Mary B. Mullet
Harper's Weekly 1901
Chicago, when it started out to break the world's record in the line of Expositions inventeda feature which it called the Board of Lady Managers Some hypercritical persons laughed at the "Lady" part of the title, and when an occasional meeting of the hoard refused to be dissolved otherwise than in tears, they laughed again.
There was the essence of uncharitableness in this laughter; of foolishness, too. For Chicago women rose shove the level of ladyhood and hustled in a manner to reflect everlasting credit upon their city; even though that city is one where hustle has pretty nearly the whole bright lexicon of youth - or of any age - to itself.
Even if the Lady Managers did weep occasionally, as it was said they did, they were apparently none the worse for these local showers. Tears? They were ready to wade through floods of tears to carry their undertaking to success. They did not have to wade. So much the better. But, as some persons - not lady managers - would say, they got, there, just the same. In French, they arrived.
They pu up a Woman's Building, designed by a woman, decorated by women, filled with women's work, and boasting a restaurant where, if you please, the only really good meals in the whole Chicago Exposition were cooked and served by women.
That was in Chicago in 1893. Things are different in Buffalo in 1901.
There is a board, this time of women managers. Times have changed since it was the height of compliment to call woman a lady. Ladies do not exist, conversationally, except at Coney Island and kindred places, and the Buffalo women would have shrivelled with mortification if they had been called Lady Managers. They would have resented it as much and for the same reason as an Irishman who is "called out of his name." They asserted the inalienable right of every woman to be called a woman. Having settled that, they felt quite properly that they had made at least one stride in advance.
Next, they took what they consider to be a second forward step. Not everybody will agree that it is one, however. They decided that the time had come when the work of women should not be separated in exhibition from that of men. They promulgated the theory that work should he judged on merit alone, and that the time had gone by for women's work to fear comparison with that of men. They called this decision not to exhibit separately "a progressive plan, and one which cannot fail to commend itself to the thoughtful."
Theoretically the plan is most progressive. Practically, however, it does not commend itself to some more to less "thoughtful" persons. As far the mass of visitors to the Pan-American, they have all the symptoms of thoughtfulness when they visit the Woman's Building, but all their thinking doesn't seem to make them look favorably on the new plan.
There is a Woman's Building, but, sure! St. Patrick never swept the Emerald Isle as clean of snakes as the Pan-American Woman's Building is clear of exhibits. Now that the Exposition is open, the Women Managers have settled down to one role. They are entertaining, not exhibiting. Their building is in reality their club-house, and they do the honors therein.
In being a club-house, it is true to its traditions. Before the Exposition it belonged to the Buffalo Country Club, and it still looks its original part. It was taken over by the Pan-American directors and given to the Women Managers to be used as their headquarters. As a club-house it is a success, and it has at least a touch of the all-pervading feminine which made the Chicago Woman's Building worth studying. The whole house at Buffalo has been decorated and furnished by Mrs. Charles Cary, who also designed the Exposition poster, "The Spirit of Niagara."
Perhaps the broad veranda, shaded by awnings and picketed by sentinel-like flag-staffs, all shouldering fluttering banners, is it more welcome sight to tired women than another set of exhibits would be. At the open door stands a boy with one of the worst cases of buttons ever seen. The disease, though, seems to have come out well, as they say in measles, and he appears able to attend strictly to business.
It is Buttons who shores the weary wanderer into the big reception-room, certainly thirty feet square, and cool, quiet, and restful. It is a free haven of refuge to any woman on the grounds. Children and mere men, even when in feminine tow, must anchor elsewhere. One of the Women Managers is always on hand to continue the hospitality treatment begun by Buttons at the door. Here a woman can write a letter, work mysterious wonders in her personal appearance (combs, brushes, and other paraphernalia across the hall), or simply sit still and try to remember whether the diamond she saw in the Liberal Arts Building weighed 200 carats or 200 ounces. For of such stuff are Exposition day-dreams always made.
Here women's organizations find it meeting-place, unless they are too large for the assembly-room, with its seating capacity of 125. Here the women's Colleges have reunions on the days set apart for them. Here gather the ubiquitous women's clubs for that communion of souls which is the wonder of all beholders Here the Women Managers devote themselves to their role as hostess, for they do all the ceremonious entertaining. Here dinners, teas, lunches, and receptions are given to the distinguished guest.
If is all very pleasant, very hospitable and -- somewhat disappointing. One may be permitted to doubt whether the time has really come for abandoning separate exhibitions of men and of women's work. Even if the latter can compete on its merits with the work of men in the same lines, we are not to be cured in such a jiffy of our curiosity. We want to see women's work as women's work. If the work is really good, let us see it in the open. Standing alone is a severer test than almost any other.
Anyway, women are a great deal more interesting as women than they are as impersonal workers; and their work is more interesting as women's work than simply as manufactured articles. This may not be the " thoughtful" attitude, but it is the prevailing one; and the Buffalo women, in their progressive plan, have got so far ahead of the procession that it is a trifle hard to got a focus on what is offered to our would-be admiring gaze.
To drop into baseball language there is no denying that it is an advantage to bunch one's hits. Women's work at the Pan-American would have had more impact if it hall been bunched. It is it distinct pleasure, for instance, to find that the fountain playing in the centre of the rose-garden upon which the Woman's Building faces is the work of a woman sculptor. It seems to be where it belongs. It was designed by Miss Enid Yandell, the first woman to be admitted to membership in the National Sculpture Society. The fountain represents the struggle of the Spirit of Life to escape from the hampering influence of Duty, Avarice, and Passion. Miss Janet Scudder, another woman sculptor, designed the "Cupid and Snail" which appears in the Fountain of Abundance.
The building erected by the New England Slates was designed by a woman architect, Miss Josephine Wright Chapman. In the case of Miss Chapman, and of Miss Yandell also, the designs were submitted in a general competition. They were chosen - by a committee of men - in preference to those submitted by male competitors. The identity of the persons submitting designs was not known; to the committees until after the choice had been made.
A woman who has had a considerable finger in the Pan-American pie is Miss Adelaide Thorpe, assistant director of interior decoration at the Exposition. Very few of the buildings are plastered, and it was Miss Thorpe who worked out the scheme of decoration in bunting and tapestry effects; a scheme which is said to be unique in the history of Expositions.
In this way, if one tries hard, one can ferret out the work of women in the Exposition. When it is found it is generally creditable and sometimes of unusual interest. But it does not exist as women's work. Since it was the avowed purpose of the managers to make the Exposition a retrospective exhibit of American progress. it certainly seems as if there had been lost an excellent opportunity of showing in a nutshell what the much-vaunted progress of American women really amounts to.
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