Tag Archives: Women

What’s Your 1918 Girl Job? Take This Quiz and Find Out!

One of the (few) disappointments about reading in 1918 is that nothing’s interactive. Of course, I understood when I started this project that my days of discovering what secondary Jane Austen character I most resemble were over for a while.* And I knew that crossword puzzles were a few years away from being invented.

But still, there could be quizzes, or personality tests, or…something. But no. The year peaked with the vocabulary-based intelligence test in the Literary Digest in February. After that, nada. Unless you were a kid, in which case you got to enter St. Nicholas magazine contests, and cut out paper dolls from women’s magazines, and make this actually extremely cool diorama that I am definitely going to get to one of these days.

Delineator, June 1918

Being a grownup, I was left to make my own entertainment. Which I did when I came across this article in the June 1918 Ladies’ Home Journal:

What’s a girl to do, LHJ asks, when the war’s over and the boys come home and want their jobs back? Answer: find yourself a girlier one.

But which one’s for you? LHJ helps you figure it out by providing questions where you match your skills and personality traits with each job.

Which, to the modern sensibility, screams QUIZ. So I added a scoring system and turned it into one.

Here’s how it works: Rank yourself on each attribute. If you have no basis for assessing yourself, estimate how you would score. Add up your points.

Okay, here goes! Get your 1918 pencils out.**

Who Will Make a Good Teacher?

Teacher and students standing next to the Lamoine [Washington] School in 1918 (Library of Congress)

THE GIRL WITH—

Steady nerves (1-5 points) and a sound body (1-5 points).

Clear brain (1-5 points), warm heart (1-5 points), and sympathetic imagination (1-5 points).

Power to build the school into the community (1-5 points).

Enthusiasm for boys and girls that will keep her from becoming a machine (1-5 points).

What Makes a Good Office Worker

American Lumberman, 1907

THE GIRL WHO HAS—

Swift, careful fingers (1-5 points) and an agile brain (1-5 points).

Good eyesight (1-5 points), good hearing (1-5 points), and good memory (1-5 points).

Good judgment (1-5 points) and a sense of responsibility (1-5 points).

The Successful Saleswoman

Loras College, Center for Dubuque History

THE SALESWOMAN YOU LIKE IS—

Alert (1-5 points), courteous (1-5 points, then double your score), and energetic (1-5 points).

Interested in her customer’s needs (1-5 points, then double your score).

Thoroughly acquainted with her stocks (1-5 points).

The Dressmaker and The Milliner

Loras College, Center for Dubuque History

TYPES OF ABILITY REQUIRED—

The seamstress must have skill in hand (1-5 points) and machine (1-5 points) sewing.

The dressmaker needs not only technical skill (1-5 points) but creative (1-5 points) and artistic (1-5 points) ability.

The milliner has need of artistic skill (do not score; included under dressmaker) and business sense (1-5 points).

The sewing teacher should combine technical knowledge (do not score; included under dressmaker) and ability to teach others (1-5 points).

 The Broad Field of Domestic Science

Home economics class, Toronto, 1911 (Archives of Ontario)

FOR THE WOMAN WITH—

Skilled hands (1-5 points, then double your score).

A practical turn of mind (1-5 points, then double your score) and the best training (1-5 points).

Ability to command the respect of other people (1-5 points, then double your score).

Got your score? Okay, here’s what, according to LHJ, you can expect from your girl profession. (The assumption being, of course, that you’re white and Christian.)

Teacher

New York Times, July 14, 1918

OPPORTUNITIES FOR TEACHERS—

Teaching is the oldest profession*** for girls outside the home. It offers greater variety of choice to-day than ever before and is especially attractive to the girl with social vision. It is a vocation, not a bread-and-butter job. Salaries are not high, but advancement is certain for the teacher that makes good.

Office Worker

New York Times, July 14, 1918

POSITIONS AND PAY—

Experienced stenographer, $10-25 a week;

Court stenographer, $2000-3000 a year;

Private secretary, $900-1800 a year.****

THE OUTLOOK—

The field is overstocked with half-trained, incompetent stenographers. But for girls with good general education and technical skill there is always room. There are too many $8 a week girls, too few $25 a week ones. For the girl with executive ability, broad education and business experience there are many new openings.

Saleswoman

New York Times, July 14, 1918

KIND OF PERSON IN STORES—

Errand and cash girls;

Cashiers and examiners;

Saleswomen;

Hands of stock and buyers.

WAGES AND CONDITIONS—

The average pay is low, hours long, and the work is not easy, but employment is steady for the competent worker. Hours have been shortened, however, and conditions improved by the activity of the Consumers’ League. Chances for advancement are good, however, for the ambitious girl in the employ of a good firm.

Dressmaker and Milliner

WAGES AND CONDITIONS—

A first-class seamstress or dressmaker is always in demand at $1.50 to $3.50 a day;

The millinery season is short and the hours long. The average milliner needs another trade for the dull season;

The salary for assistant sewing teachers is small, but good for heads of department.

Domestic Science

New York Times, July 14, 1918

SOME OF THE KINDS OF POSITIONS—

Matron or house mother in college dormitory;

Superintendent, purveyor, or dietitian in an institution;

Domestic science teacher in school or Y.W.C.A.;

Manager of a small hotel, summer or all the year;

Visiting housekeeper employed by private families or by the city;

Director of cafeteria, tea, or lunch rooms.

SALARIES—

Teacher, domestic science, $800 and up;

Cafeteria director, $700-1800;

Assistant matron, $200-600, plus board;

Matron, $600-1200, plus living expenses.

FUTURE—

The field of domestic science is not crowded and kinds of positions are multiplying.

I got TEACHER! (30/35.)

Which was a huge relief because, when I took the test before recalibrating it to make the points in each category match up, I got OFFICE WORKER. (27/35 this time around.) Being a court stenographer might be all right, given the interesting crimes I’m always reading about, like painting your pencil a treasonous color and wearing a second lieutenant’s uniform after being discharged for setting your yacht on fire to collect the insurance money. And being a half-trained, incompetent stenographer sounds appealing in a screwball comedy kind of way. But the problem with OFFICE WORKER is that the crucial question is missing: How well would you deal with taking orders all day from a man you’re way smarter than, for a fraction of his pay? I would get a 0 for that.

I got a terrible score in DOMESTIC SCIENCE. (18/35.) Being a matron in a college dormitory might be fun, though. Or director of a tea room. Reading Edna Ferber’s stories rid me of any ambitions I might have had of being a SALESWOMAN (24/35). As for DRESSMAKER (22/35), well, this picture of me in a dress I made in high school says it all:

If I were a middle-class American woman in 1918, I imagine that I would have been a teacher. Probably a pretty happy and capable one.

Or maybe I would have gone for a war job, like this one.

New York Times, July 15, 1918

Or this one—big enough for any intelligent man!

New York Times, July 15, 1918

Or—top choice—one of these.

New York Times, July 15, 1918

(All of these jobs were advertised in the “Help Wanted – Female” section—there were no gender-neutral want ads.)

Judging by what happened to most women, though, I’m not optimistic about my chances of hanging on after the men came home. It’s lucky, then, that I’m living a time when women can be diplomats. And late-in-life creative writing students. And time-traveling bloggers.

So…what’s YOUR 1918 girl job?

* The insipid Captain Benwick from Persuasion. Which is crazy. I’m totally Jane Fairfax.

** Don’t worry, I checked, and pencils weren’t made of lead back then, or ever. The reason we call the graphite in pencils lead is that graphite was mistaken for lead when it was first discovered.

*** “Oldest profession” struck me as an unfortunate choice of words, so I did a Google NGram,

which showed that this phrase has only been around since—about 1918, actually. I did some research (okay, looked on Wikipedia) and found that the phrase began making its way into the language after Kipling referred to “the most ancient profession” in an 1889 short story. This is the kind of discovery that makes all those hours of photo file size reduction worthwhile for the weary blogger.

**** A surprising omission from this list is bookkeeper. A lot of women had this job, including my grandmother (on my mother’s side–it was my grandmother on my father’s side who may have marched with the Czechoslovakians in the July 4 parade).

My 1918 Bedside Bookshelf

Christopher Morley was one of those famous-in-their-time people no one has heard of today.* In 1918, the hardworking twenty-seven-year-old had just published Parnassus on Wheels, his first novel, and a book of light verse called Songs for a Little House,** and he had a book of essays coming out. He was also the literary editor of Ladies’ Home Journal.

The Bookman, February 1918

In a piece in the February 1918 issue of The Bookman (originally published in the New York Sun), Morley stirred up quite a kerfuffle. The issue: what books you should choose for your guest room. “Let us assume that many of your guests are of the male sex and have the habit of reading in bed,” he writes. “You keep a reading lamp by the bed, of course, and a bookshelf. What thirty volumes would you choose to fill that shelf?”

Of course, Morley doesn’t really want to know what books YOU’D choose. He wants to tell you what books HE’D choose. As advertised, they’re pretty manly. Robert Louis Stevenson, Arthur Conan Doyle, Joseph Conrad, Rudyard Kipling. Plus some manly-sounding books I never heard of, like The Adventures of Captain Kettle and Casuals of the Sea. You can read the rest of the list here. Morley writes that

I find that for such strollers, wastrels and errant persons as frequent my house, this is a fairly well-selected guest-room library. I wonder if your readers will concur.

They didn’t. Harold Crawford Stearns sent in a list, published in March, that only had one duplicate with Morley’s, the Bible. It was equally manly, though. In April, D.M.T. Willis argued that Morley had chosen not bedtime books but “books that one wants to read when wide awake on a cold afternoon before the fire, or in a hammock under trees in warm weather.”

Bedtime reading, he says,

seems to me like the intense desire to eat candy one experiences immediately after church service, a sort of reactive indulgence, a kind of “now-I-can-do-as-I-please-for-the-rest-of-the-night” feeling.

My sentiments exactly!

Willis includes little blurbs with his list, like, “The Rubaiyat. Because every man and most women sometime at night want to feel as happy-go-lucky and sentimental as Omar,” and “The Bible, because some one might read it and become a poet.” His list is as lacking as Morley’s in women authors, but he’s such a charming blurber that I would totally stay at his house.

As for the contribution from Edward O’Brien, the editor of the Best American Short Stories series, all I can say is, really, Edward? The Canterbury Tales? At bedtime? I checked out another one of his choices, Religio Poetae, by Coventry Patmore. Here’s how the title essay starts:

No one, probably, has ever found his life permanently affected by any truth of which he has been unable to obtain a real apprehension, which, as I have elsewhere shown, is quite a different thing from real comprehension.

Zzzzzz.

The Bookman, to its credit, is snarky about Morley’s gender policy, saying in April that

Mr. Morley’s guest-room is apparently adapted solely to the needs of his male friends—or is it that his women visitors are of the kind that do not read?***

Finally, some women, identifying themselves as “Two Old Maids,” weigh in, and at last we have a handful of women authors: Jane Addams, Edna Ferber, and Lady Montagu.

Of course, I’m just like Christopher Morley: the real reason I’m writing about this is to give you MY 1918 guest room bookshelf list.

First I need a 1918 guest bedroom, though. Luckily I found one that’s perfect:

Okay, now for my list. It includes a mix of  books I’ve read for this project, other 1918-era books I’ve been wanting to read, and a few earlier classics. In the spirit of D.M.T. Willis, I’ve included blurbs explaining why I picked each one.

  1. Bab: A Sub-Deb by Mary Roberts Rinehart. Because this story about a rebellious, hapless teenager is hilarious, and short enough that you’ll be able to read the whole thing during your visit.
  2. Emma by Jane Austen. Because somehow it seems more 1918-ish than the rest of Austen.
  3. Mrs. Spring Fragrance by Sui Sin Far. Because I just finished this fantastic collection of short stories about the Chinese community in Seattle and San Francisco, and I can’t wait to tell you about it.
  4. The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton. Because being a houseguest with a well-stocked bookshelf at hand is such an Edith Wharton thing to do.
  5. The Magic City by E. Nesbit. Because every guest room bookshelf needs some magic, and I missed this one during my E. Nesbit years.
  6. Tendencies in Modern American Poetry by Amy Lowell. Because I want to take a deeper look into what was happening in poetry in 1918, and who better to explain it than Lowell?
  7. The Tree of Heaven by May Sinclair. Because it was one of the big books of 1918, but when I ordered a print-on-demand version they sent me a book with Sinclair’s name on the cover but a 1907 Robert Chambers book with the same title inside.
  8. Pointed Roofs by Dorothy Richardson. Because May Sinclair said in The Egoist that she’s a great modernist but I’d never heard of her.
  9. Villette by Charlotte Brontë. Because I’ve been wanting to read it and it seems more bedtimey than Jane Eyre.
  10. Renascence, and Other Poems by Edna St. Vincent Millay. Because Louis Untermeyer panned it in The Dial and I’m in the mood to pick a fight.
  11. Marion: The Story of an Artist’s Model by Winnifred Eaton. Because the story of a half-white, half-Chinese artist’s model sounds intriguing, plus she’s Sui Sin Far’s sister.
  12. Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery. Because, shamefully, I’ve never read it.
  13. Daddy-Long-Legs by Jean Webster. Because this breezy epistolary novel, which I wrote about here, is the perfect bedtime read.
  14. Personality Plus by Edna Ferber. Because the Two Old Maids sound like they know what they’re talking about.
  15. O Pioneers! by Willa Cather. Because it’s one of the best books I’ve ever read. Just don’t read the ending right before you turn off the light, like I did.
  16. The Last Ditch by Violet Hunt. Because her wonderful poem in Poetry magazine about her breakup with Ford Madox Hueffer (Ford) made me want to read more of her work.
  17. The Story of an African Farm by Olive Schreiner. Because I really need to read this South African classic.
  18. Behind the Scenes, or, Thirty Years a Slave and Four Years in the White House, by Elizabeth Keckley. Because Keckley’s amazing journey sounds well worth reading about.
  19. The Circular Staircase by Mary Roberts Rinehart. Because this was Rinehart’s first best-seller, and if her mysteries are as good as Bab: A Sub-Deb I can’t wait to get started.
  20. Understood Betsy by Dorothy Canfield Fisher. Because I read this when I was very young and I’d love to see if I remember anything.
  21. The God by H.D. Because I need to start actually reading the Imagist poets instead of just reading about their love lives.
  22. Married Love by Marie Carmichael Stopes. Because, who knows, this British sex manual might come in handy for my houseguests.
  23. Parnassus on Wheels by Christopher Morley. Because Jeff O’Neal raved about it, but mostly because I love the idea of Morley sitting on the bookshelf with all these women.

Of course, what I’ve really done is put together a list of books I want YOU to have when I stay in YOUR guest room. I’ll be traveling a lot over the next few months, so get ready!

(And there’s still room on the bookshelf–I haven’t reached Morley’s 30 volumes yet–so I’d welcome your suggestions.)

The House Beautiful, September 1917

*Except for Jeff O’Neill of Book Riot, who talked about Morley’s novel Parnassus on Wheels on last year’s holiday book recommendation podcast.

**It’s just like it sounds. He writes so goopily about his wife that I assumed, based on previous 1918 experience, that she would run off with a female Imagist poet in short order. But no, they were still married when he died in 1957.

*** This can’t possibly mean what it sounds like. If it did, she wouldn’t be sleeping in the guest room, would she?

A 1918 play about a single mother, too far ahead of its time

Reading the March 1918 issue of The Bookman a couple of weeks ago, I came across a brief review of The Madonna of the Future, which had recently opened on Broadway. As critic Clayton Hamilton tells us,

the heroine of this play is a very rich young woman, unencumbered with relatives, who desires to become a mother but does not desire to be saddled with a husband. In consequence of her convictions, she picks out an apparently eugenic mate and becomes, in due time, the mother of a nameless child.

My reaction: What? This is the least 1918 thing I’ve ever heard of!   

“Madonna of the Future” star Emily Stevens, New York Times, January 27, 1918

The Dramatic Mirror thought so too. “The most pitiful creature of the brothel would scorn such an idea,” the magazine huffed. It was not alone, apparently—New York Chief Magistrate William McAdoo* received a number of complaints. He wrote to the theater’s lawyers telling them that, if the issue arose in court, he would have to declare the play obscene. McAdoo said that

the character of the heroine repeatedly and tiresomely states over and over again that the doctrines advanced by her are unconventional and, in the sense usually accepted by ordinary people, immoral. She says that her highest ideal of maternity is that of the cow, which might suggest that the proper place for this play would be a stable instead of the stage, committing the dialogue to learned veterinarians.

I haven’t been able to find a script of the play, but here’s what I’ve managed to piece together. Iris Fotheringham, a wealthy young woman from Tarrington, New York, hates men, but has what the Dramatic Mirror calls “one redeeming virtue—the dream of all good women—the desire of motherhood.” She decides that her secretary, Rex Letherick, would be a suitable father,** and whisks him off to Europe. After the baby is born, she blithely resumes her New York life. Rex is desperately in love with Iris, and, as the Dramatic Mirror puts it, “still willing to be her husband.” Iris gets wind that there’s another woman in the picture, gets jealous, and marries Rex.

Alan Dale and his daughter Marjorie, 1900 (Library of Congress)

What makes this story even more interesting is that the play’s author, Alan Dale, was America’s most famous theater critic. The British-born Dale (real name Alfred Cohen) had been writing acerbic reviews for the Hearst newspapers since the 1880s. He had made a lot of enemies along the way. “The theatrical world is finding considerable amusement in the situation created by the police complaint,” the Dramatic Mirror gloated, speculating that the cause of the play’s troubles was a morality campaign by the city’s Tammany Hall mayor. For good measure, the magazine threw in some cracks about the play’s bad reviews.

New York Times, January 29, 1918

This was unfair, as far as I can tell. The un-bylined New York Times reviewer called the play “a brilliantly written comedy of ideas,” although he complained that the ending was a copout. He noted similarities to George Bernard Shaw, but said that Shaw, “having real ideas of his own, also has the courage of them.”  Astonishingly, the reviewer got away with saying that the de-stigmatization of single motherhood was important to contemplate,

for women in these coming manless times will be much occupied with the thought that life would be less empty if only there were children. And the world will have need of new citizens.

George Jean Nathan, date unknown

George Jean Nathan, who co-edited Smart Set with H.L. Mencken and is now regarded as the greatest theater critic of his time, really, really hated Dale’s reviews. He complained in Smart Set’s April 1918 issue that Dale displayed

the sort of humour…that proceeds from the comparison of something or other with a Limburger cheese or from some such observation as “‘Way Down Yeast’ ought to get a rise out of everybody.” The sort of humor, in short, whose stock company has been made up largely of bad puns, the spelling of girl as “gell,” the surrounding of every fourth word with quotation marks, such bits as “legs—er, oh I beg your pahdon—I should say ‘limbs’,” a frequent allusion to prunes and to pinochle, and an employment of such terms as “scrumptious” and “bong-tong.”

But Nathan goes on to praise The Madonna of the Future, saying that

its theme is viewed through the glasses of a man possessed of a certain pleasant measure of cultural background and expounded in well thought out and effective vein; its net impression is of a piece of writing designed by a civilized gentleman for a civilized audience.

The New York Times ran this list of adjectives that had been used to describe the play, ranging from puerile to shocking to brilliant:

New York Times, March 10, 1918

After the theater received the letter, the script was revised, there was some back and forth with McAdoo, the play closed on Broadway after less than two months, and the censored version, retitled The Woman of the Future, moved to New York’s “subway circuit.”

In spite of its short run, The Madonna of the Future caused quite a stir. Today’s Iris Fotheringhams may, in part, have Alan Dale to thank for getting people used to the idea that having a baby without a husband isn’t all that big a deal.

Alan Dale lives on in another way as well: his 1889 novel A Marriage Below Zero has been described as the first English-language novel to depict a romantic relationship between two men.

All in all, not a bad legacy for someone who said “scrumptious” and “bong-tong.”

G.W. Dillingham, 1889

*This William McAdoo, a former congressman and New York police commissioner, was born in Ireland and was apparently no relation to Secretary of the Treasury/Railroad Administrator/Woodrow Wilson son-in-law William Gibbs McAdoo.

**Well, he has a great porn star name anyway.

The giggling battalion: Russian women soldiers through the eyes of an American war correspondent

Reporting about Russia’s battalions of women soldiers in the March 1918 issue of The Delineator, war correspondent William G. Shepherd asks everyone the same question.

What about motherhood?

I thought of how it must feel to be a soldier and know that your bullets were sinking into woman-flesh, destroying motherhood; and of how, in spite of all this, you must shoot to kill these women soldiers lest they kill you.

He gets an interview with Maria Bochkareva, the commander of the First Women’s Battalion. Amid the chaos of the Russian Revolution, her soldiers have deserted her, and she’s hospitalized in Petrograd (now St. Petersburg). He asks her why she went into the war. Weren’t the men fighting well enough to suit her?

“Yes, indeed,” she exclaimed…“But I can’t see why there should be any difference between men and women in this war and so I enlisted and went to the front.”

“But women have got something that men haven’t,” Shepherd mansplains. “They have potential motherhood, and if you kill that, you kill the whole race.”

Maria Bochkareva and her soldiers with British suffragist leader Emmeline Pankhurst, 1917

Bochkareva, who at age twenty-eight has left two abusive husbands and fought in two wars, has a less sentimental take on the matter. “What is the use of motherhood in a country which is owned by an enemy?”

To Bochkareva, Shepherd marvels, the “girl” soldiers

are mere sets of brains that go to war. They are mere pairs of legs that can march, pairs of arms that can carry rifles, and most of all they include index fingers that can pull triggers, and good right eyes that can see marks.

Imagine!

Another issue weighing almost as heavily on Shepherd’s mind is the girl soldiers’ sex lives. He meets a deserter from Bochkareva’s battalion and asks her why she left.

“I left because there were too many bad girls in our company,” explained this seventeen-year-old miss in riding breeches who sat in a chair on the sidewalk before my hotel with her knees crossed.

“But I didn’t think morals had anything to do with fighting,” said my interpreter, who happened to be a celebrated Russian writer.

“Nothing to do with fighting!” exclaimed the girl. “Why, do you know you can never trust a bad girl in the firing-line?…I’ll fight for Russia, but not for that crowd.”

A light goes on in Shepherd’s head.

This was the first idea we got of the fact that in the girl legions of Russia, good girls make good soldiers and bad girls make poor ones.

The seventeen-year-old soldier goes on,

“Love hasn’t got any place in war, and when it comes to the other thing, it not only ruins girl soldiers, but the men soldiers, too.”

“But don’t the girls ever talk of their sweethearts at the front?” asked my interpreter.

“The girls who are in earnest don’t,” she said. “As soon as a girl begins to get sentimental or to talk about some man she likes, we just remind her that within a few days, if she is a good soldier of Russia, she may be dead.”

The Delineator, March 1918

Another thing about the girl soldiers: they’re so girly! In the barracks of another newly formed women’s battalion (made up, its leaders assure Shepherd, entirely of good girls),

Some of them were reading, some were knitting, and several of them were romping girlishly. One was trying to stick another with a hatpin and another was chasing a girl with a glass of water with which she threatened to deluge the fugitive. It was just such a romp as one might have expected in the hallways of an exclusive girls’ boarding school. Only the clipped heads and the trousers seemed out of place.

Earlier, he watched Bochkareva’s equally girly soldiers decamping for the front.

Men soldiers do not giggle when they climb into cars, but I must admit that these girl soldiers did. They helped each other remove their packs from their backs; they threw their short, stubby rifles into the cars and then boosted each other in as best they could. There was giggling a-plenty and even little shrieks of mirth; when a girl fell, there was a shout of laughter.

For all his condescension, Shepherd ends up respecting the soldiers of the “Battalion of Death,” as Bochkareva’s soldiers were known. They fought courageously against the Germans, dodging bullets as they took ammunition to the front lines. For military security reasons, he can’t provide the names of the heroes, but

I can say that it was Bochkareva’s band that captured a hundred Germans and forced them to throw down their rifles and throw up their hands and exclaim, “Ach Gott! The Russian women!”

The Delineator, March 1918

Shepherd visits some wounded veterans of the battle in the hospital and spots a German helmet. His interpreter asks the owner where she got it.

“I took it from a German soldier who tried to shoot me after he was wounded,” she said. “I was trying to help him, when suddenly he raised himself to his elbow and fired at me with his revolver.”

“What did you do?” we asked her.

“I shot him,” she said simply. “What else could I do?”

The Czar’s government, Shepherd tells us, authorized the women’s battalions in order to shame war-weary men into joining the army. But the situation was changing fast. On March 3, 1918, just as Shepherd’s story was hitting the newsstands, Russia made peace with Germany.

Maria Bochkareva (date unknown)

Bochkareva ended up on the wrong side of history. Branded an “enemy of the working class,” she was executed by the Soviet secret police in May 1920, at the age of thirty. The execution was against Lenin’s orders, and her killers were later put to death themselves.

As Bochkareva’s troops headed to the front, a Jewish seamstress stood sentinel on the train. At each stop, the soldiers faced insults and leers from men on the platform. At one station, a group of male soldiers tried to peer inside, saying, “We have come to see the girls.” The sentinel

made no outcry. She simply raised her rifle toward them and said:

“There are no girls here; only soldiers of Russia.”

(UPDATE: You can see Maria Bochkareva at a July 4 ceremony in Washington, D.C. in the last few seconds of this video, which I included in my post on the July 4 loyalty parade in New York.)

Despina Storch: The sad fate of a woman of intrigue

Remember Despina Storch, the beautiful Turkish woman who was arrested by the Secret Service as the suspected head of a German spy ring and sent to Ellis Island to be deported?

Despina Storch, 1917 (Underwood & Underwood, N.V.)

She never made it to France. She died on Ellis Island on March 30, 1918, at the age of 23. The cause was pneumonia.

Or was it? Some suspected suicide, especially since two of her three accused co-conspirators, Elizabeth Nix and “Baron”* Robert de Clairmont, had also fallen seriously ill.

An immigration inspector denied the rumors, saying of Mme. Storch, “She made a brave fight for her life and every effort was made to save her. She was physically unable to overcome the ravages of pneumonia. I wish to state positively that she did not commit suicide.”

The suicide theory would have been plausible, though, since Mata Hari’s October 1917 execution by a French firing squad must have been on the group’s mind.

Mata Hari, 1906

Despina Storch’s funeral took place on April 1. Her companion and co-accused, the Count de Beville, was allowed to leave Ellis Island to attend, accompanied by his parents and a Secret Service agent. According to a report in the New York Sun, Beville “bore a plaque of roses and some lilies which he tenderly placed in the folded arms of the dead woman.” He knelt by the casket, praying, for two hours.

He murmured over and over again, and some say the words were “Forgive me,” and others, “Cherie, Cherie, and like French words of endearment.

Willis Music Company, 1918 (Library of Congress)

Outside, a “morbidly inquisitive crowd” milled around the hearse. When the coffin was borne out of the funeral parlor,

the chatter of the crowd hushed, and all that stirred the quiet was the music of “The Girl I Left Behind Me,” which echoed into the street, as the subway band, on an army recruiting bus, rolled through Fifth avenue, close by.

Mount Olivet Cemetery, date unknown

The Count and his parents accompanied the hearse to Mount Olivet Cemetery in Queens, where Mme. Storch’s “exquisitely carved white coffin” was placed in a vault. Beville “wept silently and cast a last look at the vault as he was led back to the car.”

Thus ended the brief life of the woman the Sun called “the most romantic spy suspect America has yet known.”

Despina Storch in Spain, Washington Times, June 16, 1918

*The New York Times was dubious about his claim to this title.

Our daughters’ daughters will adore us…

1918 opened with a bang in Congress. On January 10, two days after President Wilson announced the Fourteen Points at a joint sitting, the House of Representatives approved a constitutional amendment to give women the right to vote.

Representative Jeannette Rankin

Republican Representative Jeannette Rankin of Montana, the first woman member of Congress, opened the debate. “Is it not possible that the women of the country have something of value to give the nation at this time?” she asked. “It would be strange indeed if the women of this country through all these years had not developed an intelligence, a feeling, a spiritual force peculiar to themselves, which they held in readiness to give to the world.” Representative Walter Chandler, Republican of New York, reassured listeners that, despite what they might have heard, the suffragist movement was not in fact led by socialists and German sympathizers.

The public gallery was packed with women. The New York Times noted that “nearly every woman who journeyed to the House carried a knitting bag.” Most were confiscated, but a few women succeeded in knitting their way through the debate, as suffragist leaders looked on intently.

Suffragists picketing the Capitol, 1918 (Library of Congress)

It didn’t look good at first. Democrat after Democrat voted against the amendment, the Times reported, seemingly dashing hopes that President Wilson’s endorsement the day before would turn the tide. “We are defeated,” suffragists in the gallery whispered. But the amendment’s supporters had mustered all of their strength. Republican leader James Mann came to the House from his sickbed in Baltimore; Thetus Sims of Tennessee, badly injured, staggered to his seat. When the final count of 274 to 136 was announced, exactly the two-thirds majority needed, “the people in the galleries arose en masse and cheered,” and “members on the floor joined in the jubilation.” A challenge to the vote count was unsuccessful. Outside the Capitol, a thousand women cheered “with all the enthusiasm of collegians after a football victory.”

While the Times reporter seems to have been swept up in the celebratory mood, the editorial page accepted the outcome with resigned huffiness. The issue, it said, was purely political. With the House almost evenly divided, and more and more states allowing women to vote, the Republicans had seen the political wisdom of taking up the suffragist cause. The Democratic Party, despite the “reasonable apprehensions” of its southern members, saw which way the wind was blowing. Wilson abandoned his long-held (and in the the Times’ opinion, correct) view that suffrage was a state, not a federal, issue. In wartime, the Times said, “woman suffrage is but a piffling and subminor matter.” Oh well. The amendment would find “harder sledding” in the Senate.

Suffragist Parade, Fifth Avenue, 1917 (New York Times Photo Archive, public domain photo)

Indeed it would. But, on the centennial of this crucial step forward, those of us who can fight sexual harassment because our great-great-grandmothers fought for the vote can, in the words of Mrs. Banks in Mary Poppins, sing in grateful chorus:

WELL DONE, WELL DONE, SISTER SUFFRAGETTE!