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  • Writer's pictureGreg

Women's Work is Never Properly Credited

This card tumbled out of a book from the 1890s and has become another wonderful adventure down the rabbit hole of research.

The Civil War pitted brother against brother with the result being a multitude of War widows.

This affected the rich and poor and everyone in between. In New York City many women who were familiar with a comfortable status before the war, found themselves with no husband and no support.

Unable, untrained to seek whatever jobs there were for women at the time, many had nowhere to turn. Post-war poverty and corruption due to the rising immigrant population lead to creative social reform, some even home-grown. Two ladies saw these disadvantaged women as an ongoing problem and formed a bond to create a solution. The New York Exchange for Women’s Work was created in 1878.

Exchanges had been around since the 1830s and were a kind of consignment shop featuring fine knitted items and baked goods and preserves made by war widows and other women without proper means to support themselves. Candace Wheeler, an interior designer, and Mary Atwater Choate, a prominent New Yorker started the Exchange in Mrs. Choate's home at 108 East 31st Street with just thirty Items for sale and 20 volunteers. It only took a month before they needed a larger space.

As you can see from the card, a store front on Fifth avenue was probably a guarantee for success, but in its history the Exchange would move 9 times. This was due to expansion of services, such as vocational education and boarding as well as a restaurant. The location on the card indicates this was from 1894 where the exchange remained until moving again in 1899 to Madison Avenue. The Exchange required donations to sustain itself, but another move on the same avenue to a larger property and the creation of a restaurant lead to a more stable existence.

This particular exchange was not unique, there were many others like it around the country. The restaurant, however, became a meeting place for the well-to-do making it the place to be seen. This may have been the reason why it outlasted the others. So popular was the restaurant that in the 1970s the IRS deemed it to be no longer eligible for Non-profit status and it was converted to a commercial business.

What’s really amazing is that my research revealed that this exchange survived 125 years before closing in 2003. Monthly rent and the closing of the restaurant years earlier made the expense of doing business in New York City cost prohibitive for the Exchange.

It’s a shame we don’t read as much as we used to. There is a lot you can learn by opening a book. #found #thingsfoundinbooks #civilwar #newyorkcity #bookmarks #foundastory #history #womenatwork #Earlyentrepreneurs #urbanarcheology #estatesalefinds

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