Saleswomen Of New York City in the Late Victorian Era

I am oddly fascinated by the piece “Salesgirls in New York” by Grace H. Dodge found in What Women Can Earn: Occupations of Women and Their Compensation, published in 1899. I can imagine the first chapter of a historical novel set at the turn of the last century about a young woman who arrives by train to New York City, desperate for work and to leave something or someone behind.

An Occupation Which Is Already Crowded.
The Country Girl Advised to Stay Away From New York City.
If, However, She Must Come, Then What She Ought and Ought Not to Do.
The Factories.

THE advice given by Punch to those about to marry is such a hackneyed one that I am almost afraid to use it. And yet I find that “Don’t” just expresses what I want to say to country girls who think about coming to New York City for employment. All the great centres of population, Boston, New York, Chicago, Philadelphia, and others, are crowded with women seeking for work, and the competition is so keen that inexperienced and friendless girls are overwhelmed by it, and they are beset with trials, disappointments and snares everywhere.

Library of Congress
Fifth Avenue, New York 1900

In all the great stores, and, indeed, in nearly every store, a city reference, as well as a city residence, is required, and those who have both are selected first. Girls who live in boarding and furnished-room houses are looked upon with disfavour, because the moral tone of the home is considered necessary to the welfare of young women. Furthermore, employers know well that their salesgirls cannot pay board and dress themselves on the wages they receive as beginners unless they live at home.

If the salesgirl is one of a family of wage earners she can pay a part of her salary into the general fund at home and retain part for dress, carfares and other petty expenses. But the girl without a city home has to depend solely on her small salary, and the consequent worry, to say nothing of her exposure to temptation, injures her commercial usefulness.

New York Public Library

Cashgirls, of whom few are employed in these latter days, receive at the good stores when they begin work $2 a week, stockgirls, $3 to $3.50, and salesgirls, $6. At the latter figure some experience is expected from the clerk, which may have been in the service as cash or stock girl in the same store or as salesgirl in another one. Pay is advanced with the usefulness of the girl to $8 and $9. Hours of attendance are from 8 A. M. to 6 P. M. with three-quarters of an hour for luncheon, and a half-holiday, one day each week, for two months of the year. Every good house pays its employees for overtime during the Christmas holidays, either in money, suppers, or “days off ” later.

In all the principal houses the girls dress in black in the winter and wear black skirts and shirtwaists in the summer.

Exceptionally bright girls usually become the “head of stock ’’ or are given some other place of responsibility, and have corresponding pay. Some stores employ women for buyers, and pay them from $2,000 to $5,000 a year, and it is significant that they have all risen from the ranks. They tell me in the stores that this must be so, and that no woman, no matter what her general education and ability may be, can hope to obtain such a place unless she has graduated from behind the counter, where she gained her practical experience.

Among the best paying stores the health of the employees is given special attention, but Wanamaker, I believe, stands alone in having a trained nurse constantly at the store to attend them. The dry-goods houses usually take care of their girls through the benefit funds started in the stores, the money for which is obtained from fines paid by the tardy workers and from the small sums they themselves pay in.

For a girl who is physically strong and intelligent there is a chance of employment in large cities in the factories. One such institution in New York City alone employs twenty-five hundred girls, and the conditions are usually good. I am not speaking of the “sweat-shops,” of course. Factory girls have one advantage—they are not obliged to spend their money for dress, nor are they exposed to the temptations caused by seeing money expended for frivolous things, which, after a while, actually look to the salesgirl as though they were necessities.

The earnings of a worker in the factories depend upon her own skill. Indeed, $10 and $12 a week is not at all unusual pay. It is true, however, that factories do not run steadily the whole year round. The earnings of feather curlers and artificial flower makers are better than those paid in some other industries, but I do not advise a girl to work as either, because those trades are apt to develop certain forms of disease. Most operatives are paid by the piece, so that earnings often run higher than the scale just mentioned

Ferris’s factory, in Newark, N. J., has an excellent luncheon-room for the girls, and provides overshoes and umbrellas for them, and similarly kind treatment is accorded in many of the New York City factories.

New York Public Library
New York Public Library

Every working girl should save some amount from her earnings every week. The Penny Provident Fund will accept the smallest sum, and some of the savings banks remain open until 7 or 7:30 P. M. for the especial convenience of working people. A girl might well avail herself also of some of the benefit societies which are so numerous in New York and other large cities. The New York Association of Working Girls’ Societies has a benefit fund, whereby a girl will receive during illness $8 a week for six consecutive weeks in any year, by paying into the fund 40 cents a month. For 25 cents she will receive $5 a week, and for 15 cents $3 weekly.

Library of Congress

By joining one of the clubs, either of this society or the Young Women’s Christian Association, or of similar organizations, the working girl will have a social life, not otherwise open to her, and an opportunity for mental and spiritual improvement.

If a country girl must come to New York, let her go to the women’s dressing-rooms of the railroad station when she arrives and read the addresses of Christian homes which she will find on the walls.

If she writes to the Manhattan East Side Mission, No. 416 East Twenty-sixth St., a woman will meet her, but if she does not do this, and she arrives in the city late, she would better spend the night in the waiting room, rather than go into the streets alone and ignorant of her way. In Philadelphia the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union looks after young travellers, and in Boston the Travellers’ Aid Society.

New York Public Library

A girl should not enter into conversation with any stranger, whether man or woman, and she would better avoid asking for information from hackmen. The policeman on duty inside of the station will always be willing to direct her.

The matron at St. Bartholomew’s Girls’ Club House, No. 136 East Forty-seventh St., and the Episcopal Sisters at the Shelter for Respectable Girls, No. 241 West Fourteenth St., will be glad to welcome strangers. The Women’s Lodging House at No. 6 Rivington St., is a cheap and respectable place, which may also safely be recommended. But, of course, these are only temporary stopping places. Permanent boarding places should be found as soon as possible. The best way is to apply at the board directory of the Young Women’s Christian Association, No. 7 East Fifteenth St.

Of course, our country girl must not come to town unless she has enough money to tide her over for at least two months. During that time, she can improve her acquaintance with the Christian women whom she will meet at the homes and clubs, and through them, and independent of them, but with their advice, she will seek for a place in the great workrooms of the city.

New York Public Library

I had a little difficulty finding images for this post. In desperation, I downloaded some images from Les Modes in 1901 from Gallica. In the end, I didn’t need them, but I’m posting them anyway because they make me smile 🙂 As usual, click to enlarge. Enjoy!

A New England Farmer’s Calendar from 1834

I miss posting on my blog! So on this icy, homebound January morning, I decided to do something about it. I didn’t know what I wanted to post about, so I opened Google Books and typed a phrase just to see what came up. I found The Complete Farmer and Rural Economist: Containing a Compendious Epitome of the Most Important Branches of Agriculture and Rural Economy, published in Boston in 1834. I almost passed up this book, but then I saw the chapter “Farmer’s Calendar.” I was drawn to this section because several times in the process of writing a book, I’ve had to research when crops were harvested or when certain flowers bloomed. I’m thinking writers in the vein of Little Women might find this book useful.

 The monthly sections refer to the pages in the book for further reference. I’ve kept the page numbers, but I’m not going to link every one of them because I’m lazy.



The following Calendar is intended merely as an agricultural prompter, noting that certain kinds of work should be performed about the time in the year specified at the head of each article. The figures refer to the pages in this little volume, in which farther directions may be found relative to the operations which the season in general demands from the diligent, correct and careful cultivator.

The directions in the following pages are intended for the New England States, or about the latitude of 42° N., and the vicinity, or a small elevation above the sea. Allowance, however, should be made for height above the sea, as well as for situation north or south of any particular latitude. But we believe it not possible to state with any near approach to precision, what such allowance should be. The nature of the soil, the aspect, the exposure, the forwardness or backwardness, or what may be styled the general character of the season, are all to be regarded. We will, therefore, not claim precision, where accuracy is not attainable. ‘Kalendars,’ as Loudon has well observed, ‘ should be considered as remembrancers, never as directories.’


Stock. If cattle are fed with straw, it should be done with necessary attentions and limitations. The celebrated Arthur Young observed that ‘the best farmers in Norfolk are generally agreed that cattle should eat no straw, unless it be cut into chaff mixed with hay; but, on the contrary, that they should be fed with something better, and have the straw thrown under them to be trodden into dung:’ and I am much inclined to believe, that in most, if not in all cases, this maxim will prove a just one. See that your cows are of the best breed. Page 40. Give them roots as well as hay, and they will give you more than an equivalent in milk, for their extra keep. Pages 41,42. Provide pure water for your milch cows, and not oblige them to go a mile more or less after it, manuring the high way, and running the gauntlet of dogs, teams, the horse and his rider, the sleigh and its driver, with more annoyances than Buonaparte met with in his retreat from Moscow. See also that the master-beasts do not tyrannize over their weaker brethren, and if any are inclined to domineer, take them into close custody, and deprive them of the liberty of the yard, till they will give indemnity for the past, and security for the future. Cut or chaff your hay, straw, corn tops, bottoms, &c, with one of Willis’s or some other straw cutter, to be found at Newell’s Agricultural Warehouse, No. 52, North Market Street, Boston, or some other place. You may also make use of Col. Jaques’ mixture, (p. 50,) without charge for the prescription. If you give your cows good hay, roots, and comfortable lodging, you may make as good butter in winter as in summer, and become rich by sending to market the product of your dairy. Pages 53, 54, 89, 8tc.


Attend particularly to cows which have calved, or are about to calve, as well as to their offspring. You know, or should know, what time your cows may be expected to produce their young, by means pointed out, page 44, where you may find a recipe for those cows which need to be doctored, that they may stop giving milk. You will find observations on rearing and fattening calves, pages 56, 57, &c, to p. 63. Your ewes and lambs will now require that care and attention which is indispensable to make sheep husbandry profitable. Page 22. The way to doctor lambs to advantage is to give good food, and a plenty of it to their mothers. Half a gill of Indian corn a day to each ewe before yeaning, and about two quarts per day of potatoes, turnips, or other roots, when they have lambs to nurse, will make your sheep and lambs healthy, as well as their owner wealthy. But if you half starve your sheep, you will quite kill your lambs. You will continue to cut, split, and pile wood in your wood house, till you have enough to last at least two years. It is very bad economy to be obliged to leave your work in haying or harvesting to draw every now and then a little green wood to cook with, which is about as fit for that purpose as a brick bat for a pin cushion, or a lump of ice for a warming pan.


You may sow grass seed either as soon as the snow is off the ground, or as some say in August or September. You may see the question relative to the time for this purpose discussed, pages 23, 24. Be sure to use seed enough, say about twelve pounds of clover and one peck of herd’s grass [timothy] to the acre, p. 25. If you did not sow grass seed in autumn, or winter grain, you may now sow it, and even harrow it in. Though a few plants will be torn up, the grain will on the whole, receive benefit from being harrowed in the spring. Before the spring work presses hard upon you, it will be well to employ your boys under your superintendence to train your steers or calves and colts to the yoke, saddle, or harness, for which you may see some excellent directions by Mr James Walker, page 65. Top dress winter grain. Top dressings should not be used in the fall for winter grain, because they would be apt to make the young plants come forward too fast, and be the more liable to be winter killed. Page 186. Attend to fences. Page 213, and to drains. Page 294. By often changing the direction of your water courses, you may render your mowing even, and prevent one part from becoming too rank and lodging before the other part is fit to cut.


f7Ploughing. Light sandy soils had better be ploughed in the spring, and not late in autumn, lest they become too porous and are washed away by the rains and floods of fall and winter. For general rules on this subject, see page 278, &c. It is best to sow spring wheat as soon as it can well be got into the ground. The soil and preparation should be the same as for winter wheat. Page 112. Sow barley, as soon as the ground is sufficiently dry. Page 142. Sow oats. Page 139. Spring rye is cultivated in the same manner as-winter rye. Page 130. Field peas as well as garden peas make an excellent crop. Page 154. Beans are also highly worth the judicious cultivator’s particular attention. Page 159. Plant some potatoes of an early sort on early ground, to be used in July and August as food for your hogs, that you may commence fattening them early in the season. Page 272. Potatoes in small quantities at a time are good food for horses and oxen as well as most other animals, especially in spring. They will go farther if steamed or boiled, but when given raw they are useful as well for physic as for food, being of a laxative and cooling quality. It is now about the time to sow Flax, (Page 104,) and Hemp. Page 94. Every tool, utensil, &c, which will be wanted for the labours of the season should now (if not done before) be critically inspected, thoroughly repaired, and such new ones of the best quality added as will probably be needed. We know of no place where every want of that kind can be better supplied than at the Agricultural Warehouse, No. 52, North Market Street, Boston, owned by J. R. Newell, connected with which is the Seed Store of G. C. Barrett, where may be procured the best of seeds, both for garden and field culture.


Attend to your pastures. Do not turn cattle into pastureground too early in the spring, but let the grass have a chance to start a little before it is bitten close to the soil. If your pastures are large, it will be good economy to divide them as stated page 297. Cleanse your cellars, as well as the rest of your premises from all putrescent, and other offensive and unwholesome substances. Plant Indian corn as soon as the leaves of the white oak are as big as the ears of a mouse. Page 26. Not only Indian corn, but peas, oats, buck-wheat, and probably most other seeds are benefited by wetting them in water, just before sowing, and rolling them in plaster. Plant potatoes for your principal crop. Page 272. Sow millet. Page 145. Sow lucerne on land thoroughly prepared, and keep it free from weeds. Page 17. Declare war against insects. Page 315. The artillery for the engagement may be elder juice, or decoction of elder, especially of the dwarf kind, decoction of tobacco, quick lime, lime water, soot, unleached ashes, strong He, tar or turpentine water, soap suds, 8tc. Dissolve about two pounds of pot-ash in seven quarts of water, and apply the solution to your fruit trees, with a painter’s brush, taking care not to touch the leaves or buds. A lot of land well stocked with clover is wanted by every good cultivator for pasturing swine. Page 166.



Summer-made Manure demands attention. Most farmers yard their cows at night through the summer; their manure should be collected into a heap, in some convenient part of the barn yard, to prevent its being wasted by the sun and rains; a few minutes attention in the morning, when the cows are turned out to pasture, would collect a heap of several loads in a season, ready for your grass grounds in autumn. Dress your Indian corn and potatoes^ thoroughly extirpating weeds, and please to place a handful of ashes or plaster, or a mixture of both, on your hills of corn and potatoes. These substances are commonly applied before the first or second hoeing. But ashes or quick lime, (which is also an excellent application for corn) will have a better effect in preventing worms, if laid on before the corn is up. Be careful to save all your soap suds after each washing, as they answer an excellent purpose when applied to fruit trees, both as manure and as an antidote to insects. ‘Plaster or live ashes sown upon your pasture grounds, will not only repay a handsome profit by increasing the value of your feed by bringing in the finer grasses, such as white clover, &c, but will greatly improve your lands for a potatoe fallow, and a succeeding wheat crop, whenever you may wish to take advantage of a routine of crops.’


Hay-making. Page 286. Make as much of your hay as possible in the early part of the season, as there is at that time a greater probability of your being favored with fair weather. More rain falls on an average in the latter part of summer, or after the 15th of July, than before. If the weather is so unfavorable that hay cannot be thoroughly cured, the application of from 4 to 8 quarts of salt to the ton is recommended. In this way it can be saved in a much greener state, and the benefit, derived from the salt, is many times its value. Another good method of saving green or wet hay, is that of mixing layers of dry straw in the mow or stack. Thus the strength of the grass is absorbed by the straw, and the cattle will eagerly devour the mixture.

Harvesting. Page 294. The time in which your grain crop should be cut, is when the straw begins to shrink, and becomes white about half an inch below the ear but if a blight or rust has struck wheat or rye, it is best to cut it immediately, even if the grain be in the milky state. Barley, however, should stand till perfectly ripe.


Please to attend in season to preserving your sheep from the œstrus ovis, or fly, which causes worms in their heads. Page 239. This may be done by keeping the noses of the animals constantly smirched with tar from the middle of August till the latter part of September. In order to accomplish this, it has been recommended to mix a little fine salt with tar, and place it under cover, where the sheep can have access to it, and they will keep their noses sufficiently smirched with tar to prevent the insect from attacking them. Destroy thistles, which some say may be done by letting them grow till in full bloom, and then cutting them with a scythe about an inch above the surface of the ground. The stem being hollow, the rains and dews descend into the heart of the plant, and it soon dies. Select the ripest and most plump seeds from such plants as are most forward and thrifty, and you will improve your breeds of vegetables by means similar to those which have been successful in improving the breeds of neat cattle, sheep, &c. As soon as your harvesting is finished, you will take advantage of this hot and dry weather to search your premises for mines of manure, such as peat, Page 209, marle, Page 205, mud, &c, which often gives unsuspected value to swamps. Now is also a good season to work at draining. Page 294. You may drain certain marshes on your premises, which will afford you better soil than you now cultivate, cause your land to be more healthy, and the earth taken from the ditches will make valuable deposites in your cow-yard and pig-sty.


A correctly calculating cultivator will make even his hogs labor for a livelihood. This may be done by throwing into their pens, potatoe-tops, weeds, brakes, turf, loam, &c, which these capital workmen will manufacture into manure of the first quality. Page 189. You cannot sow winter rye too early in September. If it be sowed early its roots will obtain such hold of the soil before winter, that they will not be liable to be thrown out, and killed by frost. Page 130. It may be sowed early to great advantage in order to yield green food for cattle and sheep, particularly the latter, in the spring. Winter wheat, likewise, cannot be sowed too early in September. Page 112. Attend to the barn yard, and see that it has a proper shape for a manure-manufactory, as well as other accommodations, adapted to its various uses. Page 78. You may as well have a hole in your pocket, for the express purpose of losing your money, as a drain to lead away the wash of your farm yard. True it may spread over your grass ground, and be a source of some fertility to your premises, but the chance is that most of it will be lost in a highway, or neighboring stream.


Ploughing. Page 278. Stiff, hard, cloggy land intended to be tilled should be ploughed in autumn. Fall ploughing saves time and labor in the spring when cattle are weak, and the-hurry of the work peculiar to that season presses on the cultivator. A light sandy soil, however, should not be disturbed by fall-ploughing, but lie to settle and consolidate through the winter. Select your corn intended for planting next season from the field, culling fine, fair, sound ears from such stocks as produce two or more ears, taking the best of the bunch. Page 30. You will consider well, which is the best method of harvesting corn, and adopt one of the methods mentioned by Judge Buel. Page 29. If the husks and bottoms of your corn, when stowed away for winter, are sprinkled with a strong solution of salt in water, (taking care not to use such a quantity of the solution as to cause mould) and when dealt out are cut fine with a straw-cutter, they will make first rate fodder. Do not feed hogs with hard corn without steeping, grinding or boiling it. The grain will go much the farther for undergoing some or all of these operations, and if a due degree of fermentation is superadded, so much the better.


In many situations it will be excellent management to rake up all the leaves of trees, and the mould, which has been produced by their decay, which can be procured at a reasonable expense, and cart and spread them in the barn yard as a layer, to absorb the liquid manure from your cattle. Likewise it would be well to place quantities of them under cover, in situations, where you can easily obtain them in winter to use as litter to your stables, &c. They do not rot easily, but they serve the purpose of little sponges to imbibe and retain liquid manure, and by their use you may supply your crops with much food for plants which would otherwise be lost. Attend with diligence and punctuality to the wants of the four footed tenants of your barn, hog-sty, &c. Do not undertake to winter more stock than you have abundant means of providing for. When young animals are pinched for food at an early period of their growth, they never thrive so well afterwards, nor make so good stock. See that you have good stalls, stables, &c, page 243; cowhouses, page 44; a proper implement for cutting hay and straw, page 49 ; an apparatus for cooking food for cattle and swine, page 51. You may also carry out and spread, compost, soot, ashes, &c, on such of your mowing grounds as stand in great need of manure. Though some say that the best time for top dressing grass land is immediately after haying, any time will do when the ground is free from snow, and the grass not so high as to be injured by cattle’s treading on it.


Woodland. We think that cultivators may derive advantage from attending to the observations by the Hon. John Welles, relative to- wood-lots, the manner of cutting them over, &c. Page 314. We advise every farmer, and his help, &c, so to treat domestic animals that they may be tame and familiar. It is said of Bake well, a famous English breeder of cattle, that by proper management he caused his stock to be very gentle. His bulls would stand still to be handled, and were driven from field to field with a small switch. His cattle were always fat, which he said was owing to the breed as well as keep. Colts should also always be kept tame and familiar, and you may then train them to saddle or harness without danger or difficulty. Page 66. The farmer should obtain his year’s stock of fuel as early in the season as possible, and before the depth of snow in the wood-lands renders it difficult to traverse them by a team. You may, when the ground is frozen, cut and draw wood from swamps, which are inaccessible for cattle in warm weather. If you cut wood, with a wish that the stumps should sprout, let it be after the fall of the leaf, and before the buds swell in the spring. [See Gen. Newhall’s statement, N. E. Farmer vol. x, p. 230.] The Rev. Mr Elliot wisely recommended, when bushy ground, full of strong roots, is to be ditched, beginning the ditch in the winter, when the ground is frozen two or three inches deep. The surface may be chopped into pieces by a broad axe, with a long helve, and the ditch completed in warm weather. The farmer may, probably, hit on a good time for this work in December, when there happens to be no snow, and when it will not interfere with other farming business. When the season has become so severe that little can be done abroad, much may be done relative to farming operations, and other good works, by the fire side, in contriving the proper course of crops for each field, settling accounts, reading useful and entertaining books, and laying the foundation, by mental culture, for the usefulness and respectability of those who compose the Farmer’s Family.



Submitting Your Work in 1898

Tonight I came across this little gem in Journalism for Women: A Practical Guide by Arnold Bennett, published in 1898. Sigh. The submission process has always been painful.


Your paragraph or article having been composed, there arises the question of the proper way to copy and dispatch it:—

  1. In the majority of instances it is unnecessary to typewrite. Typewriting is somewhat expensive and often inaccurate, and unless you happen to possess your own typewriter, there is no reason why calligraphy should not suffice for your needs. (A few editors, however, insist that all copy submitted shall be typewritten.) Use quarto paper—that is, the size of a sheet of note-paper opened—and only one side of it. Write very plainly, not too small, leaving a wide margin at the left hand, and a good space between the words and between the lines.
  2. Fasten the sheets together at the top left hand corner with a paper fastener, the pointed ends of the fastener being at the top. Do not pin the sheets; do not stitch them; whatever else you do, refrain from stitching them all the way down the left hand side, as this process makes it irritatingly difficult to turn them over.
  3. Write your name and address not only at the top of the manuscript itself, but also on the back, so that they may be prominent when the manuscript is folded up. Write boldly on the first page the exact length of the article in words.
  4. Enclose a stamped and addressed envelope —not a book-post wrapper; manuscripts which see much of the world (and your earlier manuscripts will probably see a very great deal of the world) become damaged and ruinous by travelling in a book-post wrapper. Be sure that the envelope is sufficiently stamped, and be sure also that it is large enough to hold the manuscript.
  5. Never send out a dirty or ragged manuscript. The editor is prejudiced by the first sight of such a manuscript, for he knows at once that it has been refused elsewhere.

Her manuscript decently dispatched, the aspirant will feel happy and well satisfied till shortly before the earliest hour possible for its return. Then begins suspense. She will sit awaiting with counterfeit calm the postman. She hears his tread on the pavement outside; he mounts the steps, knocks; there is the gentle concussion of a packet against the bottom of the letter-box. Is it the article returned? She still keeps hope. Even when one day the large envelope, addressed in her own writing, is put into her hands, she says to herself that the editor has only returned it for a few trifling modifications. . . .

Invariably the thing does come back, sooner or later, with some curt circular of refusal. Moodiness and discouragement follow. But it is as wise to be annoyed by editors as to quarrel with the weather. Idle depression must instantly give place to renewed activity. The journalistic instinct, says Noble Simms in When a Man’s Single, “includes a determination not to be beaten as well as an aptitude for selecting the proper subjects.”

If at first you fail—as will certainly be the case; you may sell nothing whatever for twelve months—be quite sure that it is not—

Because there is a conspiracy among editors to suppress talented beginners.

Or because the market is overcrowded.

Or because your manuscripts have not been carefully read.

Or because editors do not know their business.

Try to convince yourself that the true reason is—

Because your stuff has not yet reached the (low) level of merely technical accomplishment which the average editor exacts.

Or because your topics are devoid of interest for any numerous body of persons.

Or because you persist in sending your articles to the wrong papers.

The first defect ought to be remedied speedily. The second is more difficult to deal with, and the third is most difficult. The eradication of these two will necessitate careful and continuous study of journalism in all its manifestations, and nothing but successive defeats will teach you how to be victorious. However, perseverance granted, the hour will come when an article of yours finds its way to the composing room. A day of ecstasy, upon which every disappointment is forgotten and the way forward seems straight and facile!

As soon as you can rely upon selling one article out of four, count it that you are progressing.

* * As to remuneration, a few papers send out cheques at regular intervals without putting their contributors to any trouble in the matter. Others, and among them some of the best, never pay till a demand is made. Some, including one or two organs of note, never pay till they are compelled to do so. If a remittance is not received during the month following publication, it is advisable to deliver an account, giving the date of appearance, exact title, and number of pages, columns, or inches.

London Cooking Schools for Women in 1902

Shhh. I’m supposed to be writing fiction. I took a break to look for images for my new Facebook page (please like it, pretty please), when I came across “London Cooking-Schools and Their Teachers” in a 1902 issue of The Lady’s Realm. I couldn’t stop myself.  I excerpted some interesting (and infuriating) bits, but please take a look at the entire article if you interested in the names of the schools and the teachers. 


Here are eighteen girls from the School Board, ranging in age elven to fourteen, learning to be clever little housewives and competent cooks of the working man’s dietary. Forty happy hours of their school year are spent here in the concoction of “poor man’s venison,” shepherd’s pie, and other cottage charities.

In another classroom are “ladies of high degree” learning to lard quails, make ice puddings, fold serviettes in the daintiest fashion, and write menus in approved French.


In another classroom, a posse of uniformed Queen’s Jubilee Nurses are being initiated into the art of distract nurses’ cookery. The knowledge so gained will carry comfort and appetizing sick-room dishes into many a poor home

Workhouse diets are compiled at this school, Poor Law recipes tested and the committee has published a manual of model cookery for workhouses.


Visiting the various workrooms, one notes the enterprise of aspiring domestics anxious to ” better themselves.” For £5 15s. such ambitious young women can take a plain cook’s certificate, which is an investment yielding a quick return in increased wages. This course is open only to the domestic servant class. The highest branch of all is known as the Cordon Bleu Corps. To belong to this entails a forty-week training at an outlay in fees of £40. Students gaining 80 per cent, of the marks obtainable in all branches of cookery are granted the Cordon Bleu silver badge and blue ribbon. A 60 per cent, average brings the blue ribbon minus the badge.

The working-expenses of a large cooking school are very heavy. Something like £2,200 a year is spent here on food. A good deal of this is consumed on the premises by the resident pupils, some twenty five of whom are comfortably boarded and housed. There is a big dining-room, too, where many of the day pupils buy their meals at moderate prices. It rarely happens that there are fewer than a hundred and fifty pupils preparing for the full cookery teacher’s certificate. The resident pupils have bright, cheerful bedrooms, and a nice sitting-room furnished with books, rocking chairs, and a piano. Board and lodging in the school costs 25s. a week. The results of their and other pupils’ culinary labours are served up at a seven o’clock dinner, where many unsold delicious dishes figure on the table. Friday evening is set apart for concerts, theatres, and entertainments, for which “late passes” are granted. A large percentage of the pupils live at boarding establishments in the neighbourhood, or make arrangements as paying guests in private families.


What a pity—and what a topsy-turvy anomaly too !—it is that cookery and housekeeping are not taught as a matter of course in our girls’ high – schools, at Oxford, Cambridge, and all Varsities admitting feminine undergraduates! In a fair number of the leading American colleges for women a model home is attached where every branch of housewifery, housemaiding, and cookery is thoroughly learnt. A woman may possess all the diplomas and certificates that all the combined colleges and ‘varsities can bestow upon her; but if she be a domestic dunce no such titles or degrees warrant her in a claim to be a cultured, finished woman.


“Nearly all our lady-pupils want to begin with elaborate dinner-party dishes. They don’t like the drudgery of simple boilings and bakings,” complain most of the cookery teachers. What opening is there for a gentlewoman who graduates and takes her cookery diploma?” No woman who is either a practical cook or a good teacher ever fails to find lucrative employment,” agree all the experts. There is an encouraging demand at the present time for trained lady-cooks and housekeepers in schools, colleges, and institutions, such posts commanding good salaries. A few women lecturers who give demonstrations of cookery by gas-stove manage to clear something like 300 a year. This is one of the best-paid branches of cookery.


A staff of trained cools is kept in readiness to go out to private houses to prepare and serve dinners, luncheons, and ball-suppers. Mrs. Marshall does not think this kind of peripatetic cookery is suited to gentlewomen, unless they happen to be endowed with a strength of constitution beyond the powers of an average woman.

“Sometimes,” she says, “a day-cook going into the country for a dinner, leaver her home at 7:30am and does not return till after midnight. She is “on the go” and standing throughout the long, hard day.” Experience seems to show that this branch of cookery is better done by women of the domestic servant class.

A dinner for sixteen persons can be compassed in one day by a cook who receives 21s. for her task. For a ball-supper on a large scale, cooks need sometimes to stop at a country house for several days. Some “lady cooks” make long visits to country houses in order to train the cook already in possession, and impart a smattering of their art to the ladies of the household. Experienced cooks, with a special knowledge and skill in shooting-box menus, command very good fees in the autumn for duty done in distinction, inquiring young cooks are taught the latest idea in flower and fruit decoration, table illumination, and serviette architecture.


“What do the gods care for a woman?” is a cynical Chinese proverb. However indifferent the gods may be to the sex, it is perfectly certain that man here below most thoroughly appreciates a wife who is at the same time an excellent cook. If men possessed the strong instinct of self preservation with which they are accredited —especially by women—they would look to it that the law of the land should speedily enact that no girl be allowed to receive a marriage certificate till she could produce accredited diplomas in cookery, domestic economy, and housekeeping.

At the present time the percentage of girls who trouble to go through a course of cookery is infinitesimally small. They are secure in the knowledge that man is not a sufficiently logical person to demand that his mate shall possess some qualification for the partnership she assumes. Any girl who enters into matrimony minus a thorough knowledge of every art and cunning device of domesticity obtains her lifelong  position under false pretences!

Partying at the Royal Society in 1886

Recently, I’ve been dabbling in English scientific history.  A couple of nights ago, I read a fascinating essay by James Gleick titled “At the Beginning: More Things in the Heaven and Earth” found in Seeing Further: The Story of Science, Discovery, & The Genius of the Royal Society edited by the fabulous Bill Bryson. Gleick’s descriptions of the history of the Royal Society and their early scientific inquiries made me chuckle. Today, as I was searching for images in Cassell’s Family Magazine for another post on Victorian love letters, I ran across a description of a typical meeting and soiree of the Royal Society in 1886. I couldn’t resist posting it on my blog. Enjoy!

At A Soiree Of The Royal Society

rom its history and standing the Royal Society of London is unquestionably the chief scientific body in these islands. It has all the dignity of a State institution as well as the lustre of a famous past; and, in the minds of many, to have the privilege of writing ” F.R.S.” after one’s name is to have gained the blue ribbon of science. Like other great associations, it began in a very humble way.

During the year 1645—just two hundred and forty-one years ago—a small band of friends were wont to meet in Dr. Goddard’s lodgings, Wood Street, London, to talk over the various observations of natural things which had been made, in a curious and philosophical spirit. The notion of holding these meetings is said to have been suggested by one Theodore Haak; and Dr. Goddard’s lodgings were selected because he had an assistant working there who was skilled in grinding glasses. Subsequently the meeting-place was removed to Oxford, and after that to Gresham College, London, where after the Wednesday lecture of Mr. Christopher Wren, the celebrated architect, the colleagues met in the classroom to carry on their discussions, from which all political and theological topics were excluded. This was in the year 1659, the year of the troubles with King Charles II., and the philosophers, despite their harmless attitude in politics, were obliged to give up their meeting-place, which was turned into a soldiers’ barrack.

Next year, after the Restoration, the meetings were, however, resumed on November 28th, in Mr. Rooke’s room, Gresham College, and Mr. Ball’s room in the Temple. Forty members were enrolled, including the Hon. Robert Boyle (” the Father of Chemistry, and brother of the Earl of Cork”), Sir Kenelme Digby, Mr. Evelyn, of the ” Diary,” Mr. Christopher Wren, Dr. Cowley, and Dr. Wallis.

At the meeting on December 5th, Sir Robert Moray announced the welcome news that his Majesty King Charles II had been pleased to signify his approbation of the young society, and their objects. The king afterwards took further interest in their proceedings, and it is his Majesty’s picture which holds the place of honour in their meeting-hall at Burlington House to-day.

It is curious to read some of the minutes of the young society. Thus Mr. Pope was deputed to “procure the experiment of breaking pebbles with the hand ;” and later on Mr. Wilde agreed to “show the stone kindled by wetting.”

Again: “The Duke of Buckingham promised to bring to the society a piece of a unicorn’s horn.”

This remarkable substance was afterwards made the subject of an interesting experiment, for we read that (on July 24th) “A circle was made with powder of unicorn’s horn, and a spider set in the middle of it; but it immediately ran out.”

“Sir John Findis’ piece of an incombustible hatband was produced.”

“Mr. Croune was desired to inquire into the manufacture of hats.”

Also: “ Sir Kenelme Digby related that the calcinated powder of toads reverberated, being applied in bags upon the stomach of a pestiferate, cures it by several applications.”

On another occasion: “Sir Gilbert Talbot’s experiment of the sympathetic powder were ordered to be registered.”

Vegetable life also came in for its share of study. Among others, Dr. Clarke made some “observations on the humble and sensible plants, in Mr. Chiffin’s garden in St. James Park, made August 9th, 1661;” and Col. Tuke “brought in his history of the rained seeds, and some ivy berries, the kernels of which were the same that were reported to have fallen down from the sky in Warwickshire, Shropshire, etc.”

These examples serve to show how little true science, as we know it, was current in those days; and also the true inquiring spirit of the members, who took up any matter that seemed to call for explanation. Their earnestness is likes exemplified in Mr. Powle’s very liberal off to the Society, “to employ himself in the country about anything which they should direct him to.” Let us trust that Mr. Powle was duly dispatched, like Pickwick, to the country.

These early members of the Royal Society were, indeed, as Newton afterwards described himself, like children picking up shells upon the great shore of Truth. Their observations spread over a wide field, however; in fact, the whole circle of the sciences; and if some of them appear to be trivial, others were of the first importance. For instance, experiments were instituted at Teneriffe to prove the weight of the atmosphere. Capillary attraction, the recoil of guns, chemical reactions, and astronomical effects were carefully discussed. As the members settled to their work, the subjects treated of became more serious and important, as the minutes of their meetings curiously show. The “sympathetic powders,” the crushed vipers, and divining rods of the earlier days were left behind for weightier matters ; and the proceedings of the Society assumed more and more that classic character which they have borne so long. At last the illustrious Newton, with his theory of universal gravitation, gave an enormous impetus to their researches.

Susanna’s note: Newton’s relationship with the society wasn’t as harmonious as you might be led to believe.  According to Gleick, Newton sent the society some letters describing how by using prisms he had split light into different colors. He further claimed that white light was produced by the combination of primary light colors. Fellow society member Robert Hooke sent back a hasty, cursory critique refuting Newton.  Pissed off at Hooke, Newton didn’t return to the Royal Society for a number of years.

Since Newton’s day, Michael Faraday, Davy, Thomson, and many others have added glory to the Royal Society; and at their ordinary meetings, or their annual soirees, some of the most eminent savants of the day are to be met. These meetings are held on Thursdays during the winter, in the Society’s rooms, Burlington House, at three in the afternoon; because it was found that wits were clearer then than after dinner in the evening. The after-dinner mind is not quite capable of grasping the lively molecule.

The visitor to one of these meetings is ushered into an ante-chamber where tea and coffee are provided for his refection, before the business of the day begins, as well as after it has ended. This is a custom which has been imitated by some other learned societies— notably the Linnean.

The meeting-hall is a large sombre chamber, hung with dark oil paintings of dead immortal worthies, such as Huyghens, Newton, and Priestley. At the farther end sits the President on an antique high-backed chair, with a secretary on either side, and the great mace of King Charles lying in state before his desk. The ordinary Fellows sit on benches across the body of the hall.

A grave and impressive dignity presides over the assembly. If it is trying for a new member of Parliament to address the House, it is almost equally trying for a young Fellow to take part in a discussion here. The papers are on subjects which would bea sealed book to the original members of the Society; their very names would sound like Cherokee to Evelyn and Mr. Powle, supposing the latter to have returned from the country. They are even unintelligible to all except those Fellows who are specialists in the particular science they belong to. For example, there may be a mathematical paper “On the Invariants and Covariants of Quantities,” or an electrical one “On the Determination of Magnetic Susceptivity.” A renowned palaeontologist (the very man who is popularly supposed to build the skeleton of an extinct animal from its tooth) will perhaps discourse on some new ” missing link,” to wit, the Thylacolea, or flesh-eating marsupial of New South Wales; or a well-known geologist will communicate a paper by somebody else “On the Occurrence of Pterygotis and a Limuloid in certain Flagstones.” If the lay visitor escapes the seductive subject of vortex-rings, and the dissipation of energy, he may consider himself lucky ; and will probably not regret the mysteries of “orthagonal and isothermal surfaces,” or the “forces experienced by inductively ferro-magnetised or dia-magnetised non-crystalline substances.” Science has taken such gigantic strides of late years that it has almost coined a language of its own.

There are two annual soirees, or conversaziones, of the Royal Society, one being known familiarly as the “ladies’ night.” These gatherings are attended by the Fellows and their friends, together with a sprinkling of distinguished guests, such as foreign savants—a Helmholtz or a Pasteur—ambassadors from other Powers, a few presidents of other societies, a famous general or two, and occasionally a royal personage.

The guests are received by the President, and disperse themselves about the halls of the Society, which are brilliantly illuminated for the occasion by some new system of electric lighting. Numerous tables are covered with scientific apparatus illustrating recent inventions, the telephone, the microphone, the photophone, or something newer still. Nor are the exhibits confined to physical instruments, but extend over the whole range of science. Novelty, of course, is a desideratum, and especially some novelty of the year which has just elapsed. Illuminated microscopes stand ready to reveal their splendid secrets; some rare orchid from the tropical forest hangs its alien blossoms in the heated air; meteoric stones from Russia, and even corroded jewels from the site of Troy, may perhaps be seen there, along with fossil scorpions from the Silurian rocks, or tiny crystals of a new element, and microbes from the snows of Norway.

There is a little licence as regards the range of exhibits; and perhaps it is as well, for some of the experiments might lack interest to other visitors than men of science. As it is, the soirees are in general most successful gatherings, and form a relaxation in the scientific year.

So, you’ve been invited to the Royal Society’s Soiree in 1886. What are you going to wear when you show off your brilliant invention that you would have described at a meeting had you been allowed to attend? Here are some ideas from The London and Paris Ladies’ Magazine of Fashion from 1881. (Okay, these fashions were five years old in 1886. But you’re a nerdy scientist. What do you care about fashion anyway?)