1900s: Wonder Women
Although women’s voices can be hard to find in official historical records, women have played a key role in shaping Fairfield over the years. Women from Fairfield also made their mark through achievments on the public stage in the 19th and 20th centuries.
Molly Pike, tavern operator. After her second husband’s death in 1806, the former school teacher turned her home into a popular tavern that operated for more than twenty years, enabling her to support her fifteen children. The tavern became Southport’s social center, hosting dances, plays, and celebrations.
Margaret Rudkin, founder of Pepperidge Farm. Looking for a natural bread that would not aggravate her son’s allergies, Rudkin started baking and selling her bread out of her Fairfield home in the late 1930s. The business quickly grew into one of the country’s largest baking companies.
Harriet Glover, founder of Fairfield’s Red Cross chapter and organizer of home front activities during World War I.
Ann Shaw Carter, the first woman to obtain a helicopter pilot’s license and fly a commercial helicopter in the United States. She worked in a Bridgeport factory during WWII as part of the war effort. She used the money from this to save up for aviation lessons, and trained as part of the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP) in 1944.
Ruth Mills Bradley, the first woman from Connecticut to join the Women’s Auxiliary Army Corps during World War II. She commanded 900 WAACs in the Pacific in 1944 and 1945, and continued her service in the 1950s and 1960s.
Finette Benson Nichols was one of Fairfield’s first female political figures. She represented Fairfield in the Connecticut General Assembly from 1931 through 1947.
Mary Katona served as Town Clerk for 21 years, from 1961 until her death in 1982. In addition to being one of Fairfield’s most popular politicians, she was a leader within the Hungarian community and was active in many community organizations.
Jacky Durrell became First Selectman in 1983, helping to establish Operation Hope’s homeless shelters as well as affordable housing and services for seniors. She was also appointed to the State Ethics commission.
Annie B. Jennings, philanthropist. Born into wealth, Jennings became a pillar of Fairfield’s community in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. Dedicated to preserving history, she helped form both the Fairfield Historical Society and the Daughters of the American Revolution. She also donated the land that became Jennings Beach, land for the Birdcraft Sanctuary, a building for the first high school, and opened her extensive gardens at her Sunnie-holme estate to the public during her lifetime.
Mabel Osgood Wright, naturalist. Although her father did not allow her to attend medical school, Wright developed her love of nature into a career as a writer, publishing books for children and adults that she illustrated with her own photographs. She founded the Connecticut Audubon Society and helped to revive the national organization, serving as writer and editor of their Bird-Lore magazine. The six-acre Birdcraft Sanctuary she created in Fairfield was the first preserve of its kind, and attracts thousands of visitors.