Sunday, September 23, 2012

Bachelor Maids Clubs, circa 1915- St Louis, Missouri: "Unwed and Loving It"

             Copyright 2013, The Hopelessly Hooked Genealogist (B. Harrison)

Bachelor Girls Club of 1915, St. Louis, Missouri-

Among the family heirloom photos in the collection that had belonged to one of paternal aunts, is a photo depicting two of her sisters as young women with a group of their friends.  The photo is labeled: "Bachelor Girls Club of 1915", believed to have been taken in St. Louis, Missouri. The women in the photo all appear to be in their late teens or early twenties. They are all wearing fancy hats and suits that were fashionable in that time period.   My copy of this photo was made years ago on a xerox machine, long before digital photography came along, so the copy I have is not very good.  The original photo has long since been lost or packed away in storage in the estate belongings of my late aunt Lona, which passed to her son.   Her sisters "the Bachelor Girls" are in the far right of the photo. Here it is:

My aunts; the Bachelor Girls of 1915: top row, right- Gladys Harrison, age 19.  bottom row, right- Edna Harrison, age 20.

Looking at this picture peaked my curiosity about these two aunts of mine.  Ironically, both of my aunts married within a year of the above photo being taken.  But, before they were wives, they were Bachelor Girls. Just what were these "Bachelor Girls Clubs"  (or "Bachelor Maids" as they were often referred to) all about back then, anyway?  Certainly, they weren't "old maids". I knew that both of these aunts had married fairly young and raised children with their husbands.  They were both quite a bit older than their baby brother, my Dad, so I had grown up knowing them from afar simply as my elder "widowed" aunts, each old enough to be my grandmother. Looking at this photo now reminds me that each of these women had once been young, vibrant, fun-loving and free-spirited girls; before the cares of adulthood burdened their worlds.   Each woman ultimately matured to face particularly challenging lives in their later adult years, filled with much personal difficulty, serious health problems, and loss of loved ones.     But, once upon a time, they were "Bachelor Maids".

I decided to learn more about these "Bachelor Maids" clubs of the early 1900's, and take a peek into the lifestyle of my young aunts during that period of their lives.   A quick search online pointed me to this explanation offered by the Library of Congress, at :
"Bachelor maids were a cadre of single women in the late 19th, early 20th century. Not to be confused with “old maids” (or “spinsters”), these women opted to be independent of men, live on their own and manage their own business affairs. Young, unmarried women’s social groups, known as Bachelor Maids’ Clubs, began in cities such as New York and Washington, DC. Soon thereafter, smaller clubs began forming in cities and towns around the country."

"Before there were Carrie, Miranda, Samantha and Charlotte, there were bachelor maids – turn-of-the-century single gals opting to play by their own rules of the time. These women of the late 19th and early 20th centuries had acceptable ways to earn money and no longer regarded marriage as necessary for financial stability or for self-respect.    That's not to say that all women were against the idea of matrimony, but rather they set standards for suitors to meet and waited to marry, if they married at all.   'The Bachelor Girl does generally marry. However, I have noticed that the marriages of girls who have followed some useful and interesting business before they married turn out happiest,' said Ellen Adair in her article in the Jan. 26, 1915, issue of Philadelphia's Evening Public Ledger."-

An amusing and somewhat derisive poem was published in the Oct 11, 1896 issue of the San Francisco Call, describing the Bachelor Maid New Woman:  " She could never be persuaded to marry, Never husband shall order her life.  As for children, she never could stand them, With their noise and perpetual strife.  Yes, dear bachelor maiden new woman, The men are a despicable lot; It may be you'd refuse to marry, It may also be true that you'd not". 

Below is a photo of another of these groups, the Bachelor Maids Club of Ames, IA- circa 1895- courtesy of Ames Public 

On the other hand, the following article appeared in the January 16, 1898 issue of the San Francisco Call, describing the Bachelor Maids as a group of young ladies on the hunt for suitable husbands:  "If you wish to see a group of pretty, vivacious, intelligent and thoroughly independent nineteenth century maidens, of a true American type, just stop long enough at Cape May, New Jersey to catch a glimpse of the Bachelor Maids' Club, an association of twelve charming, marriageable young women, who have banded together to protect themselves from the unworthy members of the other sex. The perpetuation of celibacy is not contemplated, as every member is in favor of marriage, but it must be a marriage of the ideal standard set by the club.  Accordingly the twelve young men somewhere in this broad world who would willingly marry these twelve winsome misses must throw away their vices and prepare themselves to answer some questions like these:   Do you drink, or smoke, or chew, or wear a silk hat in summer with a blue suit, or lie in bed in the morning while your father shovels coal into the heater, or give expression to wicked words when you strike your thumb with a hammer?  Do you earn enough to support a wife?  Can you see a flower store without being directed to it?  Do you write love letters with a pencil?  How many cousins of the feminine gender do you have? What becomes of your temper when you lose your collar button?  Do you ride a last year's wheel?  Are you fond of ice cream and soda water and poetry?   It frequently happens that the carefully groomed and industrious young men of the wave swept city are asked to attend informal receptions and musicales, and the promptness with which they pen a reply to the daintily perfumed card of invitation is sufficient evidence in itself of the high esteem in which the Bachelor Maids Club is held". 

Apparently some of these clubs were operated as boarding houses or dormitories  for young women who had either taken jobs, or were training at some trade or vocational skill, in larger cities.  I think this scenario would probably have been applicable to both of my aunts, who were living in St Louis in 1915 while they were both members of a  "Bachelor Girls Club".  An article in the Washington, D.C. Evening Times of June 5, 1896 announced that  "A unique club for bachelor women has just been organized in Chicago.  It's headquarters will be in a large flat building on Power Avenue.  Last night, an advance guard of a dozen young women took possession of the new quarters, each proud of the possession of a latch-key.  The plan of management is this:  Each young woman who becomes a club member pays a minimum price f $3.50 per week.  For a single room the price will be from $4 to $4.50 per week.   For each suite of eight rooms there is a large double parlor, fitted up handsomely.   Besides this there is a big, plain room set apart for sewing, darning, handkerchief washing, and the like.   One feature is a large assembly room, which can be used for meetings, lectures. etc. It is also planned to allow young ladies who wish, to furnish their rooms, wholly or in part, according to their individual tastes.  The club is admirably situated as to car lines, being withing a short distance of three downtown lines".   (It is assumed this is referring to cable-car lines). 

Not all of society approved of these "Bachelor Girls", apparently. Some considered them to be rather spoiled and self-indulgent.   An article published Dec 27, 1894 in the Evening Dispatch of Provo, Utah stated: "...the blame must rest with their mothers. It is a careless, selfish, irresponsible epoch in which the daughter studies her own convenience and pleasure solely; and the mother by foolish indulgence, aids and abets her.  Once a girl is free from the trammels of the schoolroom and is fully fledged in society, nothing is denied her.  She may lie in bed, perchance take her breakfast there, while she skims a novel belonging to the 'new' order of fiction.  Her day is compassed with no single duty save to look her best and enjoy her life. "   Well, that really does not sound much different that the life of a typical teenager or young twenty-something when I was growing up, or today either for that matter.   Girls Just Wanna Have Fun, after all, and enjoy life.   Given the chance, who wouldn't want to lounge over breakfast in bed, and only rouse ourselves to receive gentlemen callers laden with gifts of flowers and poetry?  I can imagine that in their later years, when life was no longer filled with laughter and gentleman callers; my aunts would look back upon that time in their lives fondly and wistfully, longing for their carefree days among girl-friends in the Bachelor Girls Club of 1915.