It’s time for our next installment of high-quality Junior League reading material.
This time we’re digging inside The Volunteer Powerhouse, an excellent history of The Junior League authored by Janet Gordon and Diana Reische and published in 1982 by The Rutledge Press.
Chapter One, entitled “The ‘New Woman’ of 1900,” does a thorough job of bringing to life the many forces that were shaping women’s attitudes and outlooks at the turn of the century, including industrialization, a desire for higher education and employment, the burgeoning suffrage movement, and the chasm-like gulf between the wealthy, privileged class and indigent immigrants. Against this lushly drawn background of intersecting forces, the authors trace women’s collective journey toward social consciousness, reform, and activism.
The chapter is illustrated with black and white photography from the period and explains that women, in aspiring to become “cultured” through participation in social and charitable clubs, developed an awareness of the ills plaguing their society. Armed with such knowledge it became nearly impossible for them not to take action to correct the injustices and inequities in their midst.
The chapter also makes the notable point that while the suffrage debate dominated the headlines of the period, the subtext among opponents was that newly enfranchised women, who were thus active outside of their traditional sphere of domestic life and child-rearing, threatened the moral fiber of society by abandoning their duties as the moral authority in the home.