Thursday, May 31, 2012


Central Russia (1812)

Location: Allegedly somewhere in central Russia (as defined in the late 19th century). Difficult to pinpoint exactly where this could have been, as the name is not on contemporary maps and there have been many border and name changes since then.

Founded: As an all-women "state" or "colony" in 1861

Closed: There are several articles published between 1897 and 1901 about this place, but no references after that time.

This is one of those odd little stories I stumble upon from time to time. Was this a real place? Or was this a folklore fantasy, like Sweden's all-lesbian Chako Paul City? (Chako Paul City was "created" by the Chinese media back in 2009.) Only more research will tell. Here's the news account from 1897, which is the earliest I have found and the most extensive description.

From the Free Lance, March 20, 1897:


The Name of their Colony a Jawbreaker.

There is at least one spot on earth where women have their rights. If they do not it is their own fault, for they are the supreme arbiters of social and industrial conditions, and run everything to suit their own caprices. The place in question is the township of Besjukovschtschina, located in central Russia. Whether or not the women had the privilege of naming the place is not known. If they are guilty they proved themselves a failure at the start, for there are several letters in the alphabet they did not employ in designating it. It was in 1861 that an epidemic had reduced the population to the verge of starvation, and the women, led by Saschka, ordered the men to leave and go to the city to find work. The women remained alone and began to till the farms. The men were allowed to return only for the holidays.

The woman state comprises a territory of ten square miles and is divided into seven villages. Saschka and several other women, the wives of the exiled elders, administer to all public affairs, such as the levying of taxes, the allotment of acres to the various families, the keeping up of the churches, the paying of shepherds, etc. They also assume the recruiting officer's duties by sending those men who attain the proper age to town in order to submit to medical examination.

In the summer the fields of the district afford a peculiar aspect. One may ride over the Besjukovschtschina domain from morn till night without encountering a single male being. All the work, the hardest as well as the lighter manipulations, is executed by women and girls of different ages. With naked feet and arms they trot behind the plow, throw out seeds and gather fruit. Here we observe a dozen or more members of the weaker sex engaged in lifting a mighty rock; or subduing a bucking horse or a wild bull. Toward evening all hands assemble in the church squares of the seven villages to hear reports of common interest, the women acting mayors being speechmakers, who discuss public questions in a decisive and businesslike manner. This done, the women go home to attend their own affairs.

Besides cultivating the fields they keep the roads in order and ocassionally set up a new cottage or stable. When on the occasion of his coronation, the czar [Alexander III in 1881? Nicholas II in 1894?] released some 20,000 communities of the obligation to discharge their back taxes, Besjukovschtschina, not being in arrears like the rest, was not benefited, and that is nearly the only regretful incident Saschka's administration has developed in the eyes of her partners. A governmental statistician who visited the colony recently gathered material showing that since the enforced grass widowhood the Besjukovschtschina die at an earlier period than was their fate during the old days of serfdom.  

The Evening Post from May 28, 1898 adds a few more details, but not many:

Traditional costumes of Central Russia

The Women's Signet says: 'The state of Besjukovschtschina, in Russia, is probably the only place in the world that is ruled by women. This State is made up of seven villages, each presided over by a Mayoress, the whole under the superintendence of a lady named Saschka, who acts as President. There are women magistrates, women preachers, women police--in fact, every capacity is filled by women. The roads are made by women, and women sell milk and deliver letters. If you want to bring action against your neighbour in this State, you go to a woman lawyer, and if there is anything in your house to be stolen, then a burglar of the weaker sex steals it. No place of any importance is filled by a man. This state of affairs has been brought about by an epidemic in 1861, and during which time the men of the State behaved so badly as to reduce the population to starvation. Since then the women have taken the State in hand and made it prosperous.

Other references to Besjukovschtschina can be found in 1899, 1900, and 1901. But these are all regurgitations of the articles already cited.

As somebody with a little background in demography, one contradiction did stand out for me. I highly doubt that this place had both a declining life expectancy and increasing prosperity. That just doesn't happen.

If Besjukovschtschina really once existed, the ways she could have been destroyed are nearly too numerous to recount. You don't have to be an expert in twentieth century history to figure this out. Start with a pogrom-like attack. Then throw in the Russian Revolution of 1905, the first World War, the Russian Revolution of 1917, The Russian Civil War....And if she had survived all that, how would she have survived Hitler and Stalin?

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Champery, Switzerland (1922)

Champery, Switzerland (1906)

Champery, Switzerland (1922)

Founded: First mention of Champery in the historical record is in 1286

Closed: Champery still exists as a prosperous tourist attraction and skiing resort--but not as a women-only village

Since the 1960s or so, Champery has become a fashionable enclave for wealthy ski aficianados. And where there's money, there's sure to be men in abundance. Today, according to the 2008 Census, men make up 51.9 percent of the population.

But one hundred years ago, before the boom in international tourism, it was a different story. Men had practically deserted the village in favor of jobs and economic opportunity elsewhere. The result, as of the early 1920s, was a town that was pretty much entirely women. Notice (at least in this account) that women used their power base to buy themselves social freedom and freedom from restrictive dress. But they were apparently unable (or unwilling) to translate those numbers into direct political power. Frankly, I'm not so sure that this was a faulty strategy. Leaving what were effectively token and part-time male political officials in place might have been a useful way to deflect any possible male backlash.  As it was, women would have controlled practical day-to-day decisionmaking by sheer heft alone.

From the Warsaw Union, May 8, 1922:


Men Live Only Temporarily at Champery Because of Constant Lack of Work.
The village of Champery, in Switzerland, canton of Valais, from which the ascent of the Dent de Midi is started, according to the Berliner Morgenpost, has two claims to fame; its beautiful location and the fact that it is inhabited most of the time exclusively by women. Only a few officials belong to the strong sex, whose representatives, although natives of the village, stay there only temporarily.

Champery today--where the boys are?
The reason for this strange phenomenon is that there is no work for the men. The little agricultural labor required for the poor acres of the surrounding land is performed by the women. The men of Champery are therefore compelled to look for work abroad.

The women are beautiful and strong. They wear neither skirt nor corset, but breeches and jerkin, while a red hankerchief wound around the head serves as a hat. The young girls amuse themselves with dancing, of which they are particularly fond, and with skiing. The old women indulge passionately in smoking, and fill their pipes with self-raised herbs.

Working Girls' Dorm

Former residents of the Working Girls Dorm at
reunion dinner (2012)
Working Girls' Dorm

Location: 510 South Kansas Avenue, Topeka, Kansas, USA

Opened: 1949

Closed: Mid 1950s? Later?

From the Topeka Capital-Journal, May 29, 2012:

The dorm, 510 S. Kansas Ave., was started in 1949 after the YWCA ran out of room. For $10 a week, 40 girls at a time had room and board.

Laura Hobrock, who lived in the working girls’ dorm for more than three years in the early 1950s, made about $100 a month working in a state office. While the $10 a week rent was sometimes difficult to make, she said, it was still very reasonable.

For the dozen women who met Tuesday for their 10th anniversary gathering at McFarland’s restaurant, 4113 S.W. Huntoon, the dorm was the only way they were able to move to Topeka for work. All of them came from small Kansas communities, from Valley Falls to Osage City and even farther, and the dorm provided a safe environment, as well as camaraderie.

There was always someone to go with you to a movie at the Gem Theater. At a furniture store across the street you could listen to records for free. And the restaurants, the women say, were wonderful.

Hobrock said Evelyn Cox, who the girls called “Mom Cox,” always knew what the girls were doing and what shifts they worked. Her room was right inside the dorm’s door, and her door was never closed. The girls always knew when they were getting too loud, because Mom Cox would whistle.

The flood of 1951? Some of these women remember going up on the roof of a tall downtown building to look at the rising water and hear men evacuating the area near S. Kansas and 3rd, just a couple of blocks away, over megaphones.

Others can tell stories of the labor strike at the Bell Telephone Co. in 1953. Leone Harries had only just started work at the company and hadn’t known there was a union, so she crossed the picket line to go to work. Vi Sklenicka, too, worked there and had to find a way to avoid the angry crowd of workers on strike.

“I couldn’t understand why people were calling me such horrible things,” Sklenicka said, shaking her head.

Other girls at the dorm worked for The Topeka Daily Capital, Capper’s, Hallmark and state offices, or attended Clark’s Business School.

Most girls stayed in the dorm until they got married. Hobrock had several roommates leave her before it was finally her turn to leave one and head down the aisle.

These women now try to have a reunion twice a year — once after Memorial Day and once after Labor Day — to reminisce about their days in the dorm. They hope that publicizing the reunions will draw in more women with fond memories of old friends.

Another interesting fact? There was only one telephone, a pay phone, for the entire dorm.

“One phone among 40 girls,” said Vesta Gwaltney, laughing.

La Provence, Marrot Hotel

Marrot Hotel
La Provence, Marrot Hotel

Location: 2625 North Meridian Street, Indianapolis, Indiana, USA

Opened: In 1926 as residential hotel "for persons of distinction." La Provence, the "woman-only" bar, opened in 1953.

Closed: Hotel still open, though now doing business as Marrot Apartments. No evidence that La Provence is still open.

Here is the (condescending) notice in the Milwaukee Journal announcing the opening of La Provence on November 6, 1953:

Who Buys the Drinks in Women Only Bar?

Indianapolis, Ind. (AP) The Marrot, a fashionable hotel, announced Thursday that it would soon open a bar for women only.

Men can get into the gold and turquoise La Provence only if they are escorting a woman.

There is an added gimmick. The women may keep the fancy decanters if their order empties the bottle.

The story was also picked up by the Chicago Tribune (pay per view) and the Modesto Bee.

The comparatively late date on this story is astonishing. Had a hotel opened a "ladies only" bar some forty years earlier, nobody would have batted an eye. The "ladies-only" bar would have been seen as a more-or-less innocent complement to the men-only drinking establishments and nothing more. But by the early 1950s, it's hard to fathom that a woman-only bar could still be treated in the press as an amusing novelty, and not as something "tainted" by the possibility of lesbianism or "sexual perversion." Gay and lesbian historians have generally argued that the 1950s were the worst time for gay people, especially lesbians, who, to some extent, had been able to sail under the social radar until the Second World War or so. But by the early 1950s, neo-Freudian psychoanalysts, in cahoots with government officials, were "diagnosing" lesbianism everywhere. Women, perhaps more so than men, were being hounded out of federal and state jobs due to the witch hunts instigated by Joseph McCarthy and his political allies. McCarthy wasn't officially censured by the Senate till 1954, but the paranoid social policies he initiated lived on for many years afterwards.

So how did we come up with La Provence, an apparent throwback to another era? Your guess is as good as mine.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Mrs. P.J. Gilligan's Saloon for Ladies

Why Not Go the Limit, by Harry Grant Dart (1908)

Mrs. P. J. Gilligan's Saloon for Ladies

Location: In the overwrought imagination of anti-suffragist illustrator Harry Grant Dart

Opened/Closed: Appeared in the March 18, 1908 edition of Puck Magazine

Alas, Mrs. P.J. Gilligan's never had a "real" existence outside the paranoid imagination of her hostile creator. Suffragists back then were routinely attacked as "unsexed" or "mannish" in a way that is very similar to how feminists are attacked today as "lesbian" or "manhating" (some things never change). Why, if you let the ladies have the franchise, before you know it, they'll be boozing and brawling just like the gents. And then who will bake the pies and mind the babies, hmm? See this site to look at this particular illustration in greater detail, as well as similar anti-suffragist cartoons and illustrations.

Still, Mrs. P. J. Gilligan's does look like a great place to hoist a few brews with your lady friends....So Cheers!

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Ladies' Reading Room, Maryhill District Library

Ladies' Reading Room, Maryhill District Library (1907)

Ladies' Reading Room, Maryhill District Library 

Location: 1508 Maryhill Road, Glasgow, Scotland

Opened: 1905

Closed: Library still open. But I assume that the Ladies' Reading Room (as a dedicated reading space for women) is long gone.

Commentary from The Glasgow Story:

An impressive display of hats on parade in the ladies' reading room, Maryhill District Library, 1907. It was the policy to provide a separate reading room for ladies at the time, with men given the use of the general reading room.

Maryhill Library today
A free public library had been in existence in Maryhill since 1823, when it was founded by a group of papermakers from Dawsholm Paper Mill. It was financed by charges for lectures and by donations from the local gentry.

A new library in Wyndford Street (now Maryhill Road) was opened in 1905. It is one of the twelve libraries constructed with Andrew Carnegie's gift of £100,000 to the city of Glasgow in 1901. It is also one of the seven of these buildings designed by the architect James R Rhind. Soon after its opening, City Librarian Francis Barrett reported, "that the reading rooms, ... have been fully occupied, and that the juvenile reading rooms are being largely taken advantage of."

Notice how the men had free roam of the "general" (male) reading room, even as a separate reading room was reserved for the ladies. Yet another reminder that men's public space and women's public space are never "equal."

Canton Restaurant

Canton Restaurant

Location: 11 Bank Street, New London, Connecticut, USA

Opened/Closed: c. 1917

This is the first Chinese-American restaurant I have found that was "essentially a Ladies' Restaurant." Recall that during this time period, many "regular" restaurants banned unescorted women (i.e. women not escorted by men).  Today, the former Canton Restaurant space is occupied by Klingman Travel, Inc.

From The Day, April 12, 1917:

Essentially a Ladies' Restaurant

Ladies, with or without escorts, will find the new Canton Restaurant a refined and ideal eating place.

Both Chinese and American menus are temptingly served. A most quiet and home-like atmosphere prevails.

Try Chop Suey.

11 Bank Street today

The Canton Restaurant
11 Bank Street.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Library and Ladies Free Reading Room on the Bay

Library and Ladies' Free Reading Room
on the Bay (1908)
Library and Ladies' Free Reading Room on the Bay

Location: Miami, Florida, USA

Opened/Closed: c. 1908

The City of Miami’s library was founded by the Ladies’ Afternoon Club, later the Woman’s Club of Miami. Its purpose, we are loftily informed, was “reading and the discussion of literature.” By 1905, the Club was trying to provide a public reading room for its collection of books. The Club had no permanent home and for a number of years the reading room moved from place to place, as often as six times in a single year.

So it appears that the Library and Ladies' Free Reading Room on the Bay was one of those temporary homes. It was not until 1913 that the Miami Women’s Club had its own building at the corner of what is now Southeast Second Avenue and Flagler Street (then Avenue B and Twelfth Street).

Forget your modern library. I want this one! What else could you possibly need in life? You have sand, sea, and sunshine--along with books and all kinds of literate ladies to share them with. Sounds like my idea of paradise!

"White Ladies Only" Restroom

"White Ladies Only" restroom (1940)

"White Ladies Only" Restroom

Location: This particular "white ladies only" restroom was located at the bus station in Durham, North Carolina, USA. But racially segregated ladies rooms existed throughout the southern United States, and in some northern locations as well.

Opened: Trend towards "officially" race segregated public facilities such as restrooms began in 1876 with the Jim Crow laws. These laws mandated racial segregation in all public facilities within the former confederate states.

Closed: Jim Crow laws were finally overruled by the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Lexington County, South Carolina

Make no mistake: the "white ladies only" restroom is NOT being honored as a lost womyn's space. But it is important to remember the shameful ways that women's space has been exploited and defiled by both institutionalized and "informal" racism. (See here for photos of other race segregated public facilities from the Jim Crow era.) Even though they did not serve on the state legislatures that passed these laws, generations of white women do bear responsibility for giving, at minimum, their tacit approval to these arrangements and for supporting the white men who did pass and enforce these laws, often with considerable bloodshed. Lest we forget....

Ladies Rest House, Rock Springs Park

Ladies Rest House, Rock Springs Park
Ladies Rest House

Location: Rock Springs Park, Chester, West Virginia, USA

Opened: Park began operations in 1897

Closed: 1970

Rock Springs Park is a now defunct amusement park once located in Chester, West Virginia. The park officially began operation in 1897, and closed in 1970 after the death of its final owner. After four years of disuse, the land was bought by the state of West Virginia for the rerouting of U.S. Route 30 and the construction of the Jennings Randolph Bridge over the Ohio River.

According to Joseph A. Comm, the Ladies Rest House was one of the park's original turn-of-the-century structures. It was located behind the bandstand shell.

Another view, Ladies Rest House, Rock Springs Park

We're told that "most traces" of the park are gone now, except for the rock springs themselves.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Ladies Parlour, Sheridan Inn

Ladies Parlour, Sheridan Inn (early photo)
Ladies Parlour, Sheridan Inn

Location: 856 Broadway, Sheridan, Wyoming, USA

Opened: Construction begun in December 1892, opened May 27, 1893

Closed: First floor remains open, including the former ladies parlour, for meetings, dinners, and receptions. Upper floors in need of restoration. As of this year (April), the hotel was in danger of foreclosure.

Sheridan Inn (2008)
The Sheridan Inn has a long and colorful history, beginning with its two-year association with "Buffalo Bill" Cody. The hotel was designed by Nebraska architect Thomas R. Kimball, based on the hotels of Scotland. It was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1966. Read more about its history here.

Georgia O'Keeffe, Ram's Head White
Hollyhock and Little Hills (1935)
What I find fascinating is the contrast between the traditional Scottish exterior, and the very spare western aesthetic in the ladies parlour. Nearly all the hotel spaces I have ever seen that have been designated for "ladies" or "women" have had been steeped in the European design tradition. Not this one. It looks like we're stepping into a Georgia O'Keeffe canvas. I have been unable to establish who did the interior design.

Ladies Parlour - after 1969?
Yet in this photo, the "ladies parlour" is set up as a rather dull and conventional Victorian dining room. If we are to judge from a photo taken during a dinner that was held there, this layout was associated with a later renovation--probably the 1969 restoration of the ladies parlour, dining room, and Wyoming Room. In addition, if you examine the first photo carefully, you'll see--despite efforts to "old up" the appearance--that there are modern pictures on the wall, newer air vents, and what appears to be recessed ceiling lights.

Given all the male diners, this was clearly not a womyn's space by this time. That's hardly a surprise though. We know from past research that nearly all lady-designated dining spaces of the late nineteenth century were constantly infested with male "escorts" and the like, who not infrequently outnumbered the women. In addition, ladies cafes, restaurants and the like often doubled as small banquet facilities for men and women. So they never had a very stable or consistent function, unlike, say, the men's smoking room or the men's grill.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

The Alice Austen House

The Alice Austin House
The Alice Austen House (also known as Clear Comfort) 

Location: Rosebank, Staten Island, New York, USA

Opened: Original one-room structure dates to 1600s

Closed: Home still exists, but in need of repairs, weatherproofing, and general preservation

I don't post too often on private homes as lost womyn's space, but I'll make an exception in this case. Besides, rules are meant to be broken, right?

Alice Austen (sitting) and Gertrude Tate
The Bowery Boys, an excellent blog on New York City history, can tell you all about Alice Austen (1866-1952), a pioneering and gifted photographer...and a sister. Alice lived in this home for years with her partner Gertrude Tate, a Brooklyn school teacher and dance instructor.

Yes, yet another lesbian power couple named Alice and Gertrude.

Rather than repeat what the Boys said--or steal all their photographs--I'll just urge you to visit them.

There's a second reason you need to visit the Bowery Boys website. This home is a nominee in the Partners for Preservation initiative, which is awarding preservation funding for eligible properties in the New York City area. Winners are selected by popular vote, so if you feel moved to save Alice and Gertrude's home, go to the Boys site (or straight to the Partners site) and VOTE! You only have a few days left! And you can vote once every day! Do your part to save a historical womyn's space!

Friday, May 11, 2012

Women's Writing Room, Gasparella Inn

Women's Writing Room, Gasparella Inn (1920s)
Women's Writing Room, Gasparella Inn

Location: 500 Palm Avenue, Boca Grande, Florida, USA

Opened: 1913

Closed: Still open, though women's writing room is presumably long gone and adapted to some other purpose

The Gasparella Inn, located on a small barrier reef island, is one of the last of the classic Gulf Coast resorts, the kind of place where moneyed Northerners--especially the Boston bluebloods--used to winter over in style. A general history of the place can be found at the Gasparella Inn website.

In a development that is pretty unusual for Florida, planned growth and historic preservation efforts have been quite successful here, so the area still retains much of its turn-of-the-century charm. In addition, the Inn still carries on many of its old world traditions, like afternoon tea during Social Season.

Gasparella Inn
It appears that the initial hotel was fairly modest in size, so within two years the space was doubled. Hettie Rhoda Meade (1881-1973), a New York interior designer, was hired to decorate the interior. I suspect the women's writing room probably dates from this period. Meade certainly succeeded in creating a very warm, cozy, and attractive womyn's writing space, even if its use was limited to the WASP aristocracy.

Common Room and Housemother's Suite, Plant House (1919)

It turns out that this was not the only womyn's space that Meade designed. She is also credited with decorating and furnishing Plant House, a residential hall at the Connecticut College for Women, also in 1915. (The Connecticut College for Women, founded in 1911, began admitting men in 1969. It is now known as Connecticut College.) Here's how that project was described:

The living room on the ground floor will be furnished in early English style. Silver gray and blue will be the prevailing tones of the sleeping rooms on the first floor, soft grays and browns on the second and varying shades of gray on the third. The effect will be subdued and harmonious.

Some of Meade's other commissions include the west lounge (including the writing room) at the Belleview Hotel in Belair, Florida ; the new music and card rooms at the Griswold Hotel at Eastern Point, Groton, Connecticut; the Shinnecosset Country Club, also in Groton; and the Buckwood Inn (now the Shawnee Inn), in Shawnee on Delaware, Pennsylvania. Meade was also a recognized collector, dealer, and expert in Japanese prints, and a published author (Furnishing the Small Home). Here are some interesting, if random, quotes from that work:

...the decorative value of books en masse can not be overestimated.

Even one flower or growing bit of green in a room is of inestimable value, decoratively and spiritually....

An interesting painting or a colorful hanging has its use, for beauty has its utilitarian as well as its ethical value.

I heartily agree with all the above.

There is not a lot about Hettie Rhoda Meade's life, other than basic genealogy data. She was born in Oswego, New York on November 5, 1881, the daughter of John Oliphant Meade (1850-1917) and Alice Mary Littlefield (1860-1926). Hettie was the second born, just one year after her sister Helen. By 1900, the family was living in Brooklyn with the maternal grandparents, which suggests a reversal in fortune. Yet by 1906, Hettie had established a business for herself as a dealer in Japanese prints and "various Japanese art works" with a gallery at 40 Morningside Drive.

Then there seems to have been some sort of crisis, as by 1910, she is living back in Oswego as a boarder in the home of Albert and Alice Radcliffe. But by 1915, she's back in New York with her career going like blazes. In fact, she is doing well enough to have at least one assistant in her employ, Miss Ruth M. Cutler. By 1920, Hettie is advertising  her business in "interior furnishings and antiques" at 12 West 40th Street.

It appears that Hettie never married and lived by herself, as the 1920 Census reports that she was living alone in Manhattan. That same year, she travelled to Antwerp, Belgium aboard the Finland which suggests that she was doing well financially. Throughout the 1920s and 30s, her residence is reported as 4 West 40th Street. But by the war years, she had moved to 114 East 81st Street, with her business at 225 East 57th Street. By 1960, she had moved to 27 West 85th Street. Then she sort of drops off the radar.

She died in February 1973 at the age of 91.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Women's Reading Room, Carnegie Library and Music Hall

Women's Reading Room, Carnegie Library
and Music Hall (1900)
Women's Reading Room, Carnegie Library and Music Hall

Location: 5 Allegheny Square, Allegheny City, Pennsylvania, USA (since 1907, the North Side of Pittsburgh)

Opened: February 20, 1890

Closed: Building still exists, though no longer serves as a library 

What a gorgeous and innovative space! (Though I'm not sure I could focus on a book here; I'd be groovin' on the amazing arches.) The building was designed and built by Smithmeyer and Pelz, who were also the architects for the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C.
Carnegie Library in Allegheny City

This particular library is credited with being the first tax-supported public library in the U.S. to be gifted by Andrew Carnegie, the famous steel baron and philanthropist. Thousand of libraries around the world were built under his largesse.

But not under his largesse alone. The foundation of this fortune was built on the backs of Carnegie's steel workers and their families--the people who struggled mightily to establish unions and the right to collective bargaining, often at great cost. During the bloody 1892 strike at Carnegie Steel's Homestead, Pennysylvania plant, seven workers were killed and hundreds were injured by hired Pinkerton thugs. But that's another story for another day.

In April 2006, just after the library had closed for the evening, a bolt of lightening hit the top of the clock tower. Neighbors said it sounded like a bomb blast.  Ann Belser of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette describes the resultant scene:

The granite, urn-shaped finial atop the clock tower was knocked through the roof, cracking pipes in the attic and sending water cascading down the stairs.

Another large piece of granite fell through the attic into the second-floor lecture hall, taking a steel beam and part of the ventilation system with it. The granite slab missed a Steinway & Sons baby-grand piano in the room by a few feet.

In addition to the damage to the lecture hall, part of the ceiling of the first-floor children's room also fell, dropping plaster onto the low bookshelves and little chairs in the room.

Other pieces of granite from the tower fell onto the lawn. A large, decorative rock scroll fell onto the sidewalk that separates the library from the Pittsburgh Children's Museum in Allegheny Center.

Library officials decided--not without controversy--that a new library should be constructed, which was completed in August 2009. Repairs were made to the old building, which now houses a senior center in the basement. But most of the space is empty.

As to the fate of the old Women's Reading Room? I have no idea.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Ladies Restroom and Lounge, Pan Am Boeing 377 Stratocruiser

Ladies Restroom and Lounge, Pan Am
Boeing 377 Stratocruiser
Ladies Restroom and Lounge, Pan Am Boeing 377 Stratocruiser

Opened: First flight on July 8, 1947

Closed: Retired 1963

From the Virtual Pan Am Museum. Yes, in the days before deregulation, cost-cutting, CEO packages in the mega-millions, and security theater, air travel was different.

The Stratocruiser's basic mechanical design was derived from a World War II troop transport plane, but the end product was far more upscale. This plane had a double-decker physical layout, with the passenger seating on the top level, and a bar and lounge (or lounges in this case) on the bottom level. Only 56 of these planes were built for the commercial airline industry.

The spaciousness of the ladies restroom and lounge is perhaps the most shocking first impression for the contemporary air traveler. The second is that there was any space on board just for women at all. This is almost unheard of these days, though in the last year or so, several Asian carriers, including Korean Air and All Nippon, have introduced women-only toilets on some services.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Ladies' Lounge, Hotel Warwick

Hotel Warwick
Ladies' Lounge, Hotel Warwick

Location: 24th Street and West Avenue, Newport News, Virginia, USA

Opened: April 11, 1883

Closed: Destroyed by fire, November 14, 1961

Given that the Hotel Warwick was built 13 years before the City of Newport News was incorporated, this was clearly designed as a holiday residential hotel--especially as one of its selling points was that it overlooked "the Greatest Harbor on the Atlantic Coast." Obviously, this hotel did not cater to the hoi polloi or the random travelling salesman. Rather, it was to serve as "an agreeable headquarters for business men and their families" along with other "guests from the leisurely classes." As further explained here,

The Hotel Warwick was the center of all major social events for several decades with its popularity peaking in the 1920s. In close proximity to the hotel was a pleasure pier on the James River, a casino, a bowling alley, and a park. Dances, baseball games, and all manner of resort activities made the hotel a popular destination for travelers to the area as well as local residents.

While perhaps not as stuffy as many big-city hotels, the Hotel Warwick was nonetheless a high-end establishment that still observed the formal gender divisions typical of other hotels of this type.

When we peek into the ladies' lounge, we see something that was obviously laid out with great care and elegance, yet it's as breezy and comfortable as your grandmother's veranda--assuming your grandmother was an upper-crust Victorian.

Ladies' Lounge, Hotel Warwick

If anything, it's the gentlemen's lounge that comes across as stodgy and suffocating, with all its "leather furnishings" and rather pretentious coat-of-arms over the fireplace.

This is one of those cases where I can happily imagine myself in the womyn's space, but not the men's. I can see myself contentedly flipping through a book in one of those wicker chairs, sipping a cool glass of sweet tea, or giggling with my lady friends before departing, arm-in-arm, for our early evening promenade down the pier. Oh, to be of the manner born.... However, the unpleasant reality for most of us is that our great-grandmothers were far more likely to be cooks or maids--rather than pampered guests--in such a place as this.
Gentlemen's Lounge, Hotel Warwick

Ladies Coffee Room, Aerated Bread Company (ABC) Cafe

Aerated Bread Company (ABC) Cafe, Ludgate Hill (1900)
Ladies Coffee Room, Aerated Bread Company (ABC) Cafe

Location: For this particular illustration: Ludgate Hill, London. But at its height (1923), ABC operated 150 branch shops in London and 250 tea shops.

Opened: ABC founded in England in 1862, and opened England's first public tea shop in 1864.

Closed: ABC ended as an independent operation in 1955, and ceased operations altogether in the 1980s.

This is a fascinating picture, especially if you're interested in the (male) domination of space. Who do we see depicted as the patrons of the Aerated Bread Company (ABC) Cafe? All men as best as I can make out. Who waits on the men? Seems to be all women. And where is the Ladies Coffee Room associated with this place? Apparently there is a sign above the central stairway (not terribly legible in this reproduction) that reads "Ladies Coffee Room Downstairs." But who do we see coming up the stairs? Two men!

Just a coincidence? Not likely, as we've been down this path before. 

Loyal Lost readers may recall how one New York lady complained of all the men taking up space in the so-called "ladies restaurants" that were typically upstairs--at least in New York--from the "main" (male) dining area. This was back in 1885. We shall requote her here:

True, almost every respectable restaurant bears the sign "ladies' restaurant up stairs" but upon entering we find the room filled with men, and we meekly subside into whatever vacant space we are allotted, running the gauntlet thereto between the domineering, quizzical or supercilious eyes of the nabobs, who glare at us as if we had invaded their domain instead of they ours, and for all this we are allowed to pay double the price charged in a regular business man's eating house.

In an earlier analysis of Chicago's Hotel Bismarck, we noted something similar. In illustrations of the "main" dining room, we observed only men, which was no real surprise. But even in the so-called ladies' cafe, we counted more men than women, and virtually all the women present were escorted or accompanied by men. Only two women appeared to be together, and they were standing (i.e. not sitting at a table) and situated way to the rear.

So it appears the pattern was basically the same, whether you were in London, New York, or Chicago. Can't say I am terribly shocked.

Except that I am, because tea shops like ABC were supposed to be the exception to the rule.

Aerated Bread Company was famous in its day, and not just for its innovative, yeast-free bread making. It was also well-known for the chain of public tea shops it operated across England.  We've discussed before the pivotal role that tea shops played in the history of womyn's space, as they were one of the first public places where a Victorian woman was permitted to dine outside the home without a male escort--and without risking her reputation. As such, they also provided valuable space for first-wave feminists and feminist organizing. In fact,  the ABC tea shops were specifically recommended as safe havens to delegates of the Congress of the International Council of Women held in London the week ending July 6, 1899. (The other recommended tea shop? The British Tea Table Company.)

However, evidence also suggests that the ABC shops were infamous even in their day for underpaying their women employees and refusing to allow any employee profit sharing arrangement. A daring shareholder who brought up the idea of raising wages for ABC's "shop girls" was "hissed down" in 1898--though profits were the highest they had been in at least five years. Those "shop girls" you see in the illustration? It's not altogether clear whether they had been allowed a meal all day, or if they had, whether they had to pay for it out of their meager wages.

On the face of it, this would seem to be one of those classic class conflicts between the so-called feminist elite and your average female working stiff.

Except that I go back to the illustration of the Ludgate Hill ABC Cafe...and then I'm not so convinced that ABC was really such a great place for middle-class women looking for a bit of noonday refreshment either.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Ladies' Rest Room, William O. McKay Company

LADIES' REST ROOM - Conveniently arranged for the
comfort of our patrons (1929)
Ladies' Rest Room, William O. McKay Company

Location: 609 Westlake Avenue, Seattle, Washington, USA

Opened: Established 1923

Closed: Occupied this location till 1980s

According to the University of Washington Libraries Special Collections Division, the William O. McKay Company operated a "Ford and Lincoln dealership and repair facility" at this address. It appears the ladies' rest room was literally for that, and not a place to take care of basic bodily functions. Seems like a lovely spot for the lady motorist to rest and refresh herself while awaiting the repairs on her old Tin Lizzie--and all while in the company of other ladies!

Certainly is much nicer than the waiting room where I bought my last car. Plastic molded chairs, harsh fluorescent lighting, ancient magazines with coffee stains, dirty linoleum--all of which is standard faire these days unless you go to a luxury dealership.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Die Frauenschule (School for Wives)

Women musicians in Augsburg (1591)
Die Frauenschule (School for Wives)

Location: Augsburg, Germany

Opened: 1629

Closed: In early 1930s, or maybe destroyed during wartime bombings?

This peculiar little story was picked up (with some variation) by at least three American newspapers back in 1929: the Spokane Daily Chronicle (November 20) the Reading Eagle (November 9), and the Milwaukee Journal (December 19). Below is the version from the Reading Eagle.

Historic Augsburg

Augsburg, Germany, Nov. 9 (AP).--That a saloon for women only existed as far back as three centuries ago is recalled by the tercentenary held here in the historic tavern, "The Wives' School."

The tavern derives its name from the fact that the wives of the butchers belonging to the Augburg's Meat Market-men's guild met here and conducted what the men derisively called "school."

That is, they gossiped as it is assumed that school children will gossip. That in itself would probably not have made the men sore. What they particularly disliked was that the women tolerated no mere male at this tavern. It was run by and for women.

The favorite drink of the butchers' wives was a red wine they named "lamb's blood."

Although 300 years old, the tavern did not always have the name of "Wives' School." From 1629 to 1621 it was known as "The Golden ABC," so named because the butchers' wives would begin with the first letter of the alphabet and gossip about every fellow citizen until "Z" had been reached.

In those days it was a beer saloon. With the change to a wine tavern in 1651 also came the change in name.

Most of the butchers' wives helped their husbands in the municipal market hall near by.

I have yet to find any contemporary Augsburg travel or tourist site that mentions this place. So I'm inclined to think that it probably didn't survive the Second World War.