POLAND, N.Y. — She was the first female justice in New York state.

"And not a lot of people know about Gertrude," said Rebecca Lindquist, former historian for the town of Poland.

What You Need To Know

  • Spectrum News salutes women's history for the month of March

  • Gertrude Williams of Poland, Chautauqua County, was the first woman elected town justice in NYS

  • Her story and others are among the many discussed in Traci Langworthy's Women's History class at Jamestown Community College

Gertrude Williams is from Poland in Chautauqua County. A historical marker was placed where Gertrude held office from 1920 to 1924.

Lindquist says Gertrude made it her mission to wipe out a number of disturbances at the local dance hall which later burned down.

"She was very tough; she was very law and order," said Rebecca.

"There's so many untold stories that women's history month gives us an opportunity to bring to light and raise awareness of," said Traci Langworthy, professor of history at Jamestown Community College. "It makes me sad that Women's History Month is just a month-long because we should be celebrating women's history the entire year."

Traci says Women's History Month, established in the 1990s, started out as Women's History Week in the 1980s, an offshoot of International Women's Day held on March 8, 1911.

"And the intent was to celebrate women's contributions to American history and women's achievements," said Traci.

Contributions and achievements were also discussed as part of Traci's women's history class, where each student researches a woman they share with the class.

"Something that I want my students to take away from that is curiosity and to seek out stories about other women that we still don't know about to this day," said Traci.

Stories like the one about Gertrude who may have paved the way for others to follow in her footsteps.

"As a result of women's history becoming more significant in the last couple of decades, women like her have been coming to light in every community, so I wouldn't be surprised if there are additional [women] maybe we learn about as a result of women's history month this year," said Traci.

It leaves Rebecca to help preserve that history, as those like Gertrude serve as role models for all women on the value of public service and good citizenship.

"You can do anything you want to do. We are strong, and she was tough and she did a good job," said Rebecca.

Gertrude is buried in Riverside Cemetery.

Traci also suggests people save things from women in their families like their mothers and grandmothers to help bolster history, recognize their accomplishments and perhaps one day donate those items and stories to a local museum.