Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Grace Dodge Hotel

Grace Dodge Hotel (1920s)
Grace Dodge Hotel

Location: North Capital and E Streets, Washington, DC, USA

Opened: October 1921

Closed: Hotel began admitting men as guests around 1924. Hotel demolished in 1972.

The Grace Dodge Hotel was built as a women-only hotel by the National Board of Young Women's Christian Associations. The intention was to create housing for women workers who had flocked to Washington, DC during World War I. But as it turned out, the hotel was not completed until after the war was over. 

The hotel was named after Grace Hoadley Dodge (1856-1914), who was elected as the first president of the Board in 1906. The 8-story, 376-room hotel finally opened in October 1921 under the leadership of Abby Aldrich Rockefeller (1874-1948). 

(As something of a side note, it turns out that Abby Rockefeller was a great booster of womyn's space. As the New York Times reported in 1922, "She hopes to live to see the day when every big city has a woman's hotel." She informed the Times that "If women can go down the corridor in their kimonos knowing they will not meet a man, it will add to their sense of freedom and comfort.")

John DeFerrari has written one of the more extensive descriptions of the Grace Dodge Hotel:

 WCTU members tour the Grace Dodge Hotel
(March 1922)
Designed by New York architect Duncan Candler (1873-1949), the Grace Dodge was stately and elegant but restrained in d├ęcor. It was finished in tan brick with limestone trim and featured an enormous three-story tall entrance-way with a neoclassical pediment broken by third-story windows.   In contrast withor perhaps to complementits other facilities that aimed to help disadvantaged young women, the Grace Dodge Hotel was conceived from the start as a for-profit enterprise, intended to be managed and operated by an entirely female staff.   It offered professional women traveling alone to the Capital a top-notch hotel experience, free from the harassment by men that they would undoubtedly suffer anywhere else. As summarized in The Washington Post,
The Grace Dodge Hotel, as it is to be called in honor of the woman who did so much for her sex, will have all the useful and attractive features that any hotel has, excepting men, and the housing committee of the "Y," of which Mrs. John D. Rockefeller, Jr., is chairman, guarantees that the staff and working force of women will be every bit as efficient and courteous as the best masculine staff could be. And the hotel has some conveniences that no other public stopping-place has offered to date.

Ad for Grace Dodge Hotel (1923)
There are special suites for mothers, with heaters for baby's milk, and cribs constructed on sanitary principles. There will be a nurse on call, to be paid for by the hour. There are valeting rooms where the woman who wants her tumbled blouse laundered in a hurry can slip in and do it herself, at the cost of a small sum for the use of the tubs and electric iron. There are shampoo basins, and the guest may wash her own hair. There are vanity parlors for those who care about their complexions, and there is to be an information service where the visitor can find out what debate is on in the House of Representatives and what the Senate is doing about that bill she is interested in....
Nevertheless, as we have often seen with women's hotels, the restaurant and lounge on the first floor were open to men. In fact, it is reported that these facilities were reserved at least as often by organized groups of men as by women (though Washington men certainly didn't lack for facilities of their own).

After just three years, the women-only policy was abandoned. When the hotel was sold in the mid-1940s, it was renamed the Dodge Hotel, which of course just further stripped it of its female origins.

It's interesting that when the hotel was still owned by the YWCA and managed by Mary A. Lindsley (1876-1949), the hotel paid much higher wages than comparable hotels in the area. Lindsley was apparently able to pull this off by running a tight ship with "efficient, by-the-book, economical operations." She ardently believed that no employees (i.e. management) should have special privileges.

But after the hotel fell into the hands of "a group of private investors," with a (male?) former manager from the Waldorf-Astoria hired to run the place," hotel service and food workers voted to strike over poor wages and working conditions, a predicament that surely would never have arisen under Mary Lindsley and the YWCA."

This isn't to say that the Grace Dodge Hotel was progressive in every way. Racial discrimination at the hotel is discussed in The Women and the Warriors (1995) by Carrie A. Foster. 

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