Ohio History Journal

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Housing the Women Who Toiled: Planned

Residences for Single Women, Cincinnati





The Lawrence [Home] stands as a barrier to sickness and evil, she opens her doors

and invites the young, unprotected girl to come in and make her home here-not

that she may be rescued as a brand from the burning, but that she may not even get

near enough to the fire to be scorched. She does not consider herself, nor is she

considered, a charity inmate. Her independence and self-respect are guarded and

fostered by the management, although her three and a-half dollars (sometimes the

larger part of her week's earning) does not cover the expense of her maintenance.1


The above statement illustrates the sentiments regarding many single,

women workers at the turn of the century. Those separated from their fami-

lies and working long hours for low pay were viewed as morally and physi-

cally vulnerable to the hazards of urban life. By the early 1900s many cities

had established homes for unwed mothers or reformatories for women who

"went bad." However, residences for working women were seen, as the quote

suggests, as a preventive measures to such deplorable outcomes. The move-

ment to provide safe and affordable housing to single working women began

in England and moved to the U.S. in the late nineteenth century. Throughout

the early twentieth century religious groups and social service providers es-

tablished homes for the protection and comfort of this new group of workers

in cities throughout the country. Cincinnati was the third U.S. city to estab-

lish a home for women workers, when in 1858 the Sisters of Mercy founded

the House of Mercy. By 1930 at least nineteen such institutions had opened

in the city. Though only one of the homes still remains, this study finds

that the planned residences were generally successful in providing their in-

tended services.

Previous research on the history of housing for working women has tended

to focus primarily on an analysis of specific homes and the degree to which

middle-class ideology dominated the day-to-day interactions within them.2


Patricia Carter is on the Women's Studies faculty at the University of Connecticut.


1. Annual Report of the Lawrence Home, (n.p.: November 4th, 1908), 4-5.

2. M. Christine Anderson, in "Home and Community for a Generation of Women: A Case

Study of the Cincinnati YWCA Residence, 1920-1940," Women in Cincinnati: Century of

Achievement, 1870-1970. (Cincinnati, 1987), 34-41; Lisa Fine, "Between Two Worlds:

Business Women in a Chicago Boarding House, 1900-1930," Journal of Social History, 19