Friday, July 20, 2012

The Progressive Era: A Portrait of a Lady

~Women in a shirtwaist factory, circa 1910~
I was being a bad girl yesterday while at Barnes & Noble and eavesdropping on a conversation that caught my ear. Two younger women were in an isle over from me in the American History section thumbing through a large photo anthology and commenting on how awful it must have been to be a woman in the early twentieth century. Women were slaves to their husbands and baby factories, they were horribly oppressed, undermined, and viewed as the inferior sex. Throughout much of history, I cannot say that these ladies' observations are wrong, but it isn't always the case.

Of course, when it comes to the Progressive Era (1890-1920) of women's history, it seems that the images we are most familiar with, the images most commonly used in media, are those of women wasting away in textile factories or filthy tenements, marching for the right to vote, promenading in Central Park in silk walking suits and lace parasols, or captured in the stills of a pretty portrait. While these images might accurately depict varying aspects of the female experience in Progressive America, they only tell part of a story. Here are some images that tell another....

Auto racer, Elinor Blevins, 1915 (Harris & Ewing)

Woman on old motorcycle, 1917  (Harris & Ewing)

Woman helping with the war effort, 1919

Woman mail carrier, Mrs. Parmlee Campbell, 1917 (Harris & Ewing)

Shift change at the Chesapeake & Potomac Telephone Co., 1914 (Harris & Ewing)

Women climbing Mt. Rainier, Washington, 1911 (Curtis & Miller)

Telegraph operator, Lizzy Harding, 1917 (Harris & Ewing)

Woman war veteran, Walter Reed 4th of July Parade, 1919 (Harris & Ewing)

Mrs. L.O. King, police officer, 1918 (Harris & Ewing)

Women actors depicting the founding fathers, 1909 (Harris & Ewing)

Blind stenographer taking notes from a Dictaphone, 1913

Maderia High School ladies' basketball team, 1905 (Harris & Ewing)

Woman playing golf, 1916 (Harris & Ewing)

Finger print expert, Marie Dahm, 1918 (Harris & Ewing)

World War I Nurse, 1917 (Harris & Ewing)

Despite the hardships and challenges that we women have endured through the ages, we have always made our place and our accomplishments illustrate this. It sure is good to be a girl! Blessings and happy sewing!


  1. Great post and inspiring photos. Love the fingerprint expert!

    1. My favorite picture in this group is the one of Lizzy Harding, the naval telegraph operator - this is a candid photograph - no posing here. I can hear it now, the photographer hollering, "Hey Lizzy!" She looks up and "snap". Poor girl looks hot, busy, and frazzled! lol!

  2. Thank you for sharing these. The lady police officer is one of my favorite photos ever!