Tuesday, September 22, 2009

The 5 Businesswomen in Ypsilanti at the Start of the Civil War

Kind readers will remember that the last blog-post provided an overall look at the 195 businesspeople operating in Ypsilanti at the start of the Civil War. 5 of these businesspeople were women:

The New York-born Mrs. Jane Thatcher, a 35-year-old widow in 1860, ran a boarding-house. Jane lived in the boarding-house with her 16-year-old daughter Harriet. She had only two boarders, the unemployed New York-born 50-year-old Caroline U. Peckham and the German-born 24-year-old tailoress Elizabeth Hamling. Thatcher's boarding-house stood on Congress (Michigan Ave.) between Washington and Adams, next door to the home of furniture and coffin-maker David Coon and his wife Eliza.

The Scottish-born Helen McAndrew was a "homeopathist physician." She lived on the east side of Congress between Huron and Michigan. She was the first female doctor in Washtenaw County, but she had to go back East to get her degree-no school west of New York would admit a woman student. Back in Ypsilanti, it was not considered appropriate for a woman to be a doctor. Her patients were the poor whites in town, and its black residents. She was also a suffragette and a Temperance worker. She and her husband "loved Ypsilanti and its people as nothing else in the world. They were especially fond of the approach from the East up to the edge of the slope, from which one looks over the trees and the roofs of the houses and gleam of the river to the western rim of the valley and the great school on the hilltop, a lighthouse for all Michigan and beyond," according to Helen's son. She was inducted into the Michigan hall of Fame in 1994.

Miss O. S. Coe ran her own downtown dressmaking business on South Huron. In 1881 she became involved in a court case that went all the way to the Michigan Supreme Court. Her credit was bad with a Chicago fabric supplier, so they demanded a guarantor who would guarantee payment for any fabric she ordered. One Newton Crittenden agreed to be her guarantor, but with one stroke of his pen, followed by Miss Coe charging up to $800, he introduced an ambiguity that sent the case to the Supreme Court:

The case was decided against Crittenden on the basis that if the fabric merchants understood he'd meant only $200, they would not have extended credit for more.

Miss Harriet Maycumber also ran her own dressmaking business, in Depot Town. She had a shop on East Cross Street in the Follett Block, with trains rumbling by all day and the depot just around the corner. She boarded upstairs at the Follett House, one of the town's 4 hotels. It was run by H. Hawkins.

Last, Mrs. A. Dresser ran a boarding-house, where she also resided, at Ballard near Emmet.

Of course, other women were working out of the home in Ypsilanti in 1860--but they were few, and confined to only a few jobs judged acceptable for women. Sarah Hope was a widowed tailoress living on E. Congress. Miss M. Forsythe was also a dressmaker. Mrs. E. Lock was a dressmaker working for the Hewitt store. Miss Maria Green was a millener working for the Hewitt store. Mary Fairchild was a dressmaker employed by the Hewitt store (I have a story about this store in the pipeline; you'll read it soon!).

The 5 women listed above were the only ones with substantial enough businesses to be considered--by the "Business Mirror" section in the 1860 directory--to be businesswomen in their own right. Hats off to them for carving out their niche in a man's world.

1 comment :

Lisele said...

Where was Dr. McAndrew's house? Is it still standing?