Wiawaka was created by and for women in 1903. It is the oldest and longest continuously operating retreat for women in America. We are proud to honor our tradition and embrace the future as we work to maintain this historic property and fulfill the mission set forth by our founder, Mary Fuller.
The daughter of a Troy industrialist, Mary Fuller was active at St Paul’s Episcopal Church and the Troy Young Women’s Association (which later became the YWCA). She used her position and wealth to help the young, mainly immigrant, female textile workers employed as shirt collar makers, laundresses and millworkers in Troy and Cohoes.
Troy was at the time known as “The City of Women” because so many were working in the garment industry. The Troy Y and churches provided reading rooms, free instruction, religious training, safe affordable housing, and recreational opportunities for women. Wiawaka made it possible for the “girls” to escape the city and enjoy affordable vacations. In its first summer of operation, 176 guests came, and room and board was $3.50 per week.
Miss Fuller approached her friends Spencer and Katrina Trask of Tuxedo Park, Saratoga and Lake George to help find a location for her retreat. The Trask’s purchased an old estate called Crosbyside, an idyllic setting for Mary Fuller’s vision. Crosbyside was home to one of the earliest resorts on Lake George, The United States Hotel c. 1850, as well as the site of the founding of the American Canoeing Association. At first they leased, but ultimately the Trasks gave the property to Miss Fuller, who in turn deeded it to Wiawaka. The official transfer of property from Katrina Trask to Mary Fuller was marked by the exchange of one dollar and a bouquet of flowers. From the start, Mary Fuller enlisted the help of other socially progressive benefactresses to raise funds to support Wiawaka’s activities and endow “scholarships” for holidays. Miss Fuller remained committed and involved with Wiawaka until her death in 1943.
Wiawaka is proud to share a heritage with Yaddo. The Trask’s built their first artists’ retreat at Wiawaka – an Adirondack lodge known as Wakonda where students from the New York Arts Club held their first retreat. Georgia O’Keeffe was a registered guest-artist. The Trasks went on to found Yaddo in Saratoga Springs- perhaps America’s most respected artists’ retreat. Wakonda is the “artists’ roost” of Wiawaka and is currently being restored. There is some evidence that Stanford White may have had a hand in the design of Wakonda – as he was at work on Trask’s Three Brother’s Island estate on Lake George when Wakonda was built.
Though Wiawaka is on Lake George, it was principally founded by women of Troy. To further explore contributions made by Trojan women, consider the accomplishments of:
- Kate Mullaney – a textile worker who organized the first strike by women
- The first corporation in NY State founded by women was a Troy-based corporation. It was The Troy Day Home (1858)- the oldest day nursery in the country
- Troy’s Emma Willard was the first school in the country to offer the same curriculum for girls as for boys. The school was founded in 1814.
- One of the first factories owned and operated by a woman is the Troy-based Powers Oil Cloth and Linoleum Company.
- The first old age home for women was established in 1883 by the same Deborah Powers, a banker as well as an entrepreneur who founded Powers Oil Cloth.
- One of the country’s first schools dedicated to educating economically deprived girls was established in Troy in 1839. It was known as the Mary Warren Free Institute.
- The records of these and many other female-based institutions are housed at the library of The Rensselaer County Historical Society.