Title: “Chicago’s Gentler Side” by Julian Ralph (Article published in Harper’s New Monthly Magazine, Vol 87, June 1893)
Location: Google Books Date: 1893
“Steel Chrysanthemums” might be an apt description of Chicago’s women at the turn of the century. The following article by newspaper correspondent and author, Julian Ralph, presents his observations of Chicago’s enterprising and socially conscious ladies at the time of the Columbian Exposition. As we celebrate the anniversary of the ratification of the 19th Amendment (August 18, 1920), which awarded women the right to vote, I thought it appropriate to remember the ladies.
Chicago’s Gentler Side
By Julian Ralph
WHEN I wrote my first paper upon Chicago, I supposed myself well equipped for the task. I saw Chicago day after day, lived in its hotels and clubs, met its leading business men and officials, and got a great deal which was novel and striking from what I saw around me, and from what I heard of the commercial and other secrets of its marvellous growth and sudden importance. It is customary to ridicule the travellers who found books upon short visits to foreign places, but the ridicule is not always deserved. If the writers are travelled and observant spectators, if they ask the right questions of the right men, and if they set down nothing of which they are not certain, the probability is that what they write will be more valuable in its way than a similar work from the pen of one who is dulled to the place by familiarity. And yet I know now that my notes upon Chicago only went half-way. They took no heed of a moiety of the population, the women, with all that they stand for.
I saw the rushing trains of cable-cars in the streets and heard the clang-clang of their gongs. It seemed to me then (and so it still seems, after many another stay in the city) that the men in the streets leap to the strokes of those bells; there is no escaping their sharp din; it sounds incessantly in the men’s ears. It seems to jog them, to keep them rushing along, like a sort of Western conscience, or as if it were a goad, or the perpetual prod of a bayonet. It is as if it might be the voice of the Genius of the West crying, “Clang-clang (hustle)!—clang-clang (be lively)!” And it needs no wizard sight to note the effect upon the men as they are kept up to their daily scramble, and forge along the thoroughfares—more often talking to themselves when you pass them than you have ever noticed that men in other cities are given to do. I saw all that; but how stupid it was not to notice that the women escaped the relentless influence !
They appear not to hear the bells. The lines of the masculine straining are not furrowed in their faces. They remain composed and unmoved. They might be the very same women we see in Havana or Brooklyn, so perfectly undisturbed and at ease are they—even when they pass the Board of Trade, which I take to be the dynamo that surcharges the air for the men.
I went into the towering office buildings, nerving myself for the moment’s battle at the doors against the outpouring torrent and the missilelike office-boys, who shoot out as from the mouths of cannon. I saw the flying elevators, and at every landing heard the bankers and architects and lawyers shout “Down!” or “Up, up!” and saw them spring almost out of their clothes, as if each elevator was the only one ever built, and would make only one trip before it vanished like a bubble. The office-girls were as badly stricken with this St. Vitus hustle as the men, which must account for my not noticing that the main body of women, when they came to these buildings to visit husbands or brothers,were creatures apart from the confusion—reposeful,stylish,carefully toileted, serene, and unruffled.
I often squeezed into the luncheon crowd at the Union League Club, and got the latest wheat quotation with my roast, and the valuation of North Side lots with my dessert; but I did not then know that there was a ladies’ side entrance to the club-house, leading to parlors and dining rooms as quiet as any in Philadelphia, where impassive maids in starched caps sat like bits of majolica-ware, and the clang-clang of the car bells sounded faintly, like the antipodean echoes in a Japanese sea-shell. I smoked at the Chicago Club with Mayor Washburne, and the softening influence of women in public affairs happened not to come into our talk; with Mr. Burnham, the leading architect, and heard nothing of the buildings put up for and by women. Far less was there any hint, in the crush at that club, of the Argonauts—those leisurely Chicago Club men who haunt a separate house where they loaf in flannels, and the women add the luxurious, tremulous shiver of silk to the sounds of light laughter and elegant dining.
And every evening, while that first study of the city went on, the diurnal stampede from the tall buildings and the choking of the inadequate streets around them took place. The cable-cars became loaded and incrusted with double burdens, in which men clung to one another like caterpillars. Thus the crowded business district was emptied and the homes were filled. Any one could see that, and I wrote that there were more home-going and home-staying there than in any large Eastern city in this country. But who could guess what that meant? Who could know the extent of the rulership of the women at night and in the homes, or how far it went beyond those limitations? Who would dream that—in Chicago, of all places—all talk of business is tabooed in the homes, and that the men sink upon thick upholstering, in the soft shaded light of silk-crowned lamps, amid lace-work and bric-a-brac, and in the blessed atmosphere of music and gentle voices—all so soothing and so highly esteemed that it is there the custom for the men to gather accredited strangers and guests around them at home for the enjoyment of dinner, cigars, and cards, rather than at the clubs and in the hotel lobbies? I could not know it, and so, for one reason and another, the gentle side of Chicago was left out of that article.
“Great as Chicago is, the period of her true greatness is yet to come,” writes Mr. James Dredge, the editor of London Engineering, and one of the British commissioners to our Columbian Exposition. “Its commencement will dawn when her inhabitants give themselves time to realize that the object of life is not that of incessant struggle; that the race is not always to the swift, but rather to those who understand the luxury and advantage of repose, as well as sustained effort.” In whichever of our cities an Englishman stays long enough to venture an opinion of it, that is what he is sure to say. It is true of all of them, and most true of Chicago. But to discover that there is a well-spring of repose there requires a longer acquaintance than to note the need of it. There is such a reservoir in Chicago. It is in the spirit of the women, and it is as notable a feature of Chicago homes as of those of any American city. But the women contribute more than this, for from the polish of travel and trained minds their leaders reflect those charms which find expression in good taste and manners, a love of art and literature, and in the ability to discern what is best, and to distinguish merit and good-breeding above mere wealth and pedigree.
What the leaders do the others copy, and the result is such that I do not believe that in any older American city we shall find fashionable women so anxions to be considered patrons of art and of learning, or so forward in works of public improvement and governmental reform as well as of charity. Indeed, this seems to me quite a new character for the woman of fashion, and whether I am right in crediting her with it the reader will discover before he finishes this paper. It is necessary to add that not all the modish women there belong in this category. There is a wholly gay and idle butterfly set in Chicago, but it is small, and the distinctive peculiarity of which I speak lies in the fact that in nearly all the societies and movements of which I am going to write we see the names of rich and stylish women. They entertain elegantly, are accustomed to travel, and rank with any others in the town, yet are associated with those forceful women whose astonishing activity has worked wonders in that city. The Chicago woman whose name is farthest known is Mrs. Potter Palmer. She is the wife of a man who is there not altogether improperly likened, in his relation to that city, to one of our Astors in New York. Yet she is at the head of the Woman’s Department or Commission of the exposition, and is active in perhaps a score of women’s organizations of widely differing aims. Her name, therefore, may stand as illustrating what has been here said upon this subject.
There is no gainsaying the fact that, in the main, Chicago society is crude; but I am not describing the body of its people; it is rather that reservoir from which are to spring the refinement and graces of the finished city that is here to be considered. If it is true that hospitality is a relic of barbarism, it still must be said that it flourishes in Chicago, which is almost as open-armed as one of our Southern cities. As far as the men are concerned, the hospitality is Russian; indeed, I was again and again reminded of what I have read of the peculiarities of the Russians in what I saw of the pleasures of the younger generation of wealthy men in Chicago. They attend to business with all their hearts by day, and to fun with all their might after dark. They are mainly college men and fellows of big physique, and if ever there were hearty, kindly, jolly, frank fellows in the world, these are the ones. They eat and drink like Russians, and from their fondness for surrounding themselves with bright and elegant women, I gather that they love like Russians. In like manner do they spend their money. In New York heavy drinking in the clubs is going out of fashion, and there is less and less high play at cards; but in Chicago, as in St. Petersburg, the wine flows freely, the stakes are high. Though the pressure is thus greater than with us in New York, I saw no such effects of the use of stimulants as would follow Chicago freedom were it indulged in the metropolis.
But enough of what is exceptional and unrepresentative. The Chicago men are very proud of the women, and the most extravagant comments which Max O’Rell makes upon the prerogatives of American ladies seem very much less extravagant in Chicago than anywhere else. Their husbands and brothers tell me that there is a keen rivalry among the women who are well-to-do for the possession of nice houses, and for the distinction of giving good and frequent dinner parties, and of entertaining well. ” They spend a great deal of money in this way,” I was told; “but they are not mercenary; they do not worship wealth, and nag their husbands to get more and more, as do the women of the newer West. Their first question about a new-comer is neither as to his wealth nor his ancestry. Even more than in Washington do the Chicago women respect talent, and vie with one another to honor those who have any standing in the World of Intellect.” In the last ten years the leading circles of women there have undergone a revolution. Women from the female colleges, and who have lived abroad or in the Eastern cities, have displaced the earlier leaders, have married and become the mistresses of the homes, as well as the mothers of daughters for whose future social standing they are solicitous.
The noted men and women who have visited Chicago, professionally or from curiosity, in recent years, have found there the atmosphere of a true capital. They have been welcomed and honored in delightful circles of cultivated persons assembled in honses where are felt the intangible qualities that make charming the dwellings of true citizens of the world. For costliness and beauty the numerous fine residences of Chicago are celebrated. Nowhere is there seen a greater variety in the display of cultivated taste in building. All over Christendom fine houses are put up in homage to women, and we shall see, if I mistake not, that these Chicago women deserve the palaces in which they rule. But, to return to the interiors of the homes, what I find to praise most highly there is the democracy of the men and women. It is genuine. The people’s hearts are nearer their waistcoats and bodices out there. They aren’t incrusted with the sediment of a century of caste worship and pride and distrust. They are genuine and natural and frank.
I have seen a thing in Chicago—and have seen it several more times than once —that I never heard of anywhere else, and that looked a little awkward at first, for a few moments. I refer to a peculiar freedom of intercourse between the sexes after a dinner or on a rout—camaraderie and perfect accord between the men and the women. In saying this I refer to very nice matrons and maidens in very nice social circles who have nevertheless stayed after the coffee, and have taken part in the flow of fun which such a time begets, quite as if they liked it and had a right to. In one case the men had withdrawn to the library, and a noted entertainer was in the full glory of his career, reciting a poem or giving a dialect imitation of a conversation he had overheard on a street car. The wife of the host trespassed, with a little show of timidity, to say that the little girls, her daughters, were about to go to bed, and wanted the noted entertainer to ” make a face” for them—apparently for them to dream upon.
“Why, come in,” said the host.
” Oh, may we?” said the wife, very artlessly, and in came all the ladies of the party, who, it seems, had gathered in the hallway. The room was blue with smoke, but all the ladies ” loved smoke,” and so the evening wore on gayly.
The next occasion was in a mansion on the lake-side. An artist and a poet, well known in both hemispheres, were the especial guests, and the company generally would have been welcome in the best circles in any of the world’s capitals, except, possibly, in New York, where it is said that an ultra swell personage told the Lord Chief Justice of England that he had met no explorers, historians, poets, scholars, generals, or naval heroes, “because none of them is in society.” Of the ladies one was literary, one was a philanthropist and reformer, and the others were just wives, but wives of the brilliant fellows, and all able to coach the men and to tell queer little bits of their own experiences. When the coffee was brought on, on this occasion, there was no movement on the part of the women towards leaving the table. No suggestion was made that they do so ; there was no apology offered for their not doing so; the subject was not mentioned. There were glasses of “green mint” for all, and cigars for the men. Then the stories flowed and the laughter bubbled. The queer thing was that there was no apparent strain; all were at perfect ease— the ladies being as much so as other men would have been without them. One of the women told two long stories of a comical character, imitating the dialect and mannerisms of different persons precisely as a man given to after-dinner entertaining would have done. Once there was a pause and a little hesitation, and a story-teller said, “I think I can tell this here, can’t I?” ” Why, of course, go on,” said his wife. So he told whatever it was, the point being so pretty and sentimental that it was a little difficult to determine why he had hesitated, unless it was that it had “a big, big D” in one sentence.
I have been present on at least a dozen occasions when the men smoked and drank and the women kept with them, being—otherwise than in the drinking and smoking—in perfect fellowship with them. Such conditions are Arcadian. They are part and parcel of the kinship that permits the Chicagoans to bring their rugs out and to sit on the stoops in the evenings.
Their stylishness is the first striking characteristic of the women of Chicago. It is a Parisian quality, apparent in New York first and in Chicago next, among all our cities. The number of women who dress well in Chicago is very remarkable, and only there and in New York do the shop-girls and working-women closely follow the prevailing modes. Chicago leads New York in the employment of women in business. It is not easy to find an office or a store in which they are not at work as secretaries, accountants, cashiers, type-writers, saleswomen, or clerks. It has been explained to me that women who want to do for themselves are more favored there than anywhere else. The awful fire of twenty years ago wrecked so many families, and turned so many women from lives of comfort to paths of toil, that the business men have from that day to this shown an inclination to help every woman who wants to help herself.
The influence of the homes is felt everywhere. It is even more truly a city of homes than Brooklyn, for its flats and tenements are comparatively few. Such makeshifts are not true homes, and do not carry household pride with them in anything like the degree that it is engendered in those who live in separate houses which they own.
One of the famous towering office buildings of Chicago is, in the main, the result of a woman’s financiering. I refer to “the Temple” of the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union, an enormous and beautiful pile, which is, in a general way, like the great Mills Building in Broad Street, New York. It is thirteen stories high, it cost more than a million of dollars, and the scheme of it, as well as the execution thereof, from first to last, was the work of women and children. Mrs. Matilda B. Carse, who is grandiloquently spoken of in the Chicago newspapers as “the chief business woman of the continent,” inspired and planned the raising of the money. For ten years she advocated the great work, and in the course of that time she formed a corporation, called “The Woman’s Temple Building Association,” for carrying forward the project. She was elected its first president, in July, 1887, and it was capitalized at $600,000. Frances Willard, of the National organization of the Union, cooperated towards enlisting the interest and aid of the entire Temperance Union sisterhood, which adopted the building as its headquarters or “Temple.” Four hundred thousand dollars’ worth of the stock was purchased with what is referred to as “the outpouring of 100,000 penny banks,” and bonds were issued for $600,000. The building is expected to yield $250,000 a year in rentals. The income is to be divided, one-half to the National organization, and the rest pro rata to the various State organizations, according to the amount each subscribed to the fund. Mrs. Carse’s was the mind which planned the financial operation, but the credit of carrying it out rests with Miss Willard, the several other leaders of the Union, and the good women everywhere who have faith in them.
Mrs. Carse is the woman to whom the members of the Chicago Woman’s Club refer all plans for raising funds. The Chicago Woman’s Club is the mother of woman’s public work in that city. An explanation of what that means seems to me to rank among the most surprising of the chapters which I have had occasion to write as the result of my Western studies. I know of no such undertakings or cooperation by women elsewhere in our country. This very remarkable Woman’s Club has five hundred members and six great divisions, called the committees on Reform, Philanthropy, Education, Home, Art and Literature, Science and Philosophy. The club has rooms in the building of the famous Art Institute. It holds literary meetings every two weeks, each committee or division furnishing two topics in a year. The members write the papers and the meetings discuss them. Each committee officers and manages its own meetings, the chairwoman of the committee being in charge, and opening as well as arranging the discussions. The Art and Literature and the Science and Philosophy committees carry on classes, open to all members of the club. They engage lecturers, and perform an educational work. Apart from these class meetings, the club rooms are in use every day as a headquarters for women. They include a kitchen, a dining-room, and a tea-room — tea, by-the-way, being served at all the committee meetings.
The membership is made up of almost every kind of women, from the ultra fashionable society leaders to the working women, and includes literary and other professional women, businesswomen, and plain wives and daughters. “And,”say the members, “women who never hear anything anywhere else, hear everything that is going on in the world by attending the club meetings.” It is impossible to name all the women who are conspicuous in the club. Of the fashionable women, such ones as Mrs. Potter Palmer, Mrs. Dunlap, a brilliant society leader, and Mrs. Charles Henrotin are active members. Frances Willard, the head of the Temperance Union, is a member, and so is Mrs. Carse. She is a wealthy woman also, as well as one of great force of mind. Mrs. Caroline K. Sherman, a writer widely known for her energetic pursuit of philosophical studies, is active in the Science and Philosophy classes. Mrs. George E. Adams, wife of the member of Congress of that name from Illinois, is a social ruler, and yet is very active in the hard work the club undertakes. She helped raise the University Fund, of which I shall speak. A very active personage, not of the fashionable class, is Miss Ada C. Sweet, who was disbursing officer at Chicago for the Pension Bureau under four Presidents, and paid out something more than a million of dollars a year. She devotes her right hand to the defence of her sex, and her left hand to her own support. Of other leaders on the gentle side of that robust city there will be mention as their works here are considered. So far as any one can see, the wealthy and fashionable women are as active as any others. Those who are referred to as representative of the riches and refinement of the town not only have given of their wealth, but of their sympathy and time in the various movements I am about to describe.
Each woman on entering the club designates which division she wishes to enter. Her name is catalogued accordingly, and she works with that committee. Each committee holds periodic meetings, at which subjects are given out for papers and discussion at the next session. The Home Committee, for instance, deals with the education and rearing of children, domestic service, dress reform, decorative art, and kindred subjects. That has always been the method in the club, but a result of that and other influences has been that “Chicago ladies have been papered to death,” as one of them said to me, and in the last few years the development of a higher purpose and more practical work has progressed. It began when the Reform Committee undertook earnest work, and ceased merely to hear essays, to discuss prison reform, to go ” slumming,” and to pursue all the fads that were going. This committee began its earnest work with the County Insane Asylum, where it was found that hundreds of women were herded without proper attention, three in a bed, sometimes ; with insufficient food, with only a counterpane between them and the freezing winter air at night, and no flannels by day. The root of the trouble was the old one—the root of all public evil in this country—the appointment of public servants for political reasons and purposes. The first step of the Reform Committee was to ask the county commissioners to appoint a woman physician to the asylum. Dr. Florence Hunt was so appointed, and went there at $25 a month. She found that the nurses made up narcotics by the pailful to give to the patients at night so as to stupefy them, in order that they might themselves be free for a good time. The new doctor stopped that and the giving of all other drugs, except upon her order. Then she insisted upon the employment of fit nurses. She and the women doctors who followed her there suffered much petty persecution, but a complete reform was in time accomplished, and the woman physician became a recognized necessity there. Today, as a consequence, the asylums at Kankakee, Jackson, and Elgin—all Illinois institutions—have women physicians also. I am assured that no one except a physician can appreciate how great a reform it was to establish the principle that women suffering from mental diseases should be put in charge of women. Mrs. Helen S. Shedd was at the front of the asylum reform work, which is still going on.
She next led the Reform Committee into the Poor-house, where they went, as they always do, with the plea, “There are women there; we want a share in the charge of that place for the sake of our sex.” They have adopted the motto, “What are you doing with the women and children ?” and they find that the politicians cannot turn aside so natural and proper an inquiry. The politicians try to frighten the women. They say, ” You don’t want to pry into such things and places; you can’t stand it.” But the Chicago ladies have proved that they can stand a very great deal, as we shall see, on behalf of humanity; especially feminine humanity. “You are using great sums of money for the care of the poor, the sick, the insane, and the vicious,” they say. ” One-half of these are women; and we, as women, insist upon knowing how you are performing your task. We do not believe you bring the motherly or the sisterly element to your aid; we know that you do not understand women’s requirements.” That line of argument has always proved irresistible.
While I was in Chicago in August some of the women were looking over the plans for four new police stations. It transpired as they talked that they have succeeded in establishing a Woman’s Advisory Board of the Police, consisting of ten women appointed by the Chief of Police, and in charge of the quarters of all women and children prisoners, and of the station-house matrons, two of whom are allotted to each station where women are taken. Through the work of her women, Chicago led in this reform, which is now extending to the chief cities of the country. Now, all women and juveniles are separated from the men in nine of the Chicago precinct stations, to one of which every such prisoner must be taken, no matter at what time or on what charge such a person is arrested. The chief matron is Mrs. Jane Logan, a woman who came to Chicago from Toronto and became conspicuous in the Woman’s Club and in the Household Art Association. Miss Sweet “coaxed her into the police work,” and the Mayor appointed her chief matron. She has an office in a down-town station, where the worst prisoners are taken, as well as the friendless girls and waifs who drift in at the railway stations. The waifs are all taken to her, and she never leaves them until they are on the way back to their homes, or to better guardianship. She maintains an “annex,” kept clean and sweet, with homelike beds and pictures, and to this place are taken any ftrst offenders and others of saving whom she thinks there is a chance. Female witnesses are also kept there instead of in the prisoners’ cells, and all who go to the annex are entirely secluded from reporters as well as all others. Two of the best matrons of the force are in charge day and night. All women and girl prisoners are attended at court, even the drunken women being washed and dressed and made to look respectable. Mrs. Logan always goes herself with the young girls to see that they are not approached, and in order that, if it is just and advantageous that they should escape punishment, she may plead with the court for their release. Formerly, every woman who was arrested was searched by men, and thrown into a cell in the same jail room with the male prisoners. Lost children, homeless girls, and abandoned women were all huddled together. The women of the city ” couldn’t stand it,” they say. They worked eight years, led by Miss Sweet, to bring about the now accomplished reform.
In all cases in which women complain of abuse or mistreatment by the police or others, Mrs. Logan sits on the Police Trial Board, “to show the unfortunate woman that she has a friend.” The Board is composed of five inspectors and the assistant chief of police, and the president asked her to join its sessions whenever a woman is involved in any case that comes before it. The police do not oppose the work of the women. Desperate and abandoned females used to make fearful charges against the patrolmen and others on the force under the old regime.
Mrs. Logan is described as beautiful and refined, as gentle and unassuming in the highest degree, as about thirty-five years of age, and as having humanity for her propelling force—almost for her religion. Her work is a prolonged effort of patience, kindness, and justice. Last Christmastime seventy-five girls were arrested for shoplifting. She found one, eighteen years of age, fiat on her face on a cell floor. She took her to the annex, away from the sight of prison bars, and got her story from her. It was that she was of a respectable family, and had come to town to work as a stenographer, but could get no employment. Her brother sent money for her board in a quiet household, but she had little other money, and in time she spent her last cent. She mended her gloves until they were mended all over, and then her stockings gave out. She drifted into a store, saw the profusion of things there, and stole three handkerchiefs, thinking she would sell them. She was caught in the act. As she could not go to trial until morning, Mrs. Logan went to her boarding-house and explained that she was “going to spend the night with friends.” Next day, to oblige the chief matron, the court released the girl, and then Mrs. Logan told the police reporters the whole story, and got their promise that they would not publish a word of it. Mrs. Howe, the president of the Advisory Board, sent ten dollars to the girl, and she returned five dollars “for the next girl who needed it.” She is nicely situated now, through the efforts of the women. I heard many such stories of Mrs. Logan’s work. She is incessantly rushing about, getting passes and money, sending for the ladies of the Advisory Board to go to court or to the station-houses; telegraphing to parents to take back runaway girls and boys; and speaking for those who have no one else to say a kind word for them.
Mrs. R. C. Clowry, wife of the manager of the Western Union Telegraph Office, is a member of the Police Advisory Board; she is also on the Woman’s Commission of the World’s Fair, and is a music composer of some celebrity. She and Miss Sweet are the representatives of the Woman’s Club on the Board. From the Woman’s Protective Agency to the Board came Mrs. Fanny Howe, the president of the Board, and Mrs. Flora P. Tobin.
Mrs. Howe is also president of the Protective Agency, one of the most remarkable humanitarian organizations in the city. Its founder, Mrs. J. D. Harvey, is the daughter of Judge Plato, who was distinguished among the early settlers of town; but one of the greatest workers in it, and the person who has done the most towards developing it, is Mrs. Charlotte Cushing Holt. She is tenderly described by her friends as ” a very small, short, pretty, doll-like woman, in a Quakerish reform dress”; and it is added that “the amount of work she can do is astounding.” She is studying law just now, because she needs that branch of knowledge in order to advise the poor. The Protective Agency protects women and children in all their rights of property and person, gives them legal advice, recovers wages for servants, sewing-women, and shop-girls who are being swindled; finds guardians for defenceless children; procures divorces for women who are abused or neglected; protects the mothers’ right to their children. It has obtained heavy sentences against men in cases of outrage—so very heavy that this crime is seldom committed. In a matter akin to this, the women of this society perform what seems to me a most extraordinary work. It is a part of the belief of these ladies that all women have rights, no matter how bad or lost to decency some of them may be. Therefore they stand united against the ancient custom, among criminal lawyers, of destroying a woman’s testimony by showing her bad character. This these women call “a many-century-old trick to throw a woman out of court and deny her justice.”
As an instance of the manner in which they display their zeal on behalf of the principle that no matter how bad a woman is she should have fair play, there was this state of affairs: Five mistresses of disorderly resorts had brought as many young girls to Mrs. Logan, and had said they wanted them saved. The girls were pure, but had been brought to the houses in question by men who had pretended that they were taking them to restaurants or respectable dwellings. The Agency caused the arrest of the men implicated; and when the first case came up for trial, the Agency sent for fourteen or sixteen married women of fine social position to come to court and sit through the trial to see fair play. When the bagnio-keeper, who was the chief witness against the prisoner, took the stand, she testified that the girl had been told that her house was a restaurant where she was to have supper. Undeceived, she was greatly frightened, and the woman took charge of her. Then the counsel for the defence began to draw out the story of the woman’s evil life and habits. He was rebuked from the Bench, and was told that the woman’s character for chastity could not affect her testimony, and that when counsel asked such questions of women witnesses the Court would insist that similar questions be put to all male witnesses in each case, with the same intent to destroy the force of their depositions. Thus was established a new principle in criminal practice. In the other cases prosecuted by the Agency the same array of matrons in silks, laces, and jewels was conspicuous in the courtrooms. The police and court officials are said to have been astonished at this proceeding by women of their standing. But the women have not only gained a step towards perfect justice for their sex, they say that their presence in court has put an end to the ribaldry that was always a feature of trials of the kind. Not far removed from this work has been the successful effort of the women to raise what is called “the age of consent” from twelve to sixteen years.
The Philanthropy Committee of the Woman’s Club began its active work in the county jail, where it found a shocking state of affairs. There was only one woman official in the jail, and at four o’clock every afternoon she locked up the women and went away. When she had gone the men were free to go in, and they did. The women of the committee demanded the appointment of a night matron, and the sheriff said he required an order from certain judges who were nominally in charge. This they obtained, and then they were told they must secure from the county an appropriation for the proposed matron’s salary. The county officials granted the money conditionally upon the nomination for the place being made by the Woman’s Club. The matron was appointed, the work of reform was begun, and it was as if a fresh lake breeze had blown through the unwholesome place. The men cannot intrude upon the women now, and little vagrant girls of ten to fourteen years of age are no longer locked up with hardened criminals. The children have a separate department, where toys and books and a kindly matron brighten their lives while they are awaiting trial. Still another department in the jail is a school for the boys, who are sometimes kept there three or four months before being tried. It was after this work in the jail that the Philanthropy Committee took up the police station reforms. The first matrons who were put in charge of the stations were political appointees, except a few who were nominally recommended by the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union. The whole system was a sham; the matrons had to have political backing; they were not in sympathy with the movement, and were not competent. They were ” just poor,” and had large families, and merely wanted the money. There are twenty-five satisfactory matrons now.
A few years ago there was a movement among Chicago men for the foundation of an Industrial School for Homeless Boys who were not criminals. The idea was to train the boys and put them out for adoption. The plan languished and was about to be abandoned, when the Woman’s Club took hold of it. Mr. George, a farmer, had promised to give three hundred acres of land worth $40,000 if any one would raise $40.000 for the buildings. The Woman’s Club rose “as one man,” got the money in three months, and turned it over to the men, who then founded the Illinois Manual Training School at Glenwood, near the city. An advisory board of women in the club attends to the raising of money, the provision of clothing, and the exercise of a general motherly interest in the institution, which is exceptionally successful.
This list of gentle reforms and revolutions is but begun. The Education Committee of this indomitable club discovered, a few years since, that the statute providing for compulsory education was not enforced. The ladies got up a tremendous agitation, and many leading men, as well as women, went to the Capitol at Springfield and secured the passage of a mandatory statute insuring the attendance at school of children of from six to fourteen years during a period of sixteen weeks in each year. Five women were appointed among the truant officers, and the law was strictly carried out. It is found that it works well to employ women in this capacity. They are invited into the houses by the mothers, who tell them, as they would not tell men, the true reasons for keeping their children from school, as, for instance, that they have but one pair of shoes for six children. A beautiful charity resulted from this work. There was established in the club an aid society. Mrs. Murray F. Tuley, the wife of Judge Tulcy, a woman long identified with free kindergarten work, became very active in establishing this society. She interested all classes, obtained the use of a room in the City Hall, recruited workers from the Church societies, the Woman’s Club, and from almost everywhere else, to sew for the children. She got the merchants to send great rolls of flannels, and shoes and stockings by the hundreds of pairs. These are stored in the room in the City Hall, and when the truant officers discover a case of need they report it, and the Board of Education orders relief granted through the truant agency.
Some members of the Woman’s Club are physicians, such as Dr. Sarah Hackett Stevenson, Dr. Julia Holmes Smith, Dr. Mary A. Mixer, Dr. Marie J. Mergler, Dr. Julia Ross Low, Dr. Frances Dickinson, Dr. Elizabeth L. Chapin, Dr. Sarah H. Brayton, Dr. Rose S. Wright Bryan, and Dr. Leila G. Bedell. There are between 200 and 250 women doctors in Chicago, by-the-way, and in the club are two women preachers.
Mrs. Dr. Julia Ross Low came to the club one day with a solemn tale of the need of a hospital for sufferers from contagious diseases. There was none in the city. No hospital would take such cases, and they were kept at home to endanger whole neighborhoods. She told of the fearful results of contagion in places where whole families occupied one room, and where, when disease came, two or three must die. Her words made a great impression. A woman who had lost two children by some dread disease offered to give ten thousand dollars towards founding such a hospital; but it was discovered that under the law the hospital must be a public institution. Therefore a monster mass-meeting was held. The county and city officials attended, and so did many physicians and a host of influential persons. Franklin Head presided, under the rule the women have adopted of asking men to preside on such occasions so as not to offend ultraconservative minds. Strong resolutions were adopted, and later the press helped the movement enthusiastically. The women say that the Chicago newspapers always co-operate with them gallantly and ardently. The county commissioners then appropriated thirty thousand dollars and put up a building, the planning of which was supervised by the women.
In this case, as whenever a committee has more than it can do, the whole club took hold. ” Now, everybody pull for the contagious hospital,” was the signal, and every woman in the club dropped everything else, went home, enlisted the husbands, fathers, and brothers, and so quickly stirred all Chicago.
Last May one of the committees invited President Harper, of the Chicago University, to deliver an address on the Higher Education of Women, and particularly upon the plans of the university in that respect. He made it evident that the university plans were very liberal; that women were to have the same advantages as men, the same examinations, the same classes, the same professors, and that they would be eligible to the same professorships. Considering the great endowment of the institution, this was seen to be the fullest and richest opportunity that American women enjoy for the pursuit of learning; but it also came out that, although there had been five hundred applications from the graduates of other female schools and colleges, there were to be no accommodations whatever for them. The donations to the university had come in such a way that no money could be set apart for the construction of dormitories. The chairman of the Education Committee (all the heads of committees in the club are called “chairmen “) proposed that the club pledge itself to raise $150,000 for a Woman’s Building for the university. The motion was carried unanimously, a committee was appointed, and in sixty days (on July 10, 1892) it had collected $168,000. Three different women gave $50,000 each, so that when the committee had time to count what it had, there was $18,000 more than was needed. Of course dollars never go begging for a use to which to be put, and these will be used for interior appointments. Another committee was appointed to insure the planning of a building satisfactory to women, and to furnish the apartments, which are not to be merely bedrooms, but are to include a large assembly-room, dining rooms and parlors, a gymnasium, library, baths, and whatever, the parlors being common to every two or three bedrooms, and all the appointments being homelike and inviting.
Mrs. Dr. Stevenson was in the chair when this great movement was set on foot, and she has since interested Chicago anew by demanding bath-houses on the lake front for the boys, and afterwards for the poor in general.
A very remarkable member of the Woman’s Club is Jane Addams, of whose gentle character it is sufficient to say that her friends are fond of referring to her as “Saint Jane.” She is not robust in health, but, after doing more than ten men would want to do, she usually explains that it is something she has found “in which an invalid can engage.” She is a native of Illinois, is wealthy, and while on a visit to London, becoming interested in Toynbee Hall, evolved a theory which has brightened her own and very many other lives. It is that ” the rich need the poor as much as the poor need the rich “; that there is a vast number of girls coming out of the colleges for whom there is not enough to do to interest them in life, and who grow ennuyee when they might be active and happy. It is her idea that when they interest themselves in their poor brothers and sisters they find the pure gold of happiness. She asked the aid of many ladies of leisure, and went to live in one of the worst quarters of Chicago, taking with her Miss Ellen Starr, a teacher, and a niece of Eliza Allen Starr, the writer. She found an old-time mansion with a wide hall through the middle and large rooms on either side. It had been built for a man named Hull, as a residence, but it had become an auction-house, and the district around it had decayed into a quarter inhabited by poor foreigners. The woman who had fallen heir to it gave it to Miss Addams rent free until 1893. She and Miss Starr lived in it, filled it plainly, but with fine taste, with pictures and ornaments as well as suitable furniture and appointments for the purposes to which it was to be put. A piano was put in the large parlor or assemblyroom, which is used every morning for a kindergarten. A beautiful young girl, Miss Jennie Dow, gave the money for the kindergarten, and taught it for a year. Miss Fanny Garry, a daughter of Judge Garry, organized a cooking-school, and, with her young friends to assist her, teaches the art of cooking to poor girls.
A great many of the best-known young men and ladies in North Side circles contribute what they can to the success of this charity, now known as Hull House, and the subject of general local pride. These young persons teach Latin classes, maintain a boys’ club, and instruct the lads of the neighborhood in the methods of boyish games; support a modelling class, a class in wood – carving, and another in American history. Every evening in the week some club meets in Hull House—a political economy club, a German club, or what not. Miss Addams’s idea is that the poor have no social life, and few if any of the refinements which gild the intercourse that accompanies it. Therefore on one night in each week a girls’ club meets in Hull House. The girls invite their beaux and men friends, and play games and talk and dance, refreshing themselves with lemonade and cake. The young persons who devote their spare time to the work go right in with the girls and boys and help to make the evenings jolly, one who is spoken of as ” very swell ” bringing his violin to furnish the dance music. The boys’ club has one of the best gymnasiums in the city. The boys prepare and read essays and stories, and engage in improving tasks. There is a clinic in the Hull House system, and the sick of the district all go there for relief. College extension classes are also in the scheme, and public-school teachers attend the classes with college graduates, who enlist for the purpose of teaching them.
One of the new undertakings of the Chicago women is the task set for itself by the Municipal Reform League. It was organized in March, 1892, by the ladies who were connected with the World’s Fair Congresses, a comprehensive work, for the description of which I have no space. A large committee was studying municipal reform when they decided to found an independent society, to endure long after the World’s Fair, and to devote itself to local municipal reform, and especially to the promotion of cleanliness in the streets. A mass-meeting was held in Music Hall, and Judge Gresham presided. Many of the city officials and the local judges came, and the hall was crammed. Among the speakers were the Mayor, the Commissioner of Public Works, and the health commissioners. A clergyman arraigned them as responsible for the sorry state of the streets, and was followed by Miss Ada C. Sweet and Dr. Stevenson. A public meeting was held next day in the Woman’s Club to organize the new society. Miss Sweet was elected president, and the other offices were filled by women. A constitution was adopted to admit everybody to membership who would express a desire to assist in the work and to keep their own premises in order. Six hundred members are on the rolls, and these include one hundred men, among whom are millionaires and working-men. Money has been contributed liberally, but only the secretary receives compensation.
The work performed is all in the direction of forcing the public officials to do their duty. The Health Department is in charge of the alleys, and the Street Department of the streets. To keep these departments up to their work, all the members of Miss Sweet’s society are constituted volunteer inspectors, pledged to report once a week whatever remissness they discover. Thus the society has the eyes of Argus to scan the entire city. Where these eyes are kept wide open the greatest improvement is already apparent. Miss Sweet knows what every contractor is doing, as well as who is negligent and who is faithful, and she says she knows that there is not a single contractor whose contract could not be annulled to-morrow. She insists that the plan adopted by her society, if pursued, will transform Chicago into the model city of the world so far as public tidiness is concerned. Already many wealthy ladies drive down the alleys instead of the streets, and even walk through the byways, and so do many influential men, for the purpose of detecting negligence and reporting it. The complaints are forwarded, in the society’s formal manner, to the responsible commissioners, and they do all they can, Miss Sweet admits, yet are rendered measurably impotent because they cannot appoint proper inspectors. The reformers will not stop until they have destroyed the entire contract system, and have made the police do the work of inspection. Already ten policemen are detailed to do this work, and eighteen more are to extend the system. An amazing and disheartening discovery attended the beginning of this undertaking. The garbage of the city was supposed to be burned as it accumulated; instead, it was being dumped in a circle of hillocks around the outskirts of the town. A plan for disposing of it by fire had failed, and the officials sat helplessly down and gave up the job. The women took up the task, and last year three methods were undergoing trial, and 180 tons a day were being burned. That mere incident in the history of this movement for clean streets is a grand return for the investment of interest in the project which the public has made.
Miss Sweet is no beginner at these almost superhuman tasks of awakening a great community to a perception of its rights and requirements. Three years ago she found that the police patrol wagons were the only vehicles in Chicago for the transportation of the sick and injured. Men and women, falling ill or meeting with disabling accidents, were picked up by the police and carted home or to the hospitals in heavy open patrol wagons built with springs fitted to bear a load of two dozen patrolmen. She first tried to get the officials to buy and equip ambulances and organize an ambulance corps in the Police Department. Failing in this, she raised money among her friends, and had an ambulance made and fitted with necessary appliances for the sick and desperately injured. She presented it to the city, requesting that it be put into immediate use in the Central District. Last year the Police Department had six of these ambulances in use, each carrying a medical man. It also maintains a corps of men trained to the care of the sick and injured. More of the wagons are promised, and a perfect ambulance system extending over the whole city is not a far-distant consummation.
Mrs. James M. Flower, a member of the School Board, and of a family of great social distinction, should be mentioned here as having, with other noble dames, organized and pushed to success a training-school for nurses. The Art and Literature Committee of the Woman’s Club also deserves credit and mention for raising money for a scholarship at the Chicago Art Institute, the prize being given each year to the girl or boy graduate of the public schools who shows the most artistic talent.
These unusual activities and undertakings are but a part of what the women are doing, and are in addition to the kindly and humane efforts which the reader had doubtless expected to hear about, and which but parallel those which interest and occupy American ladies everywhere. There are proportionately as many workers in the hospitals, schools, and asylums, as many noble founders and supporters of refuges and hospitals, as many laborers in church and mission work, in Chicago as in New York or Boston. If the reader understand that those of which I have told are all added, like jewels upon a crown, to all the usual benefactions, the force of this chapter will be appreciated.
There are in Chicago, as elsewhere, Browning and Ibsen and Shakespearian circles and clubs, and if the city boasts few litterateurs or artists of celebrity, there is no lack of lovers and students of the work of those who live elsewhere. The Twentieth Century Club, founded, I believe, by the brilliant Mrs. George Rowswell Grant, is the most ambitious literary club, and has a large and distinguished membership. It meets in the houses of wealthy ladies, and is at times addressed by distinguished visitors whom it invites to the city. The Chicago Literary Club is another such organization, and of both these men as well as women are members. The Chicago Folk – lore Society, a new aspirant to such distinction, was organized in December, 1891, the first meeting being called by Mrs. Fletcher S. Bassett at the Chicago Woman’s Club rooms. Eugene Field, of whose verse and of whose delightful personality Chicago cannot be too proud, George W. Cable, General and Mrs. Miles, Mr. and Mrs. Potter Palmer, Dr. Sarah Hackett Stevenson, Charles W. Deering, Mr. and Mrs. C. Henrotin, and Mr. and Mrs. Franklin MacVeagh are among the members. The motto of this society illumines its field of work. It is, ” Whence these legends and traditions ?” It has started a museum of Indian and other relics and curios, and may make an exhibition during the World’s Fair. It will certainly distinguish itself during the congress of folk-lore scholars to be held in Chicago in 1893. The president of the society is Dr. S. H. Peabody. The directors are all women—Mrs. S. S. Blackwelder, Mrs. Fletcher S. Bassett, and Mrs. Potter Palmer; and the treasurer is Helen G. Fairbank.
I had a most interesting talk with one of the women active in certain of the public works I have described, and she told me that one reason why the women succeeded so well with the officials and politicians is that they are not voters, are not in politics, and ask favors (or rights) not for themselves, but for the public. That, she thought, sounded like an argument against granting the suffrage to women; but she said she would have to let it stand, whatever it sounded like. She said that the Chicago men not only spring to the help of a woman who tries to get along,” but they hate to see her fail, and they won’t allow her to fail if they can help it.” She remarked that the reason that active Chicago women do not show the aggressive, harsh spirit and lack of graceful femininity which are often associated with women who step out of the domestic sphere is because the Chicago women have not had to fight their way. The men have helped them. She gloried in the strides the women have made towards independence in Chicago.
“A fundamental principle with us,” she said, “is that a girl may be dependent, but a woman must be independent in order to perform all her functions. She must be independent in order to wisely make a choice of her career—whether she will be a wife and mother, and, if so, whose wife and mother she will be.”