As we celebrate Women’s History Month, we continue to look at the remarkable lives of women whose names may not be as widely known as their accomplishments would suggest. Such is the case of Marian de Forest, who overcame childhood hardship to become a respected journalist and playwright, and a major force in the progressive women’s movement.
Born in Buffalo, New York on February 27, 1864, Marian’s schooling began with private tutoring because of an eye injury. With determination and persistence she overcame the handicap and graduated from the Buffalo Seminary in 1884. After graduation, Marian began her career as a reporter, one of the first women in the profession in Western New York. She was a critic and editor of the Women’s Department at the Buffalo Express, now the Buffalo News, for 20 years. She would later become City Editor of the Buffalo Commercial.
During the Pan-American Exposition held in Buffalo in 1901, Marian served as Executive Secretary of the Board of Women Managers. In 1911, she wrote the play “Little Women” based on Louisa May Alcott’s famous book. This drama is said to have launched the career of Katharine Cornell, then a local actress. The play would go from Buffalo to New York City and England. She also wrote several other plays, including “Erstwhile Susan” and “Mr. Man,” and a number of others.
On November 8, 1919 at the Hotel Statler in Buffalo, New York, Marian gathered a group of like-minded prominent professional women to form the Zonta Club of Buffalo. Zonta is a service organization of executive women intended to improve the status of women worldwide and help them reach their rightful place in their professions. She understood how important it was to break through the “glass ceiling” long before the term was ever used. This organization would later become known as Zonta International. Click the following link to visit the Zonta International website: Zonta International
Marian was also a strong proponent of the arts. She established the Buffalo Musical Foundation. In the 1930’s, Marian played a major role in the founding of the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra. In 1932, she promoted the first Pops Concert that gave work to unemployed musicians.
Marian’s devotion to animals was a strong one. She served on the board of the SPCA for 14 years. She also served on the board of the Buffalo Public Library, becoming the only woman member of the Library Trustees. Marian was also a member of the Twentieth Century Club, and one of the first women invited to join the “Scribblers,” a local writing group.
Marian de Forest passed on February 17, 1935 and is buried, with her family, in Section One, lot 6 in Forest Lawn.
In December, 1962, the bronze sculpture entitled “Spirit of Womanhood” by artist Larry Griffis Jr, located in Delaware Park, a gift of James G. Forsyth, was unveiled and dedicated to her. In 2001, Marian became the first woman from Buffalo to be inducted into the Women’s Hall of Fame at Seneca Falls, New York.