Sunday, May 15, 2011

Whither the Whister Sisters?

In 1901 or 1902 the Ypsilanti Whist Club rented this fancy livery getup from the Palace Livery in Ann Arbor and posed in their finery for a photo by Ann Arbor's Randall photography studio.

These are the wives of some of Ypsilanti's businessmen. They could not vote and likely most of them did not work outside the home--they didn't need to, and only a few acceptable jobs for women were available to women in general. Several of them likely had servants at home. To fill their days they participated in church groups and church socials, likely the Ladies' Home Association charity organization, maybe a temperance group. And they played card games like whist.

There is some degree of pathos? in that this photo to all appearances looks like one taken to commemorate an important occasion--the founding of a local school for girls, say, or a delegation elected as representatives to travel to Lansing and campaign for a women's issue. Yet it was only a card club; for this seemingly trivial occasion you can see the women spent considerable pains dressing in their finest. Their lives were very circumscribed by today's standards. It must have been hard to have been an intelligent woman in that day and to be forced to find or invent dignity in participating in and dressing up elaborately for a card club.

The people in the front seat from left to right are Mrs. E. W. Matthews, Mrs. S. H. Tepper, and "Mrs. Henry." Other ladies pictured include Mrs. L. M. James, Hattie Benistub (sp?), Mrs. Carlos Childs, and Mrs. H. R. Scovill. Click on the last photo for a giant version.


LaidOffTeacherPatti said...

With the rising number of women who "opt out" (i.e. want to sit at home all day), I am afraid we are rapidly going back to those days. Sure, I hate that I have to drag my ass out of bed every day and go to work too but I also like knowing that I have my own income and if I have to, I can jam out of here any time I want to (not that I want to of course!) It really scares me to think of how many people out there wouldn't really mind going back to these days where the highlight of our day was some card game and recipe swapping....

Dusty D said...

There's a real freedom in that. I'm proud of the fact that, though my house is old and tiny, I bought it a decade ago with every penny being my own money. And I still love it. I don't think most women had much if any financial independence back then.