Published September 1, 2020
Although it was official early last month, Putnam Way is now formally Mary Talbert Way.
New signage to that effect is now up on the roadway encircling the academic spine. The UB Council approved the name change at its Aug. 3 meeting.
Talbert Way previously was named for James O. Putnam, a lawyer and New York State senator who served on the UB Council for 32 years, and was the fourth chancellor at UB, from 1895-1902. During his career as a politician, he held and openly expressed racist views.
UB had previously recognized Talbert, an early 20th-century suffragist and human rights advocate, in 1977 with the opening of Talbert Hall, which houses classrooms, support services and eateries.
“The signs for Mary Talbert Way are a welcome sight on campus,” says Lillian Williams, associate professor in the Department of Transnational Studies, who is writing a biography of Talbert. “Mary Talbert wrote 100 years ago that ‘this is the psychological moment for us,’ so it is today as we confront our history of systemic racism.
“The very presence of Mary Talbert Way invokes a sense of pride and portends an inclusive and welcoming environment where peace and justice are celebrated,” Williams says. “Talbert spoke to the significance of historic preservation and the importance of honoring trailblazers. She noted that it is important that ‘our children know who fought for their liberty, and thus they will be encouraged to pick up the mantle and continue the struggle.’
“Mary Talbert Way will be a constant reminder of her vision, diligence and commitment to social justice,” Williams says.
Talbert — an educator, suffragist and social reformer who lived in Buffalo from 1894 to her death in 1923 — was one of the nation’s most prominent civil rights activists of her time. She helped launch organized civil rights activism in the United States, was integral in establishing the precursor to the NAACP and later served as the NAACP’s vice president.
She also served as a Red Cross nurse on the Western Front during World War I and, after the war, returned to Europe to lecture widely on the conditions of African Americans in the U.S.
Renaming Putnam Way for Mary Talbert is among several actions UB has taken recently as the university “embraces the opportunity to recognize the historical figures of UB and Buffalo who embody the university’s mission of diversity, equity and inclusion,” according to the UB Council resolution.
At its August meeting, council members voted to remove Peter B. Porter’s name from the Porter Quadrangle residence hall in the Ellicott Complex. Porter, a Buffalo resident who served as the U.S. secretary of war, a member of Congress, secretary of the State of New York, and a regent of the University of the State of New York, owned five enslaved African Americans.
UB also has removed the name of Millard Fillmore from the Millard Fillmore Academic Center, which is part of the Ellicott Complex and houses academic departments, student residences and other services. It will be known as Academic Center until a new name is determined.
Fillmore, the 13th president of the United States, was a founder and the first chancellor of UB, serving from 1846 until his death in 1874. His presidency, from 1850-53, has been widely criticized for his support of The Compromise of 1850, which included the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850.
These decisions by the university came after a separate committee of university leaders convened by President Satish K. Tripathi in 2018 conducted a review of named spaces, buildings and grounds on UB’s three campuses. The President’s Advisory Council on Race, which Tripathi formed in June to address issues of race and culture at UB, endorsed the name changes.