens and the first woman to lead the Borough in 1986. As Borough President, Shulman went on to win four terms and participate in the revitalization of downtown Jamaica and Western Queens, as well as championing the development of cultural institutions, The Queens Museum of Art, The Hall of Science, Museum of the Moving Image, and Flushing Town Hall.

Shulman also helped to secure funding for 30,000 new school seats in Queens and for the completion of the Queens Hospital Center. She also raised funding for infrastructure in senior living, public libraries, and cultural programming. Shulman left the Queens Borough Presidency in 2001 due to term limits but remained active in the Queens community until her death from cancer on August 16th, 2020.


“A CELEBRATION OF THE LIFE AND LEGACY OF THE HONORABLE CLAIRE SHULMAN – Office of the Queens Borough President.” Accessed September 22, 2023. https://queensbp.org/claire/

Fried, Joseph P. “Claire Shulman, First Woman to Lead Queens, Dies at 94.” The New York Times, August 17, 2020, sec. New York. https://www.nytimes.com/2020/08/17/nyregion/claire-shulman-dead.html

“In Memory of Claire Shulman ’46, Nurse and Four-Term Queens Borough President.” Accessed September 25, 2023. https://www.adelphi.edu/news/in-memory-of-claire-shulman-46-nurse-and-four-term-queens-borough-president/

Behar, By Manny. “Farewell To The Queen Of Queens: Remembering Claire Shulman.” Queens Jewish Link | Connecting the Queens Jewish Community, August 19, 2020. https://www.queensjewishlink.com/index.php/local/9-news/3033-farewell-to-the-queen-of-queens-remembering-claire-shulman

Emma Brandt Way

Emma Brandt (1937-2015) was an active member of Community Planning Board 3 for over 30 years. As chair of the Health and Hospital Services Committee, she arranged community health fairs and coordinated Halloween parties and a parade for the community. She was a member of the Elmhurst Hospital Advisory Board, the Jackson Heights Beautification Group, and a Chaplain in the Queens American Legion Ladies Auxiliary. She served as president of the North Queens Homeowners Civic Association from 1987 to 1989 and was a member from 1961 until 2015. Brandt was a member of the Jackson Heights Volunteer Ambulance Corps for over 10 years and was named Woman of the Year by former Queens Borough President Helen Marshall. She participated in the Board of Education volunteer program and received a NYS Assembly citation for outstanding community service.


Gil Tauber, "NYC Honorary Street Names," accessed June 15, 2022, http://www.nycstreets.info/

Honan, Katie. (2016, November 18). At Honor for 'Emma Brandt Way,' a Call to Change Street Renaming Rule. dnainfo. https://www.dnainfo.com/new-york/20161118/east-elmhurst/emma-brandt-way-74th-street-renamings/

"Stated Minutes of July 14, 2016," New York City Council, https://a860-gpp.nyc.gov/concern/nyc_government_publications/df65v8512?locale=en

"Emma Brandt Obituary," Newsday, November 22, 2015, via Legacy.com, https://www.legacy.com/us/obituaries/newsday/name/emma-brandt-obituary?id=5205291

Ruth and John Kempisty Avenue

Ruth and John Kempisty met while serving in the Armed Forces during WWII and married shortly after the war in 1946. They settled in Maspeth and became members of Community Board 5.

The Kempisty’s were very active in the community, some of the organizations to which they belonged include: the Maspeth Anti-Crime Task Force, the Anti-Sludge Group, the United Veterans and Fraternal Organizations of Maspeth, COP 104, COMET (Communities of Maspeth & Elmhurst Together), Kowalinski Post #4 (of which Ruth was the only woman veteran member), Graffiti Removal Special Interest Group, and the Juniper Park Civic Association. Ruth who passed away on October 29, 2013, served on a State Senate Veterans Advisory Commission; while John, who passed away on May 16, 2019, supported the annual Three Man Basket Ball Tournament in Frontera Park, by serving up hamburgers and hot dogs, and was a member of the Parks Service Committee of Community Board 5.


Margaret Magnus, “John & Ruth Kempisty - Together Forever,” The Juniper Berry, October 9, 2008, https://junipercivic.com/juniper-berry/article/john-ruth-kempisty-together-forever

Lizzie Ruth Brown Way

Lizzie Ruth Brown (1941-2011), a supervisor at the NYC Department of Health for 25 years, was a tenant advocate, and president of the Beach 41st Tenant Association. When the city proposed closing the Community Center at Beach 41st Houses, she successfully campaigned to save it.


“Street Named For Rockaway Activist,” The Wave, 2011, https://www.rockawave.com/articles/street-named-for-rockaway-activist/

Gil Tauber, "NYC Honorary Street Names," accessed June 15, 2022, http://www.nycstreets.info/