Some influential people slip through the cracks of time, their lives and accomplishments overlooked by the ensuing generations.
Izetta Jewel Miller was one of those people, according to Anne Rockwood, the co-curator of the Izetta Jewel exhibition which opened at the Museum of Science and Innovation on Monday.
“She’s one of the most influential people that you’ve never met,” Rockwood said.
Jewel [1883-1978] was an actress, an activist, a political figure and a suffragist.
“You couldn’t think of the Woman’s Party without thinking of Izetta Jewel,” said Alice Paul, a fellow suffragist, and feminist.
The exhibition, which was curated by Rockwood and Joe Piazzo of the Schenectady Film Commission, is aptly timed with the centennial of women gaining the right to vote in New York State. Rockwood and Piazzo’s exhibition pieces together the work that Jewel did for the women’s rights among other causes, and her successful acting career, both on Broadway and in Schenectady.
“She was so fascinating,” Rockwood said.
Jewel made it to the Broadway stage at a young age, but moved to Washington, D.C. to act at the Poli Theatre and became more politically active. According to Rockwood, Jewel’s audience at the Theatre was mainly government officials and politicians (President Woodrow Wilson named her as his favorite actress, according to the New York Times). Jewel often spoke with the politicians and government officials, which furthered her interest in politics and activism. In 1913, she was a founding member of the National Woman’s Party, which advocated for Women’s Rights.
“Why a suffragette is one who takes a bite out of a policeman, and a suffragist is one who takes dinner with a Senator,” Jewel once said, a quote which is featured in the exhibit.
She moved to Schenectady in 1927, after marrying a professor at Union College, Hugh Miller.
During her time in the city, Jewel frequently volunteered with public service projects and served as the Commissioner of Public Welfare in New York from 1931 to 1934.
The scrapbook-style exhibition pulls together newspaper clippings from local newspapers, photographs, quotes, and artifacts of Jewel’s many variegated accomplishments, including her local acting career.
“She was the first to star in a radio-television drama,” Rockwood said.
In 1928, she starred in “A Queen’s Messenger,” a drama which was broadcasted right in Schenectady. The exhibit includes one of the very first televisions which it was broadcasted on.
“People say to me ‘What does Schenectady have to do with movies and television?’ ” Piazzo said, “And I say, ‘A lot actually.’”
Jewel also became a pioneering broadcaster for the radio station WGY, where she worked for several years.
Recordings of Jewel’s work are being remastered by miSci and will be released early next year.
“Izetta played a small but vital role in General Electric’s 125 years,” said Chris Hunter, the museum’s director of archives and collections.
“Izetta really made a difference in the community,” said Schenectady Mayor Gary McCarthy.
In honor of the work she did for the community, the mayor declared Nov. 24 the Izetta Jewel Day in the City of Schenectady.
The Izetta Jewel exhibit will be on display on the first floor of the Museum of Science and Innovation (15 Nott Terrace Heights, Schenectady) until Sunday, Dec. 3.