2016-03-09 / In This Place / Columns

In This Place: March 9, 2016

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Herstory
by Trish Adams

My salute to Women’s History Month is a bit “backhanded,” but I thought it would be fun to share with you what passed for a sort of women’s lib 100 years ago, so we could all enjoy how far attitudes to women’s autonomy and equity have come since then. These maudlin romantic pieces were typical filler in the early part of the 20th century. Often they featured counts, princes or other aristocrats in Bohemian or other exotic locales. Or they would paint a picture of oldfashioned domesticity in which a controlling husband found himself outwitted by feminine wiles. These syndicated bits of fluff were no doubt intended to expand the female readership in the days long before daytime television came along to amuse housebound mothers and wives stuck behind an ironing board. This one dates from March 3, 1916.

Richard Adrian was a rich bachelor. That was why he was on the list of every concern in America that had something to sell. His daily mail was chock-full of advertisements of all kinds, from pastry flour to gold mines. And he was hourly besieged by agents of both sexes who insisted upon showing him “only editions” and improved razors.

Mike, the office boy, was able to dissuade too persistent males, but Dorothy Darlington was prepared for Mike. She had heard of him, and arming herself for the ball game, Mike went down an easy victim.

Richard Adrian had decided that it was near enough to noon to escape from involuntary incar- ceration, as he always referred to his office, when Dorothy breezed in and shut the door.

“How do you do? Please don't blame your boy for letting me in. He couldn't help it. I’m sorry if you were getting ready to go home, because I can’t afford many ball-game tickets, you know.”

“I'm sorry I can’t ask you to sit down. You see I must get away immediately.” This was the prettiest one yet, and he had no desire to exercise his masculine wits against beauty in need.

“Oh I am so sorry. I wanted to sell you some life insurance.”

“Great Scott! I’ve got twentyfive thousand that I don’t need. Besides, I’m not married, and haven’t any wife to leave it to.”

“But couldn’t you get married?”

“Yes yes! I suppose so. Well, sit down. Miss Darlington. I’ll take five thousand of your insurance, but we’ll I say—in favor of my sister, to be transferred just as soon as I can find a suitable wife.”

“How lovely!” exclaimed Dor- othy, searching for papers in her bag. “I think I am going to like the insurance business.”

Two months later Dorothy had to get past Mike again. Never mind how she managed it, but she did.

This time she was asked to sit down. “But really, I cannot take any more insurance, Miss Darlington. I’ve made all my second cousins beneficiaries now.”

“But it isn’t insurance this time, she declared. “It’s a house. I’m selling real estate now. Nobody but you would take any insurance!”

“But I don't want a house, either. I’m not married, you see, and—”

“Oh haven’t you got a wife yet? You said you would, so I supposed you had. I'm just crazy about it myself. All porches and gables and a sun parlor and a lawn and a garden. I have a picture of it here. There! Isn’t it beautiful? Only the colors don't show up—the flowers and grass and trees, I mean.”

Richard looked harder at the flushed cheeks and shining eyes than he did at the picture, but it really was an attractive house. It was a fine day, and his car was at the curb.

“I won’t promise to buy the place, but I might take a look at it, Miss Darlington. Won’t you go with me in my car and show it to me?”

The house was all that Dorothy claimed, and Richard Adrian enjoyed the excursion immensely. “Not a bad speculation,” he thought. “I believe I’ll take it over.”

So the deal was made and things settled down as before.

Some weeks later Mike opened the office door. “A lady to see you, sir,” he announced.

“I am so glad to find you in,” exclaimed Dorothy Darlington, as Richard Adrian hospitably held out his hand and proffered a chair.

“And I am glad you came, Miss Darlington. There is only one thing I am sorry for—that I cannot buy another house. You see I am property poor now, and—”

“But I’m not selling houses this time. I’m in the jewelry business now. I’ve brought a catalogue and thought you might want something for your—wife, if you have one yet?”

“No I’m not married yet.”

“Oh! Aren’t you? I was sure you would be by this time. And there are such beautiful things here in the book—pendants, brooches, bracelets and rings. I’m crazy about all of them myself.”

Richard looked at her oddly. “Your enthusiasm is certainly contagious,” he said. “Won’t you tell me what you like best?”

She bent over and touched the open pages here and there where jeweled ornaments were pictured.

“And what ring do you like best?”

“This one!” She turned a few pages and pointed to a ruby and diamond set together.

Richard looked at her softly waving hair under the becoming little hat, her clear, velvety skin, and her frank blue eyes. He had been dreaming dreams of late.

“Miss Darlington, you’ve insured my life and sold me a house for a prospective bride, who hasn't materialized. Now you want to sell me a ring for the same mythological person. Unless you can supply the wife, too, I’m afraid there is no use in buying the ring.”

“The wife? I don't understand.”

“Won’t you be my wife, Dorothy? I love you. You’d better say ‘Yes’ if you want to sell me the ring. Won’t you?”

She did not speak, but he read his answer in her happy eyes.

(Copyright. 1915, by the McClure Newspaper Syndicate.)

Here’s a vision of another Happy Ending even more unrealistic than the one we just read. As a statistician, Mrs. McDoug- all would never qualify for a job at 538, but one can hardly fault her optimism and confidence in women’s leadership and entrepreneurial abilities. Too bad the whole “human drudgery” thing has not quite been resolved — for either of the genders! This was one of a handful of times in the archives that the word “feminist” was used with its modern meaning.

June 29, 1923

Born Before Our Time

All the business of the world will be transacted by women within a century, if the trend now indicated by census statistics continues, Mrs. Alice Foote McDougall, New York feminist, announces after a period of intense research, Since 1880 Mrs. McDougall said she had discovered the percentage of women in business increased from 14.7 to 21.0, while the percentage of men gainfully occupied dropped .5 per cent. “I don’t pretend to predict what the men will do,” she said. “Someone has to do the housekeeping, I suppose, and if the women are otherwise engaged the men will have do to it. Probably by that time, though, inventors will have relieved human drudgery to such an extent that it will be pretty easy for the men.” Rep. Katharine St. George (R) appears quite a bit in our pages and perhaps deserves a column of her own, although she was representing a neighboring constit uency (Tuxedo Park, NY). A quick bit of research reveals that she was a cousin of FDR (their mothers were sisters.) And this from Wikipedia: “She was elected to Congress in 1946 and served from January 3, 1947, until January 3, 1965. “A proponent of pay equity, St. George was a supporter of the Equal Pay Act of 1963. In 1962, St. George proposed that legislation be passed to ensure that women received equal pay for equal work. Her proposals were introduced by Congresswoman Edith Green, an Oregon Democrat. During a debate . . . St. George stated that opposing the bill was comparable to "being against motherhood.” The bill passed both the House and the Senate, but it passed in different forms, and wasn’t ratified. Undaunted, in 1963, Green re-introduced the bill, and this time it was successfully ratified into law.” As this note below proves, Rep. St. George was pounding the equality drum pretty fiercely long before the Kennedy administration. She represented a progressive strain of gender equality efforts that are no longer nearly so bipartisan.

May 29, 1953

Hurrah for the Difference!

Representative Katharine St. George, the beautiful and aristo- cratic gentlewoman from Tuxedo Park, N. Y., got going on her favorite theme in Congress the other day, namely that women are just as good as men, if not more so. Gesturing with finely manicured hands, the lady told a well-filled House chamber that it was high time Congress acted upon her bill to add an equalrights for-women amendment to the Constitution. She declared that women are entitled to special legislation, just as veterans and many other groups are accorded special legislation. Warming to her topic, the GOP gentlewoman declaimed: “The veteran is doing something for his country that the women cannot do. On the other hand, the women are doing something for their country that the men cannot do.

“So now we know, and we admit, and we welcome the fact that there is a difference between the sexes, and we know that this amendment will in no way change the facts of life and in no way change the laws governing these differences.”

Whereupon the decorum of the august chamber was shattered by a linguistic lout who stagewhispered; “Vive la difference.” Hunt up your own women heroes (or indulge in some of that early 20th century chick lit!) at nys historicnewspapers.org/middle town.

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