By Elaine Kiesling Whitehouse
Members of the American Association of University Women were busy in Sayville in early November raising awareness of Suffolk County suffragists who crusaded for women’s right to vote. On Nov. 3 several of their members gave a presentation at the Sayville Library. The following day, AAUW member Lynn Perry gave another presentation, this time for the Sayville Village Improvement Society. Other AAUW members present included Helen Gronus, Geri Ossana, Nancy Mion and president Sue Furfaro.
The presentation described many accomplishments of suffragist Ida Gillette, “Sayville’s Grand Old Lady” and civic leader extraordinaire. Ida had a strong connection to SVIS, the Sayville Library, the Suffolk County News and several other organizations.
In March of 1914 Lena Hoag, wife of the editor of the Suffolk County News, called a meeting at the News building to form a civic association that would work for the betterment of Sayville. Thirty people showed up for the meeting. Ida was asked to serve as president, but she asked to be excused. Lena Hoag, known as Mrs. Francis Hoag, stepped up to become the first president of what became known as the Sayville Ladies’ Improvement Society. In 1931, Ida took on the role. She is the only woman listed as president of SVIS with her own given name until 2011. All the other presidents were known by their husbands’ first names.
Ida donated land and books for the Sayville Public library, which SVIS established in 1914. She was a successful businesswoman, as well as a landlord and owner of multiple properties. She held mortgages for people. She rented the last store in Grand Central Terminal to open a millenary shop run by a woman named Hattie Furman. In September 1916, she closed a deal to open a shirtwaist company at Columbia Hall. The building still exists on the north side of Middle Road. In 1912, when Islip Town commenced a project to widen Gillette Avenue to create a public road, Ida waived the monetary award for her land that was taken for the project.
Ida established the Sayville Garden Club and financially supported the maintenance of the elm and tulip trees in town. She bequeathed Sparrow Park to the Town of Islip along with an endowment for its maintenance.
Ida passed away in 1936. In her will, she left her home to the people of the community for public use. Today, in addition to being the home of SVIS, the Gillette House is home to several other organizations. Its upkeep is administered through Islip Town.
At the conclusion of the presentation, Susan Furfaro, president of the Islip Area Branch of the AAUW, presented a commemorative plaque to SVIS president Grace Papagno. It names Ida Gillette as a suffragist, benefactor, civic leader and businesswoman, and it will hang outside the Gillette House