One Year Later: An Update from Fenway Donegan, Inaugural Margaret “Maggie” Nolan O’Neill Fellow

The Jay Heritage Center provided me with the perfect opportunity to learn the ins and outs of historical research, and working every day in a building with such storied history served as inspiration to push my work farther. I am truly grateful for everyone who helped me with my research, worked with me to strengthen my arguments, and attended my talk. Since my time as a fellow, I have gone on to take classes in Federal Indian Law and Indigenous History at Columbia University. As I prepare to write my thesis next year, I am grateful that I had the opportunity to explore these topics as a sophomore, which allowed me to spend the next two years developing my ideas. It was the perfect chance to learn how to work as a scholar. My thesis, which is based on work I started at Rye, explores the treaty making process and how modern legal protections have developed from the specific language of treaties.

Under the guidance of my research supervisors, Professor Lynne Breslin and Professor Robert Amdur, I explored the archives at the Rye Historical Society and the Westchester County Historical Society. I learned how to search through collection guides, work with librarians, and document archival material. Suzanne Clary and Meredith Slater opened up the archives of the Jay Heritage Center, putting me in contact with previous speakers and showing me new ways to expand the scope of my project. These skills transformed the way that I research and as a result I have been able to produce higher quality research work in my classes.

I am now working as a Legal Research Associate for Steve Otis, current Assemblyman and past mayor of Rye. During my fellowship, Otis took an interest in my project and attended my talk (available here) to learn more about Rye’s colonial history. After my fellowship ended, we stayed in contact and I began helping him on research projects about internet privacy issues facing New Yorkers. I will be spending the summer of 2024 working as a Legal Research Associate at the State Assembly in Albany and in Westchester at Otis’ District Office. I have the chance to use my research skills to help my local community and the State of New York, an opportunity that I wouldn’t have had without the support of the Jay Heritage Center, the O’Neill Family, donors to this fellowship and Michael Gately, Assistant Director of the Center for American Studies at Columbia.

Finally, none of this would have been possible without the love and support of Damon Akins and Colleen Trimble, who served as my editors, research consultants, project managers, and parents all rolled into one. I cannot wait to see what the future holds, and I eagerly await the presentations of the 2024 O’Neill Fellows.


The 2024 Margaret “Maggie” Nolan O’Neill Fellowship provides support to a student pursuing a summer research project for 6-8 weeks at the nonprofit Jay Heritage Center (JHC), located on the former Westchester estate of jurist, statesman, peacemaker, anti-slavery advocate, Chief Justice of the United States and two-time Governor of New York, John Jay. The fellowship was established in 2022 in memory of Margaret “Maggie” Nolan O’Neill (Class of 2021), who studied Political Science Government, and Political Philosophy at Columbia University, with a keen interest in the application of those studies in the modern world. 

The purpose of this academic opportunity is to advance scholarship in American history and geopolitics while fostering respectful dialogue of topics relevant to the evolution of our nation, the shaping of its democracy and place in the global arena. Inspired by Maggie’s own passion for intellectual discourse and boundless curiosity about our country’s history and political landscape, the fellowship allows an undergraduate or graduate student at Columbia University to use the JHC campus, archives and advisors as resources and includes a stipend for an immersive summer experience. The selected fellow is invited to present their final research to the public in a fall program.