The banking career of Lillian G. Jones was uncommon in many ways.
It started in 1910, when Jones took a job as a stenographer at the New York branch of the National Bank of Cuba. She worked her way up, becoming an expert in foreign exchange. This was a critical area for the bank because of its deep involvement in the Cuban sugar trade. A woman with this kind of expertise was rare. Many of the women who went into banking in the late nineteen-teens were hired—at least in part—because of their extensive social networks; they were then taught the necessary banking skills.
Jones’s work was rewarded when, in May 1916, she was appointed assistant cashier of the Bank of Cuba of New York. (It was the same bank, but renamed to reflect it becoming a state bank). Jones, then in her mid-20s, was one of the country’s earliest female bank executives.
Two years later, newspapers across the country noted how “Wall Street precedence was shattered” when Lillian Jones was appointed the cashier of the bank. The job opening was created when the bank’s cashier, Charles F. Plarre, was called to World War I military duty in July 1918. The New York Tribune noted how the even “the more important” financial posts were being filled by women because of the war. The Associated Press said she was first woman in New York to hold the cashier’s position.
As cashier, Jones was responsible for receiving and paying out the bank’s money, collecting and paying its debts, receiving and transferring its commercial securities, and overseeing the work of assistant cashiers, auditors and accountants, and tellers. The position of cashier is similar to the modern position of controller (comptroller).
Jones’s tenure as cashier was temporary. The war ended in November 1918; Plarre was discharged in January and returned to the bank as cashier shortly thereafter. Jones was again assistant cashier. Her achievement was valued by the bank for in all of its ads her name and title, L. G. Jones, Assistant Cashier, are listed with the president, vice president, and cashier. She also showed that women were capable of so much more than the standard of the day assumed.
Jones’s career was not long. Bank of Cuba of New York closed in 1921 after a precipitous drop in sugar prices caused the failure of its parent, the National Bank of Cuba. She married in 1923. It’s possible that she continued to apply her skills behind the scenes to her husband’s business (real estate), like countless other wives who have worked unacknowledged.
Singer, songwriter, and producer Madonna has been called the “Queen of Pop” and is one of the best-selling female recording artists of all time. The achievements of her long—and still active—career did not help her when her 2015 single, “Living for Love” was rejected for airplay by BBC Radio 1. The reason? The station is working to attract listeners in the age 15-30 demographic. “The vast majority of people who like Madonna, who like her music now, are over 30 and frankly, we’ve moved on from Madonna,” the head of music for BBC1 explained.
One of the hazards of being a popular artist is the loss of popularity, real or imagined. Music distribution companies and promoters make business decisions based on market popularity. Slow sales can mean lost recording contracts and canceled tours, and put a career in the doldrums—or worse—leaving the artists struggling to get their music out to their fans.
While this scenario is very unlikely to describe Madonna’s future, it does describe the careers of thousands of recording artists of the 20th century, especially mid-century when pop music “moved on,” shifting from big band jazz to rock-and-roll. Some recording artists, including pianist Marian McPartland, dealt with the problem by founding a label and signing themselves.
“Marian McPartland has three strikes against her,” wrote noted jazz critic Leonard Feather, “she’s English, white, and a woman.” In spite of these “liabilities,” McPartland, who moved to the US after World War II, created a career as a jazz soloist, bandleader, composer, writer, radio host, and headed her own record business, Halcyon.
Halcyon Records was formed in 1968. McPartland’s recording contract with Capitol Records had ended and she was looking for alternatives. Twenty years before, she and her husband, cornetist Jimmy McPartland, had started a small record company, Unison, to release their work, so the process of producing and marketing was not entirely new to her.
Right from Halcyon’s start, McPartland had several objectives, according to biographer Clare Hansson: “to record herself with artistic freedom, retain executive control over her recorded output, and to record other musicians who were major jazz talents yet being ignored by record companies.” Retaining control over output was especially important to McPartland. “I think the thing that annoyed me the most was seeing albums recorded for the big companies, which, if they didn’t sell immediately, would be quickly taken out of the catalog,” she told an interviewer in 1978. Artistic control and steady sales mattered more to McPartland.
Initially McPartland had two partners, Sherman Fairchild and Hank O’Neal. According to McPartland biographer Paul de Barros, all three put up $500 to give the company working capital and split management and production duties according to their expertise. Fairchild, a very successful inventor and entrepreneur, provided his home recording studio plus administrative support for the venture and an employee to handle distribution (which was to be primarily mail order). O’Neal engineered the recordings. McPartland selected music, worked on album cover design and often wrote the liner notes. She also came up with the Halcyon name and worked with a friend to design the logo. Halcyon’s first recording, Interplay, featuring McPartland with bassist Linc Millimen, was released in 1969 and was praised by jazz critics. Over the next three years Halcyon released several more albums. The partnership ended with Fairchild’s death and O’Neal forming a new recording company, Chiaroscuro. McPartland became the sole owner of Halcyon.
As every small business owner knows, ownership means responsibility. For McPartland that meant she was now responsible for production duties formerly split with two others, plus all the expenses for creating the albums. She rented recording studios and hired engineers in addition to selecting music and musicians to record. She contracted for the manufacturing of the LPs, usually pressing one thousand copies at a time, and arranged for them to warehoused, often in her own home (she bought a big house in the New York City suburbs for this purpose). She handled publicity—getting review copies to critics and deejays to encourage airplay on radio stations—and even invested in a small amount of advertising, running ads in The New Yorker, in 1976 and 1977. She worked out distribution agreements with record stores in the New York City area and, in later years, in Europe, and made sure that orders from individuals and retail outlets were filled, too, sometimes relying on neighbors to do the work when she was traveling. She was the collection agency when retailers were late with payments. McPartland worked these tasks in around her performances, which themselves were a major source of record sales. On the road, she shipped cartons of records to her destination.
McPartland held true to her objectives. Her solo recordings on Halcyon—some critically acclaimed—documented her growth and artistic maturity. She recorded talented jazz musicians who were being passed over by the big record companies. Halcyon released albums of Marian performing with Teddy Wilson, Earl Hines, Joe Venuti, and her ex-husband, Jimmy McPartland, as well as solo albums by Dave McKenna and Jimmy Rowles. She even re-released on Halcyon music that the McPartlands recorded in 1948 and 1949 for their Unison label, illustrating her commitment to preserve and manage recordings, including the eighteen albums that ultimately made up Halcyon’s catalog. She felt keenly the art that was lost when recordings—old or contemporary—were no longer available. “It makes it all the more important to have a catalog and keep the catalog up. You know, I wouldn’t take anything out. I still get a number of orders on the first of them. They all sell slow and steady all the time,” she said in 1978. Critics lamented that Halcyon did not have broad distribution throughout the country.
Halcyon Records did not make McPartland rich. It was one revenue stream (sometimes a trickle) in a career that included performing, composing, teaching, and (starting in 1979) a radio program, Piano Jazz, broadcast on National Public Radio. McPartland recorded for other labels during the time she was running Halcyon, including three albums for Tony Bennett’s label, Improv (Bennett had co-founded his own label in 1975). Running Halcyon did have its rewards. “Even if I lost lots of money out of my own pocket, always having a new record is a form of publicity. And it’s very satisfying” she explained in a 1974 interview.
Today many Halcyon recordings are available through Concord Music Group. Thanks to electronic media, McPartland’s fans—like Madonna’s—can see music videos on YouTube and hear her music via radio and music streaming services.
Here’s to the crazy ones. The rebels. The troublemakers. The ones who see things differently. While some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius. Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do.
Apple’s Think Different advertising campaign (1997-2002), used those words to describe 20th century icons—Einstein, Gandhi, Martha Graham, and Martin Luther King, Jr.—whose images were the other integral piece of the television and print ads. Two of the visionaries in this series were business leaders—Richard Branson (founder Virgin Records, Virgin Atlantic Airways, etc.) and Ted Turner (founder CNN and TBS).
Businesswoman Josephine A. Roche was not part of Apple’s campaign but the ads’ description fits her, particularly when she took over the Rocky Mountain Fuel Company and changed its management policies.
Forty-year-old Josephine Roche took her seat in the boardroom after inheriting 40% of the Colorado-based coal mining company’s stock in 1927. She knew her positions on pressing issues differed from those of the company’s other directors and her late father, the company’s former president. She’d been educated at Vassar College and Columbia University and, in her professional life, had instituted progressive policies within organizations where she worked as an administrator: the US Foreign Language Information Service, the editorial division of the US Department of Labor’s Children’s Bureau, and the Denver Juvenile Court System. She expected to be seen as a troublemaker by her boardroom colleagues.
Disputes over working conditions and wages had caused years of labor-management conflicts for all of Colorado’s coal mining businesses. Seen from today, management’s treatment of labor is harsh and unfair. Miners’ wages and hours fluctuated dramatically and they were not paid for time that was integral to the operation but not “mining,” such as loading coal or building support structures. Pay raises frequently were followed by cuts that zeroed the increase. Often miners were paid not in cash but in scrip, which only had value at the company store. Inside the mine, there was spotty compliance with safety and ventilation regulations. Complainers faced instant job loss. These issues, unresolved for decades, led employees to call strikes and for unionization. Management believed in their inalienable right to control their property (i.e., the business). They chose to quash dissent, ruthlessly and unscrupulously, using their economic power to support their business practices, no matter the cost in dollars or lives.
Josephine Roche saw things differently. She believed the company should be managed for the benefit of all stakeholders—employees, customers, managers, and investors—not exclusively for those controlling the capital. She was sympathetic to workers’ demand for union representation because she’d witnessed their deplorable living and working conditions. Her vision for RMFC was farsighted and progressively capitalistic: She believed the company could both make money and improve the lives of her workers and their families.
In order to realize her vision, Roche first needed a majority of stockholders supporting her. According to biographer Robyn Muncy, Roche contacted non-board investors and received enough authorizations (proxies) to fire the current board of directors and re-build it. The president of RMFC was so incensed that he offered to sell his shares to Roche. She borrowed $35,000, completed the deal, and became RMFC’s controlling stockholder.
Roche installed progressive managers to oversee the business, and named herself as vice president (within a few years she became president). She then invited her workers to organize and choose their own representatives for negotiations with management. They chose the United Mine Workers and in the summer of 1928 Roche signed the labor contract she and the union had negotiated. Its provisions—an eight-hour day and six-day work week at $7 per day (the highest coal mining wage in the state), as well as other benefits—won her increased productivity, labor peace, and the support and gratitude of her employees. She needed it.
Her competitors viewed her as a “dangerous industrial radical” according to TIME magazine and started a price war. These coal operators, including Colorado’s largest, the Rockefeller–owned Colorado Fuel and Iron Corp., dropped prices 50 to 75 cents per ton so RMFC’s higher labor costs put the company at a big disadvantage. Some operators gave secret rebates to customers. The predatory practices were designed to force RMFC into bankruptcy and rid the industry of unions.
Roche fought back. She met the competition on price, then, to supplement the loss of income, raised money privately. Six hundred of her workers, according to TIME, voluntarily voted to take only half their wages for three months, thus loaning the company about $80,000. The union-led “Buy from Josephine” campaign to increase sales to households, merchants and manufacturers was pumped up. The United Mine Workers loaned her money, too.
Rocky Mountain Fuel Company hung on, even as the Great Depression added more economic hardship and the newly developed natural gas industry competed for coal customers. Roche was forced to lower wages to $5.25 a day in 1932 but opened company property to farming and provided credit at the company store to help offset the cuts. That same year, the New York Times reported that the company’s costs for digging a ton of coal had steadily declined since the 1928 contract took effect and its sales increased. The company was making money because of the joint efforts of management and labor. In 1935, a nationwide poll of 500 business executives named her the top US businesswoman. By then, all the other Colorado coal mines were unionized.
Josephine Roche was crazy enough to think she could change the world. And she did.
“A Woman Unravels an Industrial Knot,” by Louis Stark, New York Times, February 7, 1932
Restless Reformer: Josephine Roche and Progressivism in Twentieth Century America by Robyn Muncy
A Wide-Awake Woman: Josephine Roche in the Era of Reform by Elinor McGinn
Regulating Danger: The Struggle for Mine Safety in the Rocky Mountain Coal Industry by James Whiteside
In the 1890s, as today, stores were often packed with shoppers in the days leading up to Christmas, lured by sale prices and special merchandise. At that time, however, the shopping season only spanned the few weeks before the holiday. Merchants often did not have all their holiday merchandise available until mid-December. Shoppers waited until a few days before Christmas—and especially Christmas Eve—to make their selections and have them packaged and sent to the recipient, with delivery expected before Christmas. This consumer behavior put tremendous pressure on retail employees, and interfered with their own holiday celebrations.
It took a concerted social movement to make store management change their policies and for consumers to buy-in. Ironically the change has led to Black Friday and shopping madness on Thanksgiving Day. But the story of that social movement also illustrates what needs to happen in our own time to cause change for modern workers.
The movement was started by a group of middle- and upper-class women interested in changing the working conditions of women and children with jobs in retailing. At the time there was no minimum wage, no maximum number of hours to the work day or week (and, therefore, no overtime compensation), and no limits on child labor. While some labor organizers were working to improve conditions through unionization, Josephine Shaw Lowell, Maud Nathan, and other like-minded women believed in another strategy—the power of the purse. They reasoned that consumer demand dictated the policies of employers and, therefore, consumer demand could force change to those policies. In 1891, these women organized themselves into the Consumers’ League of the City of New York (CLCNY).
Maud Nathan, who became president of the group in 1896, explained one tactic:
The majority of employers are virtually helpless to maintain a high standard as to hours, wages and working conditions under the stress of competition, unless sustained by the cooperation of consumers.
A woman who joins our league agrees to shop early in the day. She does not insist that her goods shall be delivered on the same day, declining to receive anything after 6 pm. This enables the delivery men and errand boys to finish their labors early. A member of our league does her Christmas-shopping early. She avoids shopping in the evening and on Saturday afternoons. She does not even ring up the grocer or the butcher by telephone on Saturday afternoons and order goods.
Another tactic used by CLCNY was to create and publicize a list of merchants who met the league’s criteria for fair working conditions; league members and sympathetic consumers (who may have seen it in the newspapers) would then patronize those businesses. The league actively investigated conditions by visiting stores, interviewing managers, and separately seeking verification or contradiction from workers. The list was called the White List for it was the opposite of blacklisting merchants. Eleven retailers, including Lord & Taylor, were on the league’s first White List in 1891. Four years later there were 31 including John Wanamaker, Lord & Taylor, Bloomingdale’s, and F.A.O. Schwarz.
As the CLCNY investigated and reported on workplace conditions, they realized the particular burden the Christmas holiday, particularly Christmas Eve shopping, placed on workers. After a twelve- or fourteen-hour selling day, shelves needed to be restocked, goods packaged for delivery, and deliveries made (gifts were almost never sent early at this time), keeping employees—including children—working far into the night.
In typical league fashion, Maud Nathan’s CLCNY fashioned a multipronged approach, reaching out to retailers and consumers. It encouraged White List merchants to close early on Christmas Eve. For instance, eight days before Christmas 1898, White-List-member Wanamaker’s started announcing in its holiday advertising that it would close early (at 7 pm instead of 10 pm) on Christmas Eve. The next year, Wanamaker’s ran an ad explicitly stating that they were closing early on Christmas Eve so “the thousands of us who will have helped with your good Christmas can get ready for our own.”
The league also discouraged evening hours during the Christmas shopping season and encouraged merchants to display all holiday merchandise earlier than the few weeks just before Christmas, as was the custom, so shoppers could make their selections early. “We found that just as soon as demand for these gifts was made, supply was forthcoming,” Nathan wrote in her book on the league, Story of an Epoch-Making Movement.
Finally, CLCNY, in its annual appeal to members and supporters, urged them to shop early at the White List stores.
Over the next decade these tactics became a campaign to promote early Christmas shopping.
The league amended its fairness standards to cover the evening hours. To comply, a merchant must “not remain open after 7 pm more than four evenings between December 15th and December 25th,” and not remain open “later than 9 o’clock on these four evenings.” The White List was divided into two categories: “Stores not open in the evening before Christmas” and “Stores open in the evening before Christmas” (in 1908, there were 34 stores closed in the evening compared to 14 open). Members pledged to shop early. The White List was printed in newspapers, magazines, and theater programs.
Nathan made speeches, gave interviews, wrote opinion pieces and letters to the editor. She set up a Committee on Arousing Public Sentiment. They produced thousands of flyers, posters, letters, and postcards with the appeal to shop early. These were distributed through churches and synagogues (some 15,000 in 1907 alone), in schools and clubs. At CLCNY’s urging, they were also used as talking points by clergy and teachers. Women’s clubs signed pledge cards to complete shopping before December 15th. In 1909, from November 30th to December 14th, a 25×30 foot banner was hung over 23rd St. between 5th and 6th Avenues. It read Do your Christmas shopping before December 15th to help the workers in the shops and factories. [signed] Consumers League of the City of New York.
The movement and the Consumers’ League spread nationwide. Habits changed. Merchants displayed their goods in November and, in some cases, October. CLCNY reported proudly in 1906 that “one merchant sent notices in October to all of his charge customers, informing them that his full Christmas stock would be on exhibition by October 29th , and that selected goods would be reserved for later delivery if purchased before December 10th.”
In her memoir, Maud Nathan wrote with pride “No longer do shoppers feel that they must wait until the hurried last days before the holiday. . . .Each year holiday goods are displayed earlier and earlier to meet an ever-increasingly early demand.” If she was here today, she would protest shopping hours on Thanksgiving Day. Or maybe start another movement.
Bernice Fitz-Gibbon was the head of advertising and publicity at New York’s Gimbels department store in the 1940s and early 50s. Her policy was to only hire Phi Beta Kappas for copywriting jobs.
She wrote in her book Macy’s, Gimbels, and Me:
At Gimbels, we offered hard work, stern training, challenge and opportunity, and, ultimately, some pretty handsome cash rewards. But first, training and work. We wanted hustlers and scramblers, the type that takes on tough problems for fun.
There are many people like that, and they don’t have to have college degrees. College degrees do not guarantee brilliance. . . . It is true, however, that college does provide some kind of rough sorting system for brains. It was on the latter theory that we adopted our recruiting policy.
Fitz-Gibbon summed up her hiring policy quoting an old slogan for Campbell’s Soup “To make the best begin with the best . . .”
Her method comes to mind because of the report “Moving the Goalposts,” recently published by the labor analytics firm Burning Glass Technologies. The firm found that an increasing number of employers demand a bachelor’s degree for jobs that previously did not require it. Burning Glass reached its conclusions by comparing “the education levels of workers currently employed in an occupation – a measure of past employer preferences – with the education levels employers are currently demanding for the same occupation.”
Why the change? The report says there are two common explanations.
Some jobs have become more complex and require more skills.
Employers are being more selective, favoring more highly educated workers.
The hiring practices of Bernice Fitz-Gibbon fit precisely under explanation #2.
Sources Macy’s, Gimbels, and Me: How to Earn $90,000 a Year in Retail Advertising by Bernice Fitz-Gibbon (Simon and Schuster, 1967)
When we want a cup or a package of tea, we can choose from varieties that come from all over the world, like white tea from China—once served to the emperor—or kukicha green tea from Japan. Tea buyers shop throughout the world for the flavors and fragrances that will entice and satisfy customers.
Like her modern counterparts, Susan A. King searched abroad for high-quality, distinctive tea when she and Ellen Louise Demorest went into the business. In 1870, King took the very unusual step of traveling unescorted to Japan and China.
The pair brewed a plan to import tea from Asia and sell it wholesale to female-operated shops around the country. The name of their business, the Woman’s Tea Company, was literal: Demorest served as president, and King served as treasurer. All the stockholders and directors were female. The company had $500,000 in capital, an enormous sum. Both King and Demorest had made fortunes in other industries; this venture was a way for them to help other women gain financial security and the independence that accompanies it.
King and Demorest were well-known names in New York which allowed the plan to coalesce quickly. Demorest and her husband ran one of the top fashion businesses. Her tissue-paper patterns, used by home sewers, sold in shops across the country and in the Demorests’ own emporium in New York City. They also published a magazine, Demorest’s Monthly Magazine and Mme. Demorest’s Mirror of Fashions. Their nationwide connections with merchants and shopkeepers, as well as ads and articles in the magazine, were great resources for introducing and promoting the company and its tea to customers and vendors.
Susan King was a successful New York City real estate investor. She was a woman skilled in negotiation and finance—which she would need in the import business. For expert advice on shipping, King, no doubt, turned to her brother-in-law, a sea captain named Frederick Gorham.
In the middle of 1870, just as newspapers were publishing the first accounts of the Woman’s Tea Company, King’s plans were well underway. She secured letters of introduction and credit from New York banking and merchant companies to their overseas offices. She then crossed the country to San Francisco, arriving in July. There she did the bulk of her banking, obtaining letters of credit from the Bank of California to the Oriental Bank Corporation, Asia’s dominant financial institution. On August 1, 1870, fifty-three year old Susan King departed on the steamship Great Republic for Yokohama, Japan.
Arriving about three weeks later, she set to work. She met exporters headquartered in the port and sampled teas. She met with the American ambassador as well as Sir Harry Smith Parkes, the British ambassador, who had long experience in the region. “The English Ambassador said it wouldn’t be safe for me to go out in the country, and wanted me to take an escort. But I said what would anybody want with an old woman like me?” King told a correspondent for the Boston Post. Against Parkes’ advice, King hired locals to take her into the countryside to visit growers and sample their teas—she wanted to make an informed decision about the product that her company would sell. King then sailed to China and, again, hired natives to take her to growers. She later told reporters that she’d been farther into China’s interior than any other Westerners, including missionaries.
In China, King found pure, sun-dried leaves that the Woman’s Tea Company marketed as Mandarin Tea. “I got three hundred tons,” she told the Boston Post. In April 1871, the merchant ship Adelaide Carleton, carrying a cargo of tea and one passenger, Susan King, sailed out of Hong Kong for New York. The ship reached the city four months later, on August 18.
The Women’s Tea Company was in business.
Over the next months the tea was packaged, distributed, and promoted. A beautifully-appointed shop was set up in Madame Demorest’s Emporium on Broadway in New York City. The company sold only Mandarin Tea and packaged it in three sizes. Ads listing businesses carrying the tea began to appear in newspapers from Boston, Cleveland, and Omaha.
The wide variety of tea available to us today may help to explain company’s failure to thrive. WTC carried only one tea and it was very different from what most consumers were used to. Consumers had to develop a taste for it (although it was very popular in immigrant Chinese communities, according to King). In addition, Mandarin Tea, at $1.50 per pound, was expensive. The company cut costs by dealing directly with producers, employing its own agent in China (a woman), and purchasing its own merchant ship, the Madam Demorest (captained, on its maiden voyage in 1872, by Fred Gorham, King’s brother-in-law). But company’s initial strong sales weakened and the company eventually closed.
Susan King told a reporter in 1870 “If women can govern empires, as they do in China and England in our day, and did in Spain, Austria, Russia, and Prussia, in the olden times, they ought to have enough talent to sell a pound of tea.” She was right, of course.
Newspapers Daily Alta California, 6 November 1870, 9 Nov. 1872, via California Digital Newspaper Collection Boston Daily Globe, 28 June 1885, via ProQuest Historical Newspapers Troy (NY) Daily Times (reprint of Boston Post article), 17 April 1872, via fultonhistory.com New York Tribune, 18 Aug. 1871, 12 and 14 October 1871, via Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers from the Library of Congress Sydney Morning Herald, 27 Jan. 1873, via National Library of Australia’s Trove newspaper db Omaha Bee, 27 Feb. 1873, via Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers New York Sun, 11 June 1870, via Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers Cleveland Daily Herald, 14 May 1872, via Gale Cengage 19th Century US Newspapers
Harper’s Bazaar, 23 March 1873, via ProQuest American Periodicals Demorest’s Monthly Magazine, Sept. 1870, via Google Books
US Census records for 1870 and 1880, via Ancestry.com
Passenger List of the bark Adelaide Carleton, 18 Aug. 1871, via Ancestry.com
“A friendly gathering of women of note whose work lies in different fields, but who feel the same big purpose inspiring them all”
by Mary Goljenboom
As I read old newspaper and magazine articles about historic women, I am always curious about who knew whom. It is a small triumph to come across a story that puts several of these historic women together. One recent triumph begins with a plate.
Written on the plate’s rim in blue script is Votes for Women . The plate is a reproduction from a set of stoneware found at Marble House, the home of Alva Smith Vanderbilt Belmont (aka Mrs. O.H.P. Belmont). Today, Marble House is one of the mansions in Newport, RI, that is open to the public. I bought my reproduction at the gift shop. According to Professor Kenneth Florey, the original set of stoneware was made in 1913; Belmont probably had it made for her July 1914 “Conference of Great Women”.
An ardent suffragist, Alva Belmont’s conference was not only about votes for women. According to journalist Doris E. Fleischman, it was “a friendly gathering of women of note whose work lies in different fields, but who feel the same big purpose inspiring them all, to make practical the connotation of the vague term betterment.” It allowed Belmont to draw attention to issues important to her: American women’s status and accomplishments, and her own status in New York society. She liked publicity.
Belmont used the visit of her daughter, the Duchess of Marlborough (née Consuelo Vanderbilt), as the celebrity hook to assure newspaper coverage and attendance by members of New York society. The duchess was more than just a society matron; in England, her work providing help to the wives and children of men who were in prison and building hostels for young working women was respected.
Eight women shared the dais with the duchess. The ones most interesting to me all had notable careers as leaders and administrators. They worked to improve social welfare and believed that women’s suffrage improved their chances of accomplishing their goals.
Florence Kelley, the general secretary of National Consumers’ League since 1899 and leader of the organization’s efforts to abolish child labor and secure legislation for a minimum wage and an eight hour work day.
Rose Schneiderman, vice president of the New York Women’s Trade Union League (later president), who, throughout her long career as a union administrator and organizer, championed working women and sought work rules and legislation to protect them.
Mary M. Bartelme, the assistant judge of the juvenile court of Cook County, IL, (later circuit court judge) whose innovative practices for dealing with girls in the justice system became a model for other juvenile courts.
Maud Ballington Booth, the co-founder of Volunteers of America and leader of its work in rehabilitating prisoners and assisting prisoners’ families.
Katharine B. Davis, the newly appointed commissioner of corrections for the city of New York, who worked to reform prisons, abolishing widespread graft and corruption.
In addition to the speakers, journalist Doris Fleischman, who covered the conference for the New York Tribune, also had a notable career. She wrote feature articles and a book about women’s careers in business and the professions, and was an executive in the public relations firm her husband founded, Edward L. Bernays.
The results of the “Conference of Great Women” were mixed. The speech by the Duchess of Marlborough was covered in newspapers across the country, as was the new Chinese Tea House on the grounds of Marble House (another hook Belmont used to get publicity). Most of the speakers were listed in articles, so they received some attention, but the duchess got most of the space. The New York Tribune gave Doris Fleischman’s coverage of the conference, which included a synopsis of each talk along with photos and an opinion piece, a full page—far more than most other publications.
The conference received publicity for its causes, but some felt Belmont had simply put on a publicity stunt. Even speakers had opinions. According to historian Sylvia D. Hoffert, Rose Schneiderman felt afterward that very little would be accomplished. “I was furious with myself for attending,” she wrote in her memoir.* Florence Kelley wrote a thank you note to Belmont full of gratitude and praise. “No one could fail to feel at the time that the audience was receptive and responsive. The editorials which have come to me from many parts of the country show the press to have been respectful and largely sympathetic. You must feel great satisfaction in having helped, on a nationwide scale . . .”**
One hundred years after the conference, the replica of the plate is a reminder of these women, whose careers as managers and administrators are usually overlooked, and of the day they stood together to publicize women’s abilities and the importance of votes for women.
Notes and Sources
The other speakers were: Kate M. Gordon, president of the Southern States Woman Suffrage Conference; Helen Ring Robinson, Colorado’s first female state senator; Harriot Stanton Blatch, daughter of suffragist Elizabeth Cady Stanton and president of the Women’s Political Union.
* Alva Vanderbilt Belmont: Unlikely Champion of Women’s Rights by Sylvia D. Hoffert, p. 103
** The Selected Letters of Florence Kelley, 1869-1931 edited by Kathryn Kish Sklar and Beverly Wilson Palmer, p. 197
Read Doris E. Fleishman’s coverage in the New York Tribune, July 12, 1914 at Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers from the Library of Congress
A reproduction cup and saucer from Alva Belmont’s Votes for Women set are for sale at the Newport Mansionswebsite of The Preservation Society of Newport County (scroll down towards the bottom of the page)
For more information about Alva Vanderbilt Belmont and her daughter, Consuelo, Duchess of Marlborough, see Amanda Mackenzie Stuart’s book Consuelo and Alva Vanderbilt
Although there is no rule against them, the floor of the Exchange has been better protected against women members than that of Congress.
That’s Eunice Fuller Barnard’s opinion of opportunities for women at the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) from her 1929 article “Ladies of the Ticker.” She goes on to describe what seems to be an impossible barrier to women members.
A woman . . . could not just buy a seat. As in any club, she would have to be admitted by vote of the membership committee. And it seems doubtful whether either she or they yet desire her presence . . . .
That barrier worked for almost forty more years. During that time at least one woman was said to have tried to buy a seat. Her bid was ignored. But in 1967 the barrier was finally broken. Muriel “Mickie” Siebert finally had all the necessary requirements to purchase an NYSE seat: desire, established ability and experience, money, and, most importantly, support of two members.
In her autobiography, Changing the Rules, Siebert told how she made the New York Stock Exchange co-ed.
“It took me six months to summon up the nerve to apply.” During that time she considered the risks and rewards, and compared the levels of potential aggravation to satisfaction. “It’s hard to imagine that any man would have been troubled by similar doubts and concerns, but, realistically, I had to consider what I was risking” she said. She was already a very successful securities analyst with a strong client list of institutional investors to whom she provided both research and suggestions about securities purchases and sales.
Siebert, like all other applicants, put up twenty per cent of the seat’s purchase price as a deposit and had arranged financing (using stocks she owned as collateral) for the remainder; found two NYSE members to sponsor her (a difficult task); underwent a background check by a detective agency; and was interviewed by the admissions committee. Parts of Siebert’s application process were not standard. She was required to present a letter from her bank stating that it was prepared to loan Siebert the necessary funds to complete the purchase of the seat. One of her sponsors was asked what he knew about Siebert’s private life. During the admissions committee interview, Siebert reported seeing the committee’s relief upon learning that she would not be working on the NYSE floor.
It was evident that the NYSE did not wish to admit Siebert to the “club,” and it did what it could to dissuade her from completing the process. But the exchange could not ignore her application (as it did with at least one earlier female candidate) and, because of her strong qualifications, it could not afford to vote her down. Why? Because members knew that Siebert would sue and the law was on her side. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, which outlawed sex-based discrimination, had taken effect in 1964.
Whether or not the majority of members of the New York Stock Exchange desired the presence of a female colleague, they got one on December 28, 1967.
Siebert died in August 2013. In her life, she changed rules and made it easier for women to rise in their chosen professions.
Changing the Rules by Muriel Siebert and Aimee Lee Ball
Finding pieces of women’s business history sometimes requires that you look up.
For instance, in downtown Minneapolis, if you stand on the Nicollet Mall outside the Target store and look across the street, you’ll see the historic Young-Quinlan Building. Look up above the third floor windows and you will see “Elizabeth C. Quinlan”, the name of the businesswoman who built both the building and the business that was housed in it.
Young-Quinlan Company opened its doors in March 1895 as Fred D. Young & Company, selling women’s clothing. Fred Young had left his position as manager and buyer for the cloak department of another popular Minneapolis store to start his own business. Elizabeth Quinlan joined Young in his new venture. She was well-known to customers, judging by Young’s mention her in pre-opening publicity and advertising. In 1903 her name was added to the business.
Young and Quinlan’s great innovation was to stock their shop with high quality, ready-to-wear clothing at a time when most clothing was made individually by dressmakers. The team also benefited from the growing personal wealth and affluence created by burgeoning Minneapolis and St. Paul businesses such as Pillsbury, General Mills, and the Northern Pacific Railroad. To attract upper-income customers, the Young & Co.’s opening day ad announced “the finest line of imported and domestic cloaks, mantles, suits, separate skirts, and waists ever seen” in Minneapolis. According to Elizabeth Quinlan, they sold out most of their merchandise on their first day. And they never strayed from stocking the finest.
By the time the Young-Quinlan Building was opened in 1926, Elizabeth Quinlan had been with the company for more than thirty years. She had been sole owner and president since the death of Fred Young in 1911. The business grew significantly so that by the 1920s, Quinlan saw its need for more space. She purchased the land at Nicollet Avenue and Ninth Street South for $1.25 million; the $1.25 million she needed to erect the building was financed by issuing bonds (which sold quickly because her credit was so good). The elegant new Young-Quinlan building was filled with walnut fixtures, stairs, cathedral windows as well as modern conveniences like a 250-car parking garage and elevators. It reflected the success and taste of Elizabeth C. Quinlan, who put her name on the Nicollet facade, above the third floor windows.
Quinlan sold Young-Quinlan Company in 1945, and it lasted until 1985. The landmark Young-Quinlan Building today prominently houses J.B. Hudson jewelers. Reflected in the glass door into Hudson’s, you can catch Target’s bulls-eye logo. Young-Quinlan’s merchandising innovation of providing women with ready-to-wear clothing eventually revolutionized the apparel industry and led to the rise of mass merchandisers like Target. It’s a glimpse of the future reflected from the past.
In 1924, Mary Vail Andress was hired by Chase National Bank to be an assistant cashier, thus becoming the bank’s first female officer. She left the Paris office of Banker’s Trust Company to take the position at Chase. Bankers magazine included the following information about Miss Andress’ new job:
“Miss Andress will be associated with the main office of the bank and will occupy a desk on the officers’ platform together with the other operating officials. It is understood that her duties will be the same as any other official of similar rank. This is a most forward step in the position of women in banking . . .”
A most forward step . . . a woman, hired to a position currently occupied only by men, expected to do the same job as the men.
Andress held her position with Chase for fifteen years, until 1940 when she left to help the war relief efforts in Europe.
In December 2013, Sotheby’s auctioned a Cartier enamel, diamond, and gold compact inscribed to Mary Vail Andress from Bankers Trust Company, Paris. View the Sotheby’s catalog entry.