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.

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