Tag Archives: Women’s History Month

Banner with pictures of Helen Bogan, Helen Dryden, Josephine Turpin Washington, Mary Roberts Rinehart, and Susan Glaspell.

Celebrating Women’s History Month: Five inspiring women of 1919

Every month is Women’s History Month at My Year in 1918. I’m celebrating the official one, though, by taking a closer look at some women I’ve come across in my reading but hadn’t gotten to know very well until now. For each of them, I’ll share something she left behind.

The Poet: Louise Bogan

Louise Bogan, ca. 1920 (Curt Anderson)

Louise Bogan had an illustrious career. She was named to the post now known as the Poet Laureate of the United States in the 1940s and was the New Yorker’s poetry critic for over three decades. When she died in 1970, the New York Times called her “one of the most distinguished lyric poets in the English language.”

Bogan’s life was not an easy one. She was born in Maine in 1897, the daughter of a mill superintendent and a mentally unstable woman whose inappropriate sexual behavior contributed to the severe depression Bogan suffered from throughout her life. Her family moved to Boston in 1909 and Bogan attended the famed Girls’ Latin School. After a year at Boston University, she turned down a scholarship to Radcliffe and instead married a soldier. By the time she was 23, she had given birth to a daughter and separated from her husband, who died of pneumonia in 1920. Bogan lived in Vienna for a few years, leaving her daughter behind with her parents (!), and then moved to New York, where she spent the rest of her life.

In 1919, 22-year-old Bogan had already begun to make a name for herself. I first came across her work in the December 1917 issue of the experimental poetry magazine Others. In “The Young Wife,” she describes what it was like to be a woman in an age when premarital sex was forbidden for women and condoned for men.*

Here’s an excerpt from “The Young Wife.” You can read the rest here. Bogan didn’t include it in her 1923 collection Body of This Death, and it’s not widely known today, but it’s become one of my favorite poems.

Others, December 1917

The Artist: Helen Dryden

American Club Woman Magazine, October 1914

1919 was a golden age of illustration, and Helen Dryden’s cheerful, colorful Vogue covers were one reason why. Born into an affluent Baltimore family in 1882, Dryden grew up in Philadelphia and began her career as an artist there. She moved to Greenwich Village in 1909 and soon signed a contract with Condé Nast, where she worked for the next thirteen years. In later life (as I learned in a comment on this blog by fashion blogger witness2fashion) she designed Studebaker car interiors. At one point she was reported to be the highest-paid woman artist in the United States. By 1956, though, she was living in a welfare hotel. I’m not sure what happened in between, and there doesn’t seem to be a biography of Dryden. I hope someone will write one.

In the meantime, here are some Dryden Vogue covers from 1919.

Vogue, January 15, 1919

Vogue, February 15, 1919

Vogue, March 15, 1919

The Educator: Josephine Turpin Washington

The Afro-American Press and Its Editors, 1891

I first came across Josephine Turpin Washington when I read her short piece “A Mother’s New Year’s Resolution” in the January 1918 issue of The Crisis. Washington was born in Virginia in 1861, the granddaughter of a Louisiana man named Edwin Durock Turpin and a woman named Mary whom he bought as a slave and, according to a family memoir, fell in love with and married. Washington grew up in Richmond and attended Howard University, working as a clerk for Frederick Douglas during the summers. She taught math at Howard for a few years and then married a doctor and moved to Alabama, where she taught at several African-American universities and wrote on a wide range of issues of concern to the black community. It turns out that we’ll have a chance to learn more about Turpin—a collection of her essays, edited by Rita B. Dandridge, was published last month.

Here’s the beginning of “A Mother’s New Year’s Resolution.”** You can find the rest of the article here. My favorite lines:

I will live with my children not merely for them; since such companionship is worth more than divergent ways, marked by needless sacrifices on the one side and a growing selfishness on the other.

The Crisis, January 1918

The Writer: Mary Roberts Rinehart

Mary Roberts Rinehart, 1914 (Theodore Christopher Marceau)

Mary Roberts Rinehart is often called the American Agatha Christie, although she started writing mysteries more than a decade before Christie did. Rinehart was born outside Pittsburgh in 1876, the daughter of an unsuccessful entrepreneur who committed suicide when she was 19. She attended nursing college, married a doctor, and turned her writing hobby into a profession after she and her husband lost $12,000 in the 1903 stock market crash.*** In 1908, she published her first mystery novel, The Circular Staircase, which sold 1.25 million copies. Reinhart was amazingly prolific, turning out several books a year in a variety of genres—mainstream fiction, travel books, and short stories as well as mysteries. She also wrote several plays, including the 1920 Broadway hit The Bat.

First edition, 1908

Oddly, Rinehart was almost murdered herself. In 1947, while she was staying at her summer house in Bar Harbor, Maine, a chef who had worked for her for 25 years shot at her and then tried to slash her with a pair of knives. Apparently he was angry that Rinehart had hired a butler.**** Other servants subdued him, and he killed himself in jail the next day. Later that year, the house burned down in a huge fire that destroyed 250 Bar Harbor homes. Also in 1947—a horrific year for Rinehart, it seems—she revealed in a Ladies’ Home Journal article that she had had a radical mastectomy and urged women to have breast examinations.

I haven’t read any of Rinehart’s mysteries yet, but I did read, and love, her 1917 comic novel Bab: A Sub-Deb. Here’s the first page. You can read the rest here.

The Playwright: Susan Glaspell

Susan Glaspell, date unknown

Susan Glaspell first won fame as a short story writer and novelist, but she’s best known today as a playwright and as the co-founder, with her husband, of the Provincetown Players, an avant-garde theater group.

Glaspell was born on a farm in Iowa and moved with her family to Davenport when she was a teenager. After graduating from Drake College, she worked in Davenport for a few years as a journalist and then turned to writing fiction full-time. She quickly found success as a short story writer***** and published a bestselling novel called The Glory of the Conquered in 1909. After her second novel appeared in 1911, the New York Times said she was “high among the ranks of American storytellers.”

Glaspell fell in love with a married writer named George Cram Cook, married him in 1913 after his divorce came through, and moved to Greenwich Village. In 1916, she and Cook founded the Provincetown Players in Cape Cod, working alongside friends, including leftist journalist John Reed, to produce a series of innovative one-act plays. Always looking for material, Glaspell asked an acquaintance one day whether he had written any plays. He said he hadn’t, but a friend of his had. The friend was Eugene O’Neill, and the theater produced his first one-act play, Bound East for Cardiff, in July 1916. The group continued its work at the Provincetown Playhouse in Greenwich Village.

George Cram Cook and Susan Glaspell, New York Tribune, July 15, 1917

Glaspell’s success continued after her husband’s death in 1924. She was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in 1931 for her play Alison’s House. Her best-known work today, though, is the 1916 one-act play Trifles, which was inspired by a murder trial she covered as a journalist. As it opens, a surly farmer has been killed and his wife has been taken in for questioning. The county attorney and the sheriff are interviewing a neighboring farmer in the dead man’s house. The sheriff’s wife and the neighboring farmer’s wife have tagged along. The women make occasional comments about the murder suspect’s preserves and her quilting, and the men snicker. While the men are upstairs investigating, the women discover a dead parakeet, apparently killed by the husband. The investigators haven’t been able to find a motive, and this seems to be it. To protect the abused wife, the women hide the incriminating evidence.

Here’s the first page of Trifles. You can read the play here. (It’s really short!)

Trifles, 1916 edition

It was great to learn more about these inspiring women. But women’s history, like men’s history, isn’t just a pageant of hero(in)es. In my next post I’ll tell you about some 1919 women I’m not such a big fan of.

*Before this project, I had the impression that premarital sex for men was frowned upon in principle but tolerated. In fact, it was more or less encouraged, the theory being that men were physically incapable of abstaining from sex and were better off sleeping with prostitutes or loose women than marrying before they were ready to support a family.

**The Crisis often used swastikas in its graphic design—this was, of course, before the emergence of the Nazi party.

***As an MFA graduate, I’m envious of all those 1919-era women who turned to writing short stories to make money.

****Speaking of butlers, we have Rinehart to thank for the phrase “the butler did it,” which originated with her 1930 novel The Door. She didn’t use those exact words, but—SPOILER ALERT—the butler did do it.

*****Like I said.

The best and worst of March 1918: Magazines, essays, cover art, and humor

When I was in the Foreign Service, living in Cambodia or Honduras or wherever, people used to ask, “But don’t you miss home?” I never knew what to say. The honest answer was, “I miss some things, sometimes, but it’s way more interesting here. Don’t you get bored living in the same place all the time?” That seemed kind of rude, though.

A quarter of the way through, that’s how I feel about my life in 1918. I’ll see, for example, that Meg Wolitzer, Curtis Sittenfeld, and Rebecca Harrington all have books coming out, and for a second I’ll wish that I could read them, but then I’ll pick up Mrs. Spring Fragrance or the latest issue of The Dial, and the feeling goes away. I can read those books next year. In the meantime, it’s way more interesting here.

Now for the best and worst of March 1918:

Best Magazine: The Little Review

Ulysses, as I wrote earlier this month, made its first appearance in the Little Review in March 1918. The issue also includes Ezra Pound writing on Marianne Moore, fiction by Wyndham Lewis, and an essay by Ford Madox Hueffer (a.k.a. Ford) that contains the sentence “The Englishman’s mind is of course made up entirely of quotations.” But the rest of the issue could have been blank (which wouldn’t have been unprecedented—the first thirteen pages of the September 1916 issue were blank, an expression of editor Margaret Anderson’s frustration over the lack of quality submissions) and it still would have been the best magazine of the month, if not the year.

Worst Magazine: The Art World

The Art World, as I noted last week, had nothing good to say about impressionism or anything that came after. To put that into perspective, the first major exhibition of impressionist art was in 1874. So an art magazine taking this stance in 1918 is like Rolling Stone saying in 2018 that this rock-and-roll music is just a lot of noise.

Statue of Lincoln, George Grey Barnard, Lytle Park, Cincinnati (1917)

In its March 1918 issue, the last before it merged into another magazine, The Art World criticized George Grey Barnard’s statue of Lincoln in Cincinnati, saying that Barnard

does not show the majestic Lincoln at the bar of history being judged and admired, but a slave Lincoln at the block, being sold and pitied…let us hope that Mr. Barnard will now deign to accept the advice we gave him in June 1917 and make a new Lincoln—virile, heroic, and majestic.

The magazine approvingly quotes portraitist Cecilia Beaux saying of the 1913 Armory Show in New York, the first large exhibition of modern art in the United States, that

“It was like a sudden windstorm that raises no little dust, noise, and confusion for the moment; when the wind dies down you discover that much that was of no real value has blown away, leaving a clearer, wholesome atmosphere.”

The Art World branches out to the written word in this issue, calling a modernist poem “speech worthy of a yapping maniac.”

Best humorous essay: “Making the Nursery Safe for Democracy,” by Harold Kellock, The Bookman

 

Essays about family life in 1918 are generally steeped in sarcasm (if they’re by men) or sentimentality (if they’re by women). It’s hard to find a family that seems real. Then I came across Harold Kellock’s essay about his four-year-old son being bombarded with royalist propaganda through his nursery reading. Every night, Kellock is forced to read his son a story about some heroic king. “In a world wherein we are pouring out our blood and treasure that democracy may live safely,” he complains, “our children scarcely out of the cradle are being made into staunch little monarchists.” He takes a stab at democratizing the stories, but it doesn’t work, and he resigns himself to nursery royalism.

“Then,” I read, “the king took Gretel to his palace and celebrated the marriage in great state. And she told the king all her story, and he sent for the fairy and punished her.” Think of having the power of punishment over fairies! The King und Gott! But my son swallows it complacently. He does not question the divine right of kings.

Faery Tales from Hans Christian Andersen, Maxwell Armfield, 1910

Kellock reassures himself that, when the time comes, he can turn his child into a democrat by showing him photographs “of some vacuous king, discreetly bearded to hide his recessional features,” or “a typical princess, whose hat and features alike seem so unfortunately chosen, opening a Red Cross bazaar.”

But not for a while, he says.

Worst humorous essay: “I Must Have Been A Little Too Rough,” by George B. Jenkins, Jr., Smart Set

I hope this is the worst thing I read all year. There must be an anti-gender violence message hidden somewhere, but…well, read it for yourself.

I must have been a little too rough.

“Women,” her father had told me, “are tired of the courteous treatment of the average man. They are bored by the vapid compliments, the silly lies, the stupid chatter of pale youths with gardenias in their lapels. If you want to be a success with women, be rude! Be violent! Overpower them, assert your physical superiority! If necessary, beat them!” He became quite excited. “Pound them! Assault them! Half-murder them!”

I listened to him respectfully, though I did not care for him at all. Yet I believed him, for he is notoriously successful in his affaires.

I decided to test his theories. Striding into the next room, I grasped his daughter about the waist.

“I love you!” I roared, squeezing her until her face was purple.

“You belong to me!” I shouted, dragging her around the room by her hair, and overturning several chairs in our progress.

“Damn you!” I shrieked, striking her on the shoulder, where the blow left a blue welt, “I will fight the world for you.”

She began to whimper.

“Shut up!” I ordered, in my rudest manner, and slung her across the room.

But I must have been a little too rough, for she fell out the window.

Best magazine cover: The Liberator

The first issue of The Liberator was published in March 1918. Its predecessor, The Masses, had closed down in 1917 after being declared treasonous by the government for its anti-war stance. The debut issue included reporting from Russia by John Reed, whose Ten Days that Shook the World was published the next year (and who died in Russia in 1920 at the age of 32). I’ll write more about The Liberator later. For now, here’s its inaugural cover, by Hungarian-American artist Hugo Gellert.

Worst magazine cover: Collier’s

I’m imagining the meeting where this cover was conceived.

Art director: How about…the President?
Editor: What would he be doing?
Art director: Nothing, just a picture of his face, in black and white. With a caption that says [stretches his hand into the air dramatically], “The President.”
Editor: I like it!

Best humor:


As I’ve noted before, there are no good jokes in 1918 magazines. But I liked this Cornelia Barns Liberator cartoon, featuring the world’s most coldhearted mother seeing her son off to war.

Worst humor:

First dog: How is brother collie over there? Is he in your set?
Second: Oh, yes; we visit the same garbage pails.

(Life magazine, March 28, 1918)

And, in honor of Women’s History Month, the most inspiring women:

I came across so many! Novelists Edith Wharton, Willa Cather, and Mary Roberts Rinehart; artist Elizabeth Gardner; dancer Irene Castle; Little Review editor Margaret Anderson; suffragist Anna Kelton Wiley; prosecutor Annette Abbott Adams; rebellious housewife Julia Clark Hallam; and the anonymous woman who wrote about how divorce saved her sanity.

But every month is Women’s History month at My Year in 1918, and there are lots more inspiring women to come. (Sneak preview: a pioneering British sexologist and a witty Chinese-American writer.) On to April!

A forgotten early 20th-century Betty Friedan

Quick: where do these sentences come from?

[The housewife] masters in a year or two years at most details which must nevertheless be repeated, although all the freshness and interest have gone out of them, as long as life lasts.

In a vague and unanalyzed way she feels the inexorable effects of child training and housekeeping upon her own mental life and powers.

She has a sense of injury that she has fallen upon a career so uninteresting and uncongenial.

Betty Friedan, right? The Feminine Mystique. The problem that has no name.

No, not right—as you’ve probably guessed, since this blog isn’t called “My Year in 1963.” (The post title may have been a tip-off as well.) They come from an October 20, 1917,* article in the New Republic called “The Price of a Home,” by Julia Clark Hallam.

Parade staged by the Iowa Woman’s Suffrage Association. Boone, Iowa. October 29, 1908. Photographer: Moxley. (State Historical Society of Iowa, Des Moines)

There were feminists back then, of course. For the most part, though, they were fighting for the vote, not talking about bored housewives. In fact, in order to win men over to the suffragist cause, they were deliberately not rocking the gender equality boat.

Julia Clark Hallam was a suffragist, too—she headed the Iowa Equal Suffrage Society from 1909 to 1910. But she wasn’t having any of this “one battle at a time” business.

Hutchison Hall, University of Chicago, ca. 1910-1920 (Library of Congress)

“The Price of a Home” starts with the tale of a woman (clearly Hallam herself) who applies to graduate school twenty-five years after graduating from college with honors. In the years in between, she has raised four children. The school’s dean agrees to admit her, but he predicts that she won’t succeed. She asks why.

“Because,” replied the dean, after taking a moment or two for reflection, “our experience has compelled us to realize that the occupation of home making, important as it is, does not prepare the mind for its higher activities and attainment.”

Hallam sees the dean’s point.

Lack of intellectual content in experience and constant repetition arrest mental development as certainly as newness, freshness and interestingness make for mental growth.

The way she describes this problem leaves little doubt that she’s experienced it first-hand.

There are days when [the housewife] feels she must throw all the dishes on the scrap heap rather than wash them, and as for breaking an egg, which has to be done so endlessly in cooking, she clenches her teeth lest she jam the whole sack of eggs into the garbage pail.

Frontispiece, Studies in Child Development, Julia Clark Hallam

In a follow-up article the next week, Hallam takes on the argument that, while keeping house might be tedious, raising children is intellectually stimulating.

Doubtless there are elements of truth in this argument, yet I wonder if those who press it realize how often a child has to be bathed? Let us admit that the first ministrations of this kind bring the thrill of the mentally fresh and the emotionally pleasurable. But after the act has been repeated several hundred times the thrill refuses to report for duty.

Again sounding very much like Friedan, she says that technology is not the solution.

I am inclined to believe that mechanical inventions are proving thought-killers rather than thought-producers, and that the time they save is wasted unless it can be given to activities which have a real mental content.

Good Housekeeping, January 1918

It’s too late for the present generation of homemakers, Hallam says. But she’s optimistic about the future.

My most earnest hope and conviction is that through the influence of continued intellectual rebellion on their parts against the present conditions, we shall blaze a trail which for our daughters and granddaughters will lead out to a reconstructed society where all individuals shall have equal share in grasp of mind and freedom of spirit.

In the debate sparked by the article, Hallam comes in for a fair amount of condescension. But not all of her critics are men. Elizabeth Childe of Washington, D.C., says that, after searching through “a mind darkened by twenty years of homemaking,” she has found the flaw in Hallam’s argument: her failure to distinguish between housework and the rewarding—to Childe, at least—occupation of homemaking. Friedan, too, was criticized for saying that no one could possibly enjoy being a housewife. (Another criticism of Friedan, that of class bias, could also be applied to Hallam. Her husband’s work—he was a lawyer—might seem enviable, but would she want to trade places with a male assembly line worker?)

Frontispiece, The Story of a European Tour, Julia Clark Hallam

Hallam did earn her degree, an M.A. from the University of Chicago, in 1910. In addition to her work as a suffragist, she taught high school in the United States and the Philippines. She wrote several books as well. The Story of a European Tour (1900), is, sad to say, even more boring than it sounds.** In Studies in Child Development (1913), we learn about “The Boy’s Greatest Danger,” which is, you guessed it, “onanism, or self-pollution.” You can read what she has to say about this life-threatening problem, and how to solve it, here.*** But most of her advice is more sensible, and she was described as a pioneering advocate for sex education (or social hygiene, as it was then known).

Hallam died in 1927, at the age of 67. Her occupation, as listed on her death certificate: housewife.

*Granted, this blog isn’t called “My Year in 1917” either. But the debate over Hallam’s article continued for months in the letters to the editor, which is how I came across her.

**The height of the action, judging from my quick skim: she and her husband think they’ve lost their train tickets, find them at the last minute, are separated on the platform in the confusion, and are brought together by a nice young man from Princeton.

***If you’re pressed for time, here’s a sample: “Everyone has seen an electric battery which has spent its force. It is a dead thing. So the body, with its splendid life forces wasted—not to speak of the moral and spiritual and degradation that follows. It is one of the great tragedies of life.”

Elizabeth Gardner: A boundary-breaking, cross-dressing painter with a surprising afterlife

In the March 1918 issue of the The Art World, there’s an article called “Some Painters Who Happen to Be Women.” I read it, and it’s true! They all just happened to be women. None of them did it on purpose, just to be annoying.

According to the article’s author, Lida Rose* McCabe, who happened to be a woman herself,

woman as an art producer has ceased to be curio, enigma or trifle. Upon intrinsic merit her achievement now stands or falls. In all that makes for exhibition, Jury award, Academician, museum purchase or public commission, hers is today the modern sexlessness—attributed to angels in painting and sculpture.

Elizabeth Jane Gardner, ca. 1860

The oldest of these modern sexless artists—“her years fourscore!” McCabe marvels—is Elizabeth Jane Gardner. The Art World is a pretty fusty magazine, so I assumed that she was a boring society painter. Well, I was wrong. In 1864, at the age of 23, Gardner left for Paris to study art, but, McCabe tells us,

no school, no master would receive her. The few French or foreign women then known to the Salon or Latin quarter, like the few who had preceded them down the ages, were the wives, sisters, or daughters of artists.

Gardner found an ingenious way to get around this problem. Her hair had been cut short because of a fever before she left for France, so, she tells McCabe,

“I applied to the police to wear boy’s clothes. It was readily granted, and in that guise I entered the Gobelin’s school. My masculine attire which I always changed on heading home, never caused me the slightest annoyance. The students were most courteous, and in the streets I was never inconvenienced.”

Closed Shutters, Elizabeth Gardner

Success came quickly. Two of Gardner’s paintings were selected for the Salon in 1866, and in 1872 she was awarded its gold medal, the first woman to receive that honor.** In the early 1900s, the Musée de Luxembourg bought her painting Closed Shutters for its American wing. In the otherwise admiring profile, McCabe sneers at this painting, saying that

with due deference to its quality, there are few of our museums, private collections or current exhibitions without a picture by a native home-trained woman painter to equal if not surpass Closed Shutters.***

McCabe tells us that Gardner married her teacher, noted artist William Bouguereau. What she doesn’t tell is that Gardner, who was maybe not as sexless as McCabe makes out, carried on a long liaison with Bouguereau after the death of his first wife in 1877. His mother bitterly opposed their marriage, and this was apparently too great an obstacle for this pair of otherwise free spirits to overcome. (Could money have been involved?) His mother finally died in 1896, at the age of ninety-one, and they married shortly afterwards.

Self-portrait, William Bouguereau, 1879

Gardner was heavily influenced by Bouguereau, to the extent that she was quoted as saying, “I know I am censured for not more boldly asserting my individuality, but I would rather be known as the best imitator of Bouguereau than be nobody!”

David the Shepherd, Elizabeth Gardner, ca. 1895

Many of Gardner’s paintings are conventional nineteenth-century tableaux: Greek myths, biblical scenes, and the like. Others, though, raise eyebrows today.

Take, for instance, The Confidence (ca. 1880). The painting, now owned by the Georgia Museum of Art in Athens, Georgia, shows two young women sharing a secret. To a modern eye, it looks sexualized—the intimate position of the heads, the bare feet close together. In a 2013 article about the loan of the painting to (of all places) Bob Jones University, however, a museum staff member said that this wasn’t the case.  “It’s very affectionate, but it’s also very 19th-century sisterly affectionate.”

The Confidence, Elizabeth Gardner, ca. 1880

The Confidence had a second life in—I bet you didn’t see this coming!—an R.E.M. video. As the Athens-based band sings its 1991 song “Low,” the girls in the painting come to life and the action continues. And, take my word for it, it’s anything but sisterly. (Or check it out yourself on R.E.M.’s website.)

I’m not sure what Elizabeth Gardner would have thought, but Lida Rose McCabe must be turning over in her grave.

*So now I can’t get the song from The Music Man out of my head.

**The Art World sees art as a resume-building process. Still—impressive!

***The Art World’s taste in art was so reactionary that even impressionism was a bridge too far. Its take on Monet’s Rouen Cathedral: “Nothing more than a ‘color stunt.’”

Women spies of 1918

I was going to write about women artists in honor of Women’s History Month, but then I opened the March 19, 1918, New York Times and saw that women were hatching international conspiracies all over Manhattan. Change of plan!

First, this:

Two men and two women were arrested, the Times reports, for alleged participation in an international German spy ring. The principal suspect is Despina Davidovitch Storch, the 23-year-old Turkish ex-wife of a French army officer. The Times said of Storch that

she is in appearance a strikingly handsome woman, and in the year that she made her home at the Waldorf-Astoria numbered among her friends many well-known persons, some of whom it was intimated yesterday are not at all anxious now to appear to have been among her admirers.

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

Mme. Storch was arrested in Key West with a young Frenchman, the Baron Henri de Beville, as the two were preparing to flee to Cuba. The Baron’s father, according to the apparently sympathetic Times, was “broken hearted as a result of his son’s arrest,” and felt that his son was “a victim of the ‘charms’ of the Turkish woman.”

(This account of masculine helplessness comes from a paper that, remember, wasn’t particularly sympathetic to women getting the vote.)

The pair had been living a peripatetic life. They were taken into custody in Madrid in 1915 as suspected enemy agents, sailed to Cuba after their release, and went on to the United States. They had also lived in Paris and Lisbon, where they amassed bills of $1000 a month. Their equally lavish New York lifestyle attracted the attention of the American authorities, who also found a safe deposit box in Mme. Storch’s name containing “a mass of foreign correspondence and a code.”

Waldorf-Astoria, 1917 (Library of Congress)

Their alleged co-conspirators were picked up in New York. Mrs. Elizabeth Charlotte Nix, who, according to the Times, “is about 40 years of age, but looks ten years younger,” had received a $3000 payment from the German ambassador before he left the country when war was declared, but she denied that it was a spy payment. The principal crime of “Count” Robert de Clairmont, as far as I can tell, was his dubious claim to his title.

The Justice Department official who announced the arrests, Charles F. De Woody,* recommended that the four suspects be deported to France. The problem with trying them in the United States was that—oops!—the espionage law only applied to men. President Wilson had mentioned this problem in his State of the Union address, and Congress was taking action, but not in time to go after Mme. Stroch and Mrs. Nix.

Meanwhile, down in Greenwich Village, a very different sort of (alleged) German-sponsored conspiracy was uncovered.

Agnes Smedley, the twenty-six-year-old “girl,” was arrested with Sailendra Nath Ghose, a “highly educated Hindu” who was already under indictment in San Francisco, for fomenting rebellion against British rule in India. (Uncharacteristically, the Times makes no mention of Smedley’s level of attractiveness.) Their activities were allegedly part of a “worldwide German-directed plot to cause trouble in India” and thereby weaken British war efforts. They sought assistance from several Latin American countries (Ghose lived for a time in Mexico, under the implausible pseudonym of Sanchez) and from Leon Trotsky.

Agnes Smedley

“First women arrested in New York for enemy activities” might not be your idea of an inspiring Women’s History Month first. Well, then, there’s Annette Abbott Adams, the San Francisco-based Assistant U.S. District Attorney who spoke to the Times about the Ghose indictment. She would go on to be the first woman Assistant Attorney General and later a high-ranking California judge.

Annette Abbott Adams, 1914

The indictment against Smedley was eventually dropped. She spent many years in China as a sympathetic chronicler of the Communist Party, and wrote a well-regarded autobiographical 1929 novel, Daughter of the Earth. She counted a Soviet spymaster among her lovers. She died in England at the age of 58, and is buried in Beijing.

As for Despina Storch…stay tuned! (UPDATE: Find out what happened to her here.)

*Even the bureaucrats in this story have picturesque names.

Divorce with a happy ending: a daring 1918 essay

During Women’s History Month, I’ve been thinking a lot about the forgotten women of 1918—not the ones we celebrate for changing the world, but the ones who changed the world just by the way they lived their lives.

One of my favorite women of 1918 didn’t even leave her name behind. All she left is a two-part unsigned article in the January and February 1918 issues of Sunset magazine called “My Encounter with Divorce and Drink.”

Divorce was on the rise, but the idea of ending a marriage because of incompatibility was controversial. A family court judge, writing in Woman’s Home Companion in 1916, told of a “hysterical young wife” who came to the court asking for a divorce. Her husband had been drinking and staying out all night and had threatened to strike her. It turned out, though, that once she stopped her nagging he became a model spouse. The judge wrote that “if young wives, beginning to fret about incompatibility, were to take stock of the things they do to irritate their husbands…then about three fourths of the divorce courts would go out of business.”

Our Sunset narrator has a different take.

I married young. And I married a good man (a very good man) fifteen years older than myself. And oh! how proud I was to have attracted a man of the assured position, both business and social, which my husband possessed.

Differences quickly arose, though.

He was for that old, established order of “corruption and contentment.” And I was a radical! Oh! those were a few of the differences. They were the surface differences. The others were deeper.

The problem, she says, was with the “old marriage platform” itself.

My husband’s mentality did not—could not—dominate mine. Mind you, I do not say that mine was the superior mentality. But then, neither was his. And, because he was a man and I was only a woman, he could not recognize my individual right to be a personal entity, entirely disassociated from him on the mental plane.

It wasn’t a case of right or wrong, she says; they were just wrong for each other.

He should have married a woman who would sing in the choir, go to Wednesday evening prayer meetings, belong to the Ladies’ Aid and Missionary Society, and, as a violent dissipation, play euchre (for a prize!!) one evening every two weeks with a lot of others of the same ilk.

Playing Cards at the Parlor Table, ca. 1906 (Library of Congress)

She suffered through many of these euchre games herself.

They didn’t even play euchre intelligently, these women. But the men played it with an abandoned recklessness and a superb dash that clearly demonstrated the latent strain of “gay dog” that lay sleeping in each breast.

They had two children, but neither survived. If they had, she says, she would have stayed in the marriage, no matter how much it stifled her. She raged silently when her neighbors spoke of “God’s will.”

God’s will! To torture two innocent, beautiful, trusting little children! I would have them in no heaven presided over by such a Deity!

Then her husband met another woman.

Just the right woman for my husband. I knew it before he did. I watched his need for her and her love for him grow. Before they knew it—the blessed innocents—I was thanking the Fates for it.

Church choir, ca. 1910

She is such a nice little thing; although older than I, still she was always a “little thing” to me. Gay and bright, with a sweet soprano that has been leading the “hallelujas” for many a year now, in another small-town choir.

And so they went their separate ways.

I never so appreciated my husband’s generosity, his patience, his real, strong sweetness of disposition, as when we parted. I was never so genuinely fond of him, so grateful for his forbearance (and he needed lots, to live with me) so clearly aware of his many sterling qualities, nor so happy, as when we said “goodby” and I went quietly away and “deserted” him.

She suspects that her husband finds life a little dull without the “ginger which I furnished in his life.” But she knows that he’s happier now.

Bohemian gathering, Greenwich Village, 1910s (New York Historical Society)

And isn’t it funny? They both admire me tremendously. They come, once in a while to visit me. They meet my friends. And get dizzy drunk with the rare, vivified atmosphere of brains which my friends generate. And they are as proud as Punch of me because I enjoy that sort of thing. They think I am wonderfully “advanced.”

 After they make me a little visit, they go home again, quite satiated, to peace, and repose.

 As she concludes her story, she says,

Divorce, to you reading this, may be all wrong. Surely, then, it is wrong for you. For me it happened to be right.

After the divorce, she threw herself into her career for a few years, and then she met another man. He was a drinker, and the second installment tells of how, with her help, he reformed.

But, to me, the more compelling part of her story, and the part that I’m glad that readers of 1918 had a chance to read, is about the marriage that didn’t survive—not because of abuse, or liquor, or infidelity, but because two nice people turned out to be wrong for each other.

And about how, having left the marriage, they each found a happy ending.