Daily Record: Work for Women: the beginning of the feminist movement at Chautauqua

In the opening July 22 issue of the 1891 season, the Chautauqua Assembly Herald ran an editorial that reported, “The ASSEMBLY HERALD is printed this morning on two steam presses in the new brick building on Bowman Avenue near the public road. The Herald has thus the second brick building at Chautauqua. These signs of permanence are gladly welcomed by all who are interested in the growth and prosperity of this, the parent Assembly and place of origin of the C.L.S.C.”

It was the Assembly’s 18th season. In the opening exercises of the College of Liberal Arts and Teachers’ Retreat, Chancellor John H. Vincent welcomed the teachers and students of the Chautauqua schools to their summer home on the lakeside.

“You have left home, but coming hither, you have come home,” he said.

Chautauqua was hospitable: Vincent described it as “a home that is at the same time a school, with its teachers and its tasks — friendly teachers and beguiling tasks — a home school that is also a sanctuary, sacred to rest, to re-creating rest, to thought, to aspiration, to resolve, to friendship, to worship.”

On July 24, the paper reported that from its beginning Chautauqua intended “to recognize frankly the value of the services of women in all educational and religious work, and many of the teachers, instructors and heads of departments here are of the gentler sex.”

One woman in such a position was Clara Holbrook Smith, who had been appointed superintendent of instruction for the Southern Illinois Chautauqua, an appointment that indicated “the strong tendency of the times to enlarge the sphere of woman’s work and usefulness.”

In pursuit of these goals at the Western New York Chautauqua, the Woman’s Club was founded in 1889, directed by Emily Huntington Miller.

Emma P. Ewing and others assisted Miller in her work to delightful ends, the Herald reported. The Club provided entertainment and instruction, conducted informally, through an “interchange of thought [rather than] formal papers and addresses.” The object was to “bring out the experiences of all in the management of homes, missionary, church and social meetings; the care, education and moral education of children.”

As reported in the July 24 Assembly Herald, Ewing had given a lecture on July 13 in the Hall of Philosophy titled “Work for Women.”

Ewing said that she had received letters from all over the country, from women inquiring what kind of work there is for women to do. “Writers on economic subjects tell us that less than 50 years ago but seven industrial occupations were open to women, while now statistics show that 342 are open to them.”

Ewing thought the number could be twice as high. “In reply to inquiring and complaining women, [I] say, ‘You have all the work there is. Why don’t you use it?’”

Ewing’s field of labor was household science, and she said that opportunities for women were plentiful in public and private schools, “as matrons and managers in educational and other public institutions, as housekeepers in hotels and families, as caterers, as cooks, and so on; and those opportunities are increasing and will continue to increase as the interest in better homes and better food increases.”

However, Ewing said, “women are unwilling to qualify themselves for such positions. They think too much responsibility and too much work attaches to them.” She gave a number of examples of opportunities that were missed because pay was insufficient for the work required, the training to do the job too rigorous.

“A few of my pupils have proven themselves capable in every respect,” Ewing said. “They were studious, laborious, earnest women who did faithful work and can now command good paying positions. But the largest proportion of them have, from lack of thoroughness, and not from lack of capacity, been comparative failures.”

Take baking, for example. There were at least 100,000t bake shops in the country. And the bread was made by men. Ewing indicated that it wasn’t even good bread. “Very few of them indeed, furnish bread fit to be eaten, or would be eaten if their customers could get better. Why are these shops under the management of men?”

Women should excel in the dressmaking business and in managing laundries. “To keep the soiled clothing of a nation clean, healthful and in good wearing condition, requires intelligence and skill, combined with a vast amount of well-directed labor, and, for women, who have sufficient gumption and energy to do laundry work in a Christian manner, there is wealth waiting in every hamlet and in every cross road,” Ewing said.

Women on the farm had handled the dairy and produced the butter, even though they had labored under many disadvantages. “But as creameries sprang up and machinery was invented and introduced for saving labor,” men took over. “Women slipped out of dairying and let men monopolize the business until now there is scarcely anywhere a woman engaged in a creamery, or in legitimate dairying.”

Fruit growing and beekeeping were much the same. On nearly every corner of every city, there was a drug store, “but in none of them, as far as I know, is there a woman either as clerk or proprietor,” Ewing said. “Why is this? Are women so careless they can’t be trusted to fill prescriptions? Or is putting up pills and powders such arduous labor, that only able-bodied men can perform it?”

There are exceptions to this plaintive narrative, of which Ewing cited two, one now mentioned here: a former New York acquaintance who had been a disappointment and too often extolled herself  “weary with the march of life.” But recently Ewing had noticed that among the charters granted at Springfield, Illinois, “was one to the Woman’s Canning & Preserving Co., at Chicago, capital stock $1,000,000, with my New York friend, Amanda T. Jones, as leading incorporator.”

Once a woman without any means, Jones now had patents “on the processes of canning and preserving, and on the machinery used in the processes of canning and preserving all kinds of fruits in their natural juices, without cooking, and of canning foods prepared in a vacuum by her improved methods.”

Ewing said that all of the incorporators were women and their intention was to open canning establishments in different parts of the country, and “give remunerative employment in a branch of business to which they are better adapted than men. Will they accept it?”

Ewing saw no reason why a woman should not enter into any field of labor that interested her. There was no physical condition to disqualify her. Some people thought that a woman who attempted to earn a livelihood would get out of her sphere, becoming coarse and unladylike. But no one should believe this, Ewing said. A true woman never gets out of her sphere and the one who becomes rough or bold or coarse through business “would not, under any conditions, or with any surroundings be a refined, self-respecting lady.”

Ewing concluded that the women who courted insult were the only women insulted by men. “The need of the present time, it seems to me, is not work for women, but women for the work,” Ewing said.