The final entry in the fall 2019 edition of Cayuga Community College’s Cultural Speaker Series will remember a legendary Central New York woman who survived spousal abuse and a shipwreck to make a fortune in business — only to see it all stolen away.
Author and former professor Ann Allen will discuss the life and legacy of 19th century entrepreneur Malvina Guimaraes, who overcame gender discrimination to become a successful businesswoman, in her Nov. 4 presentation at Cayuga. Allen is the author of the 2018 book “The Madame’s Business: The Remarkable Life and Tragic Death of Malvina Guimaraes.”
Cayuga Assistant Director of Community Education and Workforce Development Emily Cameron said Allen’s presentation offers a vivid look into the life of a historic local woman who is too often overlooked.
“Ann Allen remembers the life of Madame Malvina Guimaraes through her research, writing and presentations about this extraordinary woman,” said Cameron. “We look forward to having Ann share Malvina’s story as part of our next Cultural Speaker Series program.”
Guimaraes is a historic figure in Central New York. Born in Onondaga County and raised in the Village of Weedsport in Cayuga County, she traveled the world and had a successful business career in Oswego County, where she died in 1882. She is interred in the historic Riverside Cemetery in Oswego.
Previously a professor in the Department of Communication and Film Studies at Le Moyne College, Allen started researching Guimaraes after learning that a monument to her in the Riverside Cemetery was in disrepair.
After seeing the deteriorating marble monument, Allen decided to research Guimaraes and considered writing a short article in a local historical society newsletter to raise funds to repair the monument. That short newsletter article grew to a 160-page book after she discovered 13 years’ worth of court documents in Oswego County that addressed Guimaraes’ life and estate.
“I never intended to write a book. I didn’t realize her story would be so fascinating and complicated that it would be anything more than a nice little piece for the newsletter,” said Allen. “But those court documents — which included testimony from her friends, her brother, people who knew her — they were mesmerizing.”
The court documents, which Allen spent the latter half of 2017 studying, showed how Guimaraes amassed a fortune selling Wheeler and Wilson sewing machines. They also showed the viciousness of her third husband, and how the 19th century legal system enabled gender discrimination.
Guimaraes’ life story would make for a great work of historical fiction, but it seemed disrespectful to fictionalize the life of someone who endured and accomplished so much, said Allen.
“There are so many misconceptions about her life that have accumulated through the years, and what she endured in her life was incredible. The first testimony in the case was from her nephew, who discussed her third husband and how he tortured Guimaraes with a wild monkey. I thought it was unbelievable — but it was true,” said Allen. “It just seemed right to write a historic remembrance of her life. The true story is amazing enough.”
The Nov. 4 presentation runs from 4-5 p.m. at the College’s Auburn Campus at 197 Franklin Street. There is a $5 admission fee. Cayuga students are granted free admission. Light refreshments will be provided.
To register for the presentation, contact the Cayuga Office of Community Education and Workforce Development at 315-294-8841 or register online at https://registration.xenegrade.com/cayuga/courseDisplay.cfm?schID=6885.