Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Woman's Hotel

Woman's Hotel (1917)

Woman's Hotel

Location: 122 Hennepin Avenue, Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA--with subsequent moves thereafter

Opened: May 1916

Closed: 1935

According to the WCA Foundation (formerly the Women's Christian Association of Minneapolis), the WCA opened their first boarding facility for women in 1874--just one year after the group's founding. They rapidly acquired other residences, and by the 1920s, more than 1,000 female boarders lived in a dozen different WCA residences.

As historian Lynn Weiner has documented, the Women's Christian Association and other organizations involved in the "boarding club movement" were created in response to a critical social need. By the turn of the century, there were over 400,000 single women working and living away from their families in America's cities. These women were effectively trapped between the desperately low "pin money" wages that were paid to them as women and high urban housing costs, especially among the "better class" boarding houses. Social reformers feared--and not without cause--that these working women would drift into prostitution or other forms of exploitation or "vice" without guidance and a structured and affordable home.

The Woman's Hotel opened in 1916--one of the first of its kind in the United States--and charged 50 cents a night to women travelers. Adult men were not permitted to cross the threshold of the Woman's Hotel. As Weiner further informs us,

More than 4,500 women and children patronized it in nine months in 1916; from 1922 through 1935, the hotel provided almost 480,000 nights of lodging to women looking for work or just passing through the city. The hotel's location changed through the years. In 1922 it moved to the eleventh floor of the St. James Hotel, 12 North Second Street, and in 1929 opened its last home at 1015 Marquette Avenue. It was discontinued in 1935.

More detail about the first Woman's Hotel (on Hennepin Avenue) is provided in this article from the Milwaukee Journal, April 21, 1919:


Minneapolis is the one city in the United States west of New York that maintains a hotel for transient women. The Woman's hotel, 122 Hennepin-av, operated by the Woman's christian association, provides a room at a nominal sum. 
Matron talking to guests in lobby of Woman's Hotel (1918)

Here women come who are alone and passing through the city. Many of these do not want to go to the larger hotels. By far the greater percentage of persons staying at the "women only" hotel are those coming to the city for employment. Many are girls who come with little money and no knowledge of where they can obtain work. They are usually discovered by the traveler's aids in stations, and sent direct to the Woman's hotel. They are given a room, and are guided to employment agencies.

Women seated in the parlor of the Women's Hotel (1918)
Recently a girl seeking work went to the hotel. After two days her money was gone. She was given food and lodging. At last she confessed she had run away from a good home because she wanted to be in the city. Her family was communicated with, and her father took her home.

The Woman's hotel is one of the few hotels in the city that were judged 100 percent, according to the report of the state hotel inspection department. Each bed is in a compartment by itself. Ventilation is said to be excellent.

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