Women’s Work – 1870-1940

Until after WW2, Church structures usually divided along gender lines. The Women’s Auxiliary, Girls Friendly Society (GFS) and other all-female groups allowed women to channel their creativity, leadership and faith into both outreach and support for local parish and diocese activities. At The Advent, often these activities reflected traditionally female occupations such as sewing and cooking, but equally often the work resulted in money donated to the church and mission. Women also took special care of the building and sanctuary.

This bulletin board explores some of the ways women at The Advent used the formal structures of Auxiliary and GFS to engage in outreach within Cincinnati and beyond, and also to support programming and development at The Advent.[1] We look at the following topics:

Outreach to Others: Missions (Auxiliary Budget of 1897)

From early days, Women at The Advent gave to mission work. One example is the report from 1897 – just before most of current-day Walnut Hills was annexed into Cincinnati but after the formation of the Diocese of Southern Ohio. The Advent was one of the largest congregations in Cincinnati at that time, and the leadership by Rev. Tinsley and the Vestry ensured that the church played an important role in diocese affairs. (See below on Leadership.)

In 1897 (a representative year from 1870 thru the 1910’s), The Advent’s Women’s Auxiliary contribution to the total mission giving was $1,057.57 (over $30,000 in today’s dollars), the largest contribution from any church in the Diocese.[2] Again, this was money given thru the Women’s Auxiliary, not The Advent’s “official” (i.e., male) giving.

An analysis of the contributions from that year shows how many age groups were involved at The Advent.

While the Auxiliary – made up of married women – contributed the most, the GFS-Our Girls and GFS-Little Missionaries were organized groups involved in raising money. And even younger girls (the Babies Branch) were encouraged to contribute. Women’s involvement in Sunday School (as teachers, not as the superintendent) led them to consider how to recruit, train and encourage younger girls into the life of the church.

The targets for giving also reveal the diversity of mission activity that motivated The Advent at this time.

Note that local missions made up a very small percent of giving; however, The Advent’s second largest contribution went to the Diocese which did have local missions such as St. Andrew’s. The largest of Advent’s contributions went to missionaries active on Native American reservations (see below). During this period, women at the Advent – like Episcopal women generally – saw mission giving as supporting work among the needy or heathens elsewhere, not in the immediate community.[3]

 

Leadership at The Advent and in the Diocese: Mary H. Rochester

The name Mary H. Rochester can be found in many records at The Advent and in the Diocese.[4] Mrs. Rochester was appointed by Bishop Jaggar in 1876 to head the Diocese Woman’s Auxiliary, a position she held thru 1900. Mrs. Rochester was also active at The Advent in various women’s organizations: GFS, “Our Girls”, Junior Auxiliary, Babies Branch, etc.

Rochester used the national Episcopal publication, “The Spirit of Missions”, to inform various groups (at Advent and in the Diocese) about mission work of the Episcopal church. The monthly publication covered mission activity in the US and abroad. The fact that Rochester relied on this magazine illustrates how involved she was in the work of the church nationally.

Giving was often designated to a specific missionary or program. One example is the “Indian Lace Teacher” who received $2.50 from the “Little Missionaries” at Advent in 1897.  This money supported Sybil Carter’s work providing Native American Women income by selling the lace they made.

But Rochester was also involved in local charities. She lived next to the original building for the Children’s Hospital, and promoted this institution as a recipient of both monetary and sewing donations – which continued at The Advent thru the 1940’s (see below on the Workroom).

Rev. Tinsley, who was rector at The Advent during much of Rochester’s work in Cincinnati, regularly gave the reports authored by her at the Annual Conventions of the Diocese. We can only imagine the ways in which these two leaders worked together on a daily basis. The picture of the “Our Girls” Missionary Society from 1884 is the only image we have found that may include Rochester (woman on left, wearing plaid at door). Tinsley is also present (middle of group, standing, with noble beard).

 

Women’s Work at The Advent: Samples from 1929-1930

The Advent is fortunate to have detailed minutes from the Auxiliary, GFS and other women’s groups dating from the 1870’s. Reading thru these minutes, we were struck by how well these women knew how to “keep things going” in the church and in their groups. (Think again about the age-tiering of women’s groups from at least the 1880’s, and the training that organization implies.) These documents would be a rich source for more detailed historical analysis of the creativity, Christian faith in action, and leadership opportunities for women during this period.

Here are some quotes from the Auxiliary Minutes of 1929-1930

Hosting the Convention

“Monday, February 4, 1929 … Mrs. Dunlop [wife of rector] read a letter from Dr. Cook assistant secretary of the Diocesan Convention, containing the resolution of thanks adopted at the Convention for the Hospitality and entertainment provided by the Church of the Advent for that meeting. Mrs. Dunlop also read a letter from our rector expressing appreciation of the work done before and during this Convention by the Woman’s Auxiliary, and praising the devotion and fine spirit shown by this organization. The luncheon, service by Mrs. Monroe, Mrs. Herron and Miss Urner, was attractive to look at and very delicious.”

Fundraising: Can we do a card party?

“Monday, April 29 [1929] … Mrs. Sawyer, as Chairman of the Parish House Debt Committee asked for suggestion for raising money, and a card party was the choice of most people, twenty-two voting for it.  … Asked if he would object to a card party, the rector said he would not really object to it, but he did not seem to want one announced and advertised as being given for the Advent Church.”
[The party was held at the Alms Hotel on May 31 and raised $360 towards a total of $1,000 contributed by the Auxiliary to reduce the debt. The Auxiliary continued this pledge in 1930. Note how closely the rector and the Auxiliary worked together.]

Help for a child

“Monday, May 27, 1929 … Our president told us of a crippled boy with a beautiful voice who would be an acquisition to the choir if properly trained, but whose parents were not even able to provide decent clothing for him. It was heartily agreed that the Auxiliary would help him in any way possible under the guidance of Mrs. Overman, chairman of Social Service. Mrs. Stone offered some used clothing that would take care of that problem, so he could come to choir practice… . All were glad of the opportunity to help in such a cause.” [This is one example of actions of the newly formed Social Service Committee.]

Support for Children’s Hospital

Monday, November 25 [1929] …Mrs. George Eastham [President of the Cooperative Society of the Children’s Hospital] … addressed us on this popular institution. She explained that the object of the hospital was not only to cure children but to train nurses and to develop a spiritual life in both, the chapel being the center of the hospital daily life. … No child has ever been refused by the children’s hospital … . At the close of her interesting talk Miss Mary Gallegher told of being one of seven to start the Children’s Hospital years ago.”
[Children’s Hospital was founded in 1883 as a Diocesan mission presided over by the Bishop. Miss Gallegher is not listed in current histories among the Episcopal women founders, but probably was active in the setup of the house on Park Avenue. Advent continued to support Children’s Hospital throughout this period. Mrs. Rochester lived next door to the original building (see above). The phrase “no child has ever been refused” included children of color.]

Decorating the Dining Room

“Monday, January 13, 1930 … Regarding the room at the end of our dining room which contains the donated set of furniture, she asked for suggestions as to a rug, but most people regard this as a hallway, and the general opinion was that no rug should be purchased. It was decided, however, that pictures should be hung on the walls.”

Hosting the New Bishop

“Monday, March 17 [1930] … This was an unusual day for the Auxiliary. The Epiphany branch had been invited, also branches from Madisonville, Bond Hill, Terrace Park, and representative from the Redeemer, and those gathered with our own members in the Chapel at eleven o’ clock when Bishop Paul Jones commenced a Quiet Hour. … [He] urged that the Church in general and our Auxiliary take a stand as a body against wrong and injustice wherever they are to be seen. … After the service our gusets were conducted to the workroom and shown all the work in progress, next adjourning for lunch which was served on flower-decked tables by the regular committee. About sixty-five were served. … The Bishop made a few remarks expressing his gratification at being with us. Our rector then introduced Dr. Edith Hale Swift of the American Hygiene Association who gave a talk on sex and development.”

Adjusting to the Depression

“[October 6, 1930] … Mrs. Hardcastle, Supply Sec’y, read a letter from Mrs. Laird [from the Diocese], listing a large assignment of garments, for the Indian Mission at Lower Brule, South Dakota, — the cost of which, it was estimated would aggregate between three or four hundred dollars. After discussion, it was moved and seconded that the assignment be returned to Mrs. Laird, with the request that, owing to the stringency in finances, the list be either curtailed, or that we do not have any Spring allotment.”
[The Auxiliary supplied this allotment but did not receive a Spring allotment from the Diocese.]

Christmas Gifts

“Monday, December 15, 1930 … It was voted to give the janitor ten dollars as usual, for Christmas, and to make the Choir contribution twelve. …It was voted to send a $2.00 box of cigars to each of the policemen who assisted at our rummage sale.”

 

Additional Examples of Notes:

Women’s Auxiliary Reporting on the Diocese Convention: Women Get the Vote! (1927)

In addition to reporting on meetings and activities at The Advent, our Auxiliary notebooks contain reporting on the Diocese Convention, including scrapbooking of articles from The Enquirer and pages from the Convention pamphlets. Here are examples from the Convention when Women were allowed membership and voting rights in the Convention.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

GFS: No Brownies During Lent (1883)

The Archives also shows that the practice of detailed note-taking started early and started young. We have notebooks from the Girls Friendly Society dating back to the 1880’s. Here’s a sample of one entry:

“Meeting opened with prayer by Mrs. Rochester. Minutes read & accepted. The boys [only reference to boys at these meetings that we could find – maybe because of Valentines?] worked on scrap-books, the girls on pillow-cases. Mrs. Rochester read “Black Beauty” to us and then we had our Valentines. Some of the girls brought cake and brownies, because they thought it was a party, but because it was Lent we sent them all to the Children’s Hospital and wrote a little letter to the children.”

Minutes were kept in a pre-numbered notebook. Sometimes younger children got hold of the notebook and used it to practice their hand writing (Minutes, 1883).

 

 

 

 

WOMEN’S WORK: THE WORKROOM

Meeting of the Auxiliary were followed by sewing. Each Monday women gathered to prepare garments, bandages, vestments, curtains and other articles for use at The Advent and elsewhere. Quilts and other items were also used for fund raising. Fannie Hidden directed the workroom during the 1930’s. Supplies were provided as part of the Auxiliary budget.

We should not underestimate the amount of labor and expense going into this work. The sewing work at The Advent required regular input of material, including machines, thread, cloth, etc. It was well organized; women knew what was required each week and how to contribute, based on information from the various missions for articles needed. In the quotes above, we see a negotiation about how much to contribute to a Diocese project vs. other priorities.

We have detailed documentation of the output in the minutes of the various groups during this period. For example, from June 1937 to June 1938, the Auxiliary output 1751 articles, worth $551.25, in support Advent, missions in the Diocese, Auxiliary social service, Children’s Hospital, and overseas missions.

Our Girls Friendly Society also gathered each Wednesday to work. In 1911 they sold plum puddings and rugs to raise money. They also collected books, magazines and cards for the Church Periodical Club.

This work is an example of turning a gender-defined labor into a source of mission work. Think of the prayers that accompanied the production of garments and the packing of the boxes!

 

Remembering

Women remember! They remember friends and family — not just as loved ones but as examples of Christian faith, and they preserve those memories as examples to future generations. Look around The Advent and you’ll see many adornments honoring women. In the Chapel alone, the windows, credence table, cross, lectern, and organ are all in memory of women of The Advent. Many were also given by women. Remembering and honoring women was an act of faith performed regularly by women.

For many years, Diocesan women compiled a Book of Remembrance[5] — a currated listing of women who contributed to the work of the church. Adventers contributed many names to this list. One example of a submission is for Mrs. John Harding whose life (1867-1939) spans the period of this bulletin board:

Mrs. Harding’s primary interest was in the work of the Missionary Society This interest began early in her life, when she assisted Mrs. C. M. Rochester in the work of the “little Missionary Society.” Later she became an ardent enthusiastic member of the Woman’s Auxiliary, which she attended regularly until her last illness. She was a member of the Board of the Auxiliary for several years. The influence of her unassuming, lovable character gave her a unique place in the life of the Auxiliary. Without glory or thought of self she accepted her part in God’s plan, and was truly a devoted servant of the Master.

 

Sources:

 

[1] Our primary source materials are the minutes of The Girls Friendly Society (aka, Little Missionaries, Junior Auxiliary and Our Girls, depending on the years) and Women’s Auxiliary. The archives contain records for both organizations dating from the 1870’s to the 1940’s. (We are especially grateful for the family of Yvonne Carson to have donated some of these materials, collected by her during the time she was active in the Auxiliary.) For information about the Lace Teacher see https://issuu.com/thehistoriographer/docs/historiographer2003no2 .

[2] Annual Report of the Women’s Auxiliary of Southern Ohio, 1897. We have several years of this Report surrounding 1897 in the Archives, and the Journal of the Annual Convention of the Diocese of Southern Ohio also has information about Women’s Auxiliary giving. The next largest contributions came from St. Paul’s Church,  Cincinnati ($1,003.42) and Christ Church, Cincinnati ($961.88). These three churches contributed over a third of the $8,298.87 donated that year.

[3] In the late 1920’s, responding to growing unemployment, the Auxiliary formed a Social Services committee which provided immediate support to both people in the church and in the neighborhood.

[4] Mary Hewson Rochester, born Pruyn (1834-1922), came from Albany, NY. She married Montgomery Rochester and was active in Cincinnati until at least 1906. She moved back to NY and was part of the Women’s Auxiliary there. See https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/11569285/mary-hewson-rochesterCincinnati Enquirer 7/29/1906 (article on fund raising event for Children’s Hospital) and Cincinnati Enquirer 11/16/1926 (article on events commemorating the 50th anniversary of Women’s Auxiliary in the Diocese of Southern Ohio, which has information on Rochester’s charitable work in Cincinnati.

[5] We have not been able to find the Book of Remembrance at the Diocese. It appears to be one of those practices which lapsed as the Women’s Auxiliary declined after WWII and women were allowed access to male positions of leadership. The Archives contains a typed list of women in the book.