Given The Junior League’s rich history and its knack for meticulous record-keeping, we thought it would be fun to introduce a new component to Connected. Dubbed “Out of the Archives” and featured in each issue, this article will bring to light significant events in the history of The Junior League and endeavor to explain how they reflect the context of their time.
In the year 1910, the winds of change are blowing . . .
This first installment of Out of the Archives focuses on the significant social and cultural events that occurred in 1910, a year that in retrospect appears to be rather notable for its advances by women.
For starters, out in Los Angeles, an educated social worker named Alice Wells gained much attention when she joined the male-dominated Los Angeles Police Department, donning a badge and going to work on cases involving female offenders and juveniles. (Some historians counter Wells’s claim to first-policewoman fame with the hiring in 1908 of Lola Baldwin by the police force of Portland, Oregon as a female detective tasked with running the women’s auxiliary for the protection of girls).
Also on the equal employment front, 21-year-old Bessie Abramowitz, a Russian immigrant, led a successful strike against clothier Hart, Schaffner and Marx in Chicago by achieving solidarity among female garment workers, while the International Ladies’ Garment Workers’ Union (ILGWU) won its 9-week strike on behalf of female cloak-makers petitioning for higher wages, better working conditions, and a 52-hour work week.
Women’s Wear Daily went to press for the first time under the direction of journalist Edmund Fairchild on July 13. The chronicle of women’s fashion laid the groundwork for what would become a publishing empire.
Social reformer Jane Addams published Twenty Years at Hull-House, which wove the history of the Chicago settlement house with the story of her own personal development, and children’s author Frances Hodgson Burnett published The Secret Garden, while Beatrix Potter trotted out both The Tale of Mrs. Tittlemouse and The Tale of Jemima Puddle-Duck.
In the same year, female entrepreneurs were testing their business mettle. Florence Nightingale Graham (a Canadian beauty shop secretary, not the nurse) opened the Elizabeth Arden Salon on Fifth Avenue in New York, and Mme. C.J. Walker Manufacturing Co. moved into its own building in Indianapolis after founder Sarah Walker successfully introduced and marketed a hair straightener, which she originally sold door to door. She would later become the first African-American woman to make a million dollars.
Against this backdrop of shifting roles for women, and nine years after the founding of The Junior League of the City of New York in Manhattan, The Junior League of Brooklyn sets up shop. Consisting of debutantes and young wives, it organized to combat social inequity and economic hardship under the slogan “Everybody Doing Something for Somebody.” They focused their efforts on serving the struggling immigrants who occupied overcrowded tenements, and attempted to provide assistance where government aid fell short.
Recorded in a loopy cursive style in a petite notebook archived at the Brooklyn Historical Society, the minutes from those early meetings chronicle the election of officers, the adoption of a constitution, and the establishment of district committees. Meetings generally took place in members’ homes or social clubs such as the Pratt Casino (presumably on the grounds of the Pratt Institute, which was established and endowed by the father-in-law of Junior League Founding President Mrs. Harold I. Pratt), and successful motions were often followed by a “rising vote of thanks.” At the November meeting, members were “urged to use the tuberculosis stamps on all packages and letters” and in December, a decision was made “to give up the idea of having the Elizabethan Pageant to another year,” and to instead invest their energy in a cotillion.
Among their accomplishments in their first few years of existence were the provision of health services to victims of tuberculosis, lobbying the Board of Education to provide free lunches to school children, the opening of a bookshop in Brooklyn Heights, and the establishment of Junior League House, a residence for 100 working girls.