In January of 1896 the editors of Godey’s Lady’s Book produced an issue focused on the changing roles of women in American life. Articles included The Association for the Advancement of Women, A Woman’s Heart, Your Majesties, The New Woman, Athletically Considered, Women Inventors, The New Woman in Office, Artists in Their Studios, The Vassar Students’ Aid Society, Talks by Successful Women, and A Record of Realities
The excerpts below are from one of the most comprehensive articles, The New Woman in Office by Joseph Dana Miller. Mr. Miller gathered information from all over the country about female office holders and male reaction to women in these new roles.
The New Woman in Office
Ignore it as we will, deplore it as we may, the status of woman in society is undergoing, by the action of irrepressible forces, an astonishing and formidable change. Conservatism may frown upon the advance of woman into the domain of politics and government, but it can no more effectually bar her entrance into these fields than it can oppose itself successfully to the action of winds and tides.
The “new woman,” as she is called—a term which, outside of the caricaturist’s imagination, may be defined to mean a woman who entertains unconventional ideas of womanly independence and woman’s relation to society—feels that she is man’s helpmate in more than one sense, and whether as wife or spinster, has an interest in what goes on outside the household. She contends, with much show of reason, that exclusive devotion to the duties of, wifehood and maternity narrows her intellectual activities, and makes of her a merely sensitory animal. It is sometimes said that there is no insuperable objection to the entrance of unmarried women into political fields, but I think that statistics will confirm my present impression, which is, that more than half the women in public life to-day are married.
Women do many things that the unthinking assert they are unfitted to do. And it is scarcely safe to contend that there is any intellectual or physical incapacity which renders women unfit for certain tasks. … Women are architects in New York, and car conductors in Chile; they work in mines in Europe, and edit papers in American cities. At Cottonwood Palls, Kan., a Miss Snow runs a bank. The New York Central Railroad has two women agents along its route.
We have to deal with the subject of women office-holders, and it is here that the progress achieved, within the last thirty years, is little less than startling. It is in the West that the greatest strides have been made. Though Wyoming has had unlimited woman suffrage for over twenty years, it is Colorado and Kansas that must be reckoned the banner States in the “woman movement.”
Among women office-holders of Kansas was Mrs. Eva M. Blackman, secretary of the Metropolitan Police Board of Leavenworth, the first and only woman to fill such an office. Her early life is the story of a fatherless girl brought up by a courageous mother of limited means. Living among coalminers, Mrs. Blackman became interested at an early age in the condition of the laboring people, and became an active worker in the single-tax and labor-reform movement, leaving the Democratic party to become a Populist. In October, 1893, when she was but twenty-seven years of age, Mrs. Blackman was appointed secretary of the Police Board of Leavenworth. She immediately set about improving the condition of the jail, and on the expiration of her term of office turned over to the new board “the cleanest jail in Kansas.” It had formerly been the vilest.
But it is in Colorado we find the largest number of women office-holders. This is the only State in the Union where there are women members of Assembly, though they are eligible in one other State, Wyoming, to such office. Their names are Clara Cressingham, Carrie C. Holly, and Frances S. Klock. Mrs. Holly is perhaps the best known of the three. Her labors in behalf of measures for the protection of the young females of the State have won her enduring laurels. Her determined efforts on the floor of the Assembly, championing the cause of social purity, have revealed the extraordinary character and determination of “the member from Pueblo.”
A contrary belief (in women holding office) is embodied in the letter below, which also indicates some of the unpleasantness of being before the public. Miss McCune was defeated for County Treasurer in Denver by 1,000 votes in a total of 33,000.
CRIPPLE CREEK, COL., “November 6, 1895.
Miss Mccune, Denver, Col.
Dear Madam: It gives me great pleasure to note by the bulletins how overwhelmingly you were defeated yesterday, and permit me to say further that I sincerely regret that my vote was not among the great majority.
It is not because I have any grievance whatever against you personally, for I have not, although I do think that you have received the benefits accruing from that office long enough, and furthermore do not believe in making a lifetime job out of any public office, as that savors too much of monarchy; but it is because I have never believed, nor do I yet, in women dabbling in men’s business or affairs.
Woman’s place is at home. There she looks best and is best. I only hope this may prove a good lesson to many of our women, but if it does not, I fear they will only meet with the same disappointment you have. No woman in this world will ever get my vote for an office, and I consider myself as good a Republican as ever stood on two feet, and I am sure there are thousands with me in this stand.
Again assuring you that I have no ill will toward you whatever, but that I am extremely glad you were badly beaten for the office of County Treasurer, I remain,
A Male Republican Voter
There are but few women employed in purely official capacities by the National Government. Of course, large numbers of women are employed in the General Post-office, and in other departments, in clerical capacities, and a few as skilled draughtswomen, and as assistant actuaries, and one or two women as assistant examiners in the Patent Office; and in the Land Office, Treasury Department, and Department of Secretary of State there are women employed in more or less responsible positions.
A word remains to be said of women librarians. One-half of the librarians of the United States are women, and they have proved themselves singularly efficient in the work of practical librarianship. There is scarcely a public library of consequence in which there is not at least one woman in charge of some department. Among the official women of Washington is the Librarian of Public Documents, Adelaide R. Hasse. She was assistant librarian in the Los Angeles Public Library, and while there devised a system of cataloguing Government publications, and sent on to Washington the first instalment of “A Check-list of Government Publications of the U.S. Department of Agriculture,” which is now being printed by that department. The favorable impression created by this system resulted in an offer to Miss Hasse of the position of Librarian of Public Documents, which had been created as a sub-bureau of the Government Printing Office, by virtue of a law of January 12, 1895.
The Lexington by which the advanced woman has sought to contest man’s exclusive control of official power has been won in the distant and turbulent West; her Bunker Hill has yet to be fought. But however we may regard her invasion into these fields, hitherto a terra incognita of feminine timidity, we cannot ignore the fact that, for good or ill, for the weakening or the strengthening of the national pillars, amid the disturbed sea of the social ebb and flow, the dark problems that loom and threaten, the New Woman is with us, armed with official consequence and authority, and with that intense belief in herself which alone, and of itself, is the secret and source of power.
Collection: Godey’s Lady’s Book
Date: January, 1896
Title: The New Woman In Office
Location: Philadelphia, PA
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- Godey’s Presidential Profiles: John Quincy Adams
- New Treatment of Criminals (1868)
- The Training and Life of a New York Fireman in 1896