Ohio History Journal



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

Housing the Women Who Toiled 47

Housing the Women Who Toiled                                        47


This essay provides another perspective by taking an overview of planned

housing of this type in one city, Cincinnati, over a period of one century.

This macro focus allows for a more holistic review of the planning, devel-

opment, growth and decline of the planned boarding units.

Several factors make a study of Cincinnati's planned housing for working

women particularly interesting, including: its early status as a major

Midwestern industrial city; the city's centrality in the African-American

Diaspora; its large population of Reform Jews; and its geographic location as

a basin city (bounded by the Ohio River to the south and hillsides on the

other three). The importance of this last factor is its influence in keeping

Cincinnati a walking city, meaning one which could be traversed from one

side to the other without difficulty or a lengthy amount of time. It therefore

remained a residential city for a longer period than those not constrained by

similar geographical barriers.3 This essay will show how the planned resi-

dences for women responded to shifts in the city's population, deterioration

of the urban core, and general movement to suburbanization.

Other evidence from this research indicates that though homes for white,

middle-class women were better funded and more prevalent, the needs of older,

working-class, Jewish and African-American women were not completely ig-

nored. When viewing the history of these latter homes one can see both the

rise of an era of interracial cooperation on social service boards but also the

ease with which planners gave into racism, ageism, and classism that created

the necessity for separate homes in the first place.


Background on Homes for Single Women


The development of special housing for single working women corre-

sponded to the increasing percentage of young, white, native-born women in

the U.S. labor force in the latter part of the nineteenth century. Higher educa-

tion, the women's movement, urbanization of jobs, immigration, and migra-

tion patterns of southern African-Americans contributed to the acceleration of

the female work force in Cincinnati and the U.S. at-large. The image of this

group of neophyte laborers elicited the sympathies of urban reformers and

drove them to develop an infrastructure to secure the protection of the naive

farm girl in the big and friendless city. Illustrative of this concern were the


(Spring, 1986), 511-19; Joanne Meyerowitz, "Women Adrift": Wage-Earning Women Apart

from the Family in Chicago, 1880-1930 (Chicago, 1989); Lynn Weiner, "'Our Sister's

Keeper': The Minneapolis Woman's Christian Association and Housing for Working Women,"

Minnesota History 64 (Spring, 1979),189-200.

3. For more information on the relationship of Cincinnati's geography to its development see

Zane Miller, Boss Cox's Cincinnati: Urban Politics in the Progressive Era (New York, 1968),

3-56; Glenn Miller, "Transportation and Urban Growth in Cincinnati, Ohio and Vicinity: 1788-

1980" (Ph.D. dissertation, University of Cincinnati, 1983).


48                                                           OHIO HISTORY


ads placed in small-town papers and in train stations warning young women

not to move to urban areas without a secure promise of employment or an

adequate means of support. Despite such precautions, the allure of the city

prevailed, so reformers established alliances with Traveler's Aid societies and

railroad workers who could direct new arrivals to appropriate services or shel-

ters.4 The scarcity of jobs and affordable housing was aggravated by the fact

that hoteliers and boarding housekeepers often preferred male over female resi-

dents, believing that men were less trouble.5 As a result women's wages,

only one-third to one-half their male counterparts,' had to be stretched farther.

Comfortable housing in safe neighborhoods came at a premium. Food was

more expensive for women who ate in the better restaurants because the

cheaper ones were located in bars or in bad neighborhoods. These difficulties

were further complicated by racism and ethnocentrism, as well as the prevail-

ing middle-class values and expectations of urban reformers and the piety of

the religious groups which sought to rescue women from the streets.

The history of the women's housing movement is inextricably tied to the

consumer reform movement which had its origins within the women's suf-

frage movement. Margaret Gibbons Wilson notes three types of early twen-

tieth century urban reformers: the civic reformers who campaigned for a clean,

efficient government and an end to "bossism"; the social reformers who

struggled to ameliorate the hardships of urban life such as housing, disease,

and unsafe working conditions; and the city planners who worked to rational-

ize and beautify the urban environment in the hope of bettering the lives of

its inhabitants. It is safe to say that all three movements played a part, often

simultaneously, in the development of housing for working women.6

Aside from family homes, women workers lived in a variety of structures:

lodging houses, apartments, boarding houses, and employer-owned or subsi-

dized facilities. Lodging houses offered sleeping quarters but not eating ac-

commodations. Boarding houses provided renters with both an individual

sleeping room and a common dining room. Apartment and tenement houses

were generally family units, in which rooms were rented to boarders and food



4. Evidence of this can be seen in: "A Philadelphia Warning to Girls," Religion and Social

Service, 46 (February 1, 1913), 234, which stated that the Commission on Social Service of the

Philadelphia Interchurch Federation had published warnings in the newspapers to "girls

throughout the country not to be led into going to big cities unless they have been assured of

honest employment at more than $8 a week"; or in Mrs. Newell Dwight Hillis, "The Home

Life of Working-Girls," The Outlook, 98 (May 14, 1911), 72-75, which discussed the rising

number of young, inexperienced women workers falling into "white slavery." See also

Florence Kelly, "Why Working Girls Fall into Temptation," Ladies Home Journal, 26

(November, 1909),15-16; Harriet Brankenhurst, "The Business Girl and the Confidential

Man," Ladies Home Journal, 28 (March 15, 1911), 26.

5. Lynn Weiner, From Working Girl to Working Mother: The Female Labor Force in the

United States, 1820-1980 (Chapel Hill, 1985), 53.

6. Margaret Gibbons Wilson, The American Woman in Transition: The Urban Influence,

1870-1920 (Westport, 1979), 93.

Housing the Women Who Toiled 49

Housing the Women Who Toiled                                           49


preparation facilities were at times included.7 Employer-owned housing was

designed similarly to the boarding house but offered, at least, partially subsi-

dized rents. Finally, domestic workers sometimes boarded with their employ-

ers, usually in small sleeping quarters above the main house.

Mainstream housing theory of the period generally ignored the housing

needs of single, working women. Housing developments in England and the

U.S. focused almost exclusively on the needs of working-class families.

Morris Knowles' Industrial Housing, considered a critical work of its time,

clarified the general sentiment of planners when he stated that: "Special build-

ings for housing women will, in developments, be found unnecessary."8 The

response to working women's housing needs came first from religious soci-

eties. Protection of the virtue of working women from the moral depravity

of urban life provided a key explanation for the intervention of these groups.

The roots of their interest began with housing "fallen women," unwed moth-

ers or former prostitutes, who turned to such organizations in contrition or as

their only means of getting off the streets.

The transition into housing for young working women came as reformers

began to recognize the dilemma faced by naive young rural women when they

arrived in the big city seeking employment.9 The origin of the homes for

Cincinnati working women is so closely related to that of institutions for

"errant women" that it is often difficult to discern between the two when

looking through primary documents. During the first decades of their devel-

opment such residences were listed in social service directories along with

those for such special populations, cited as "incurables, invalids, elderly, in-

sane, and fallen women."10 The Convent of the Good Shepherd opened four

homes in the Cincinnati area with a two-fold purpose: "Bring back to the

pathways of virtue the unfortunate young women who have strayed," and to

"shelter from peril young girls, both white and colored, as yet innocent of

sin, but sorely exposed to untoward social environments." 11 It could not be

determined what percentage of each group constituted the Good Shepherd

homes or whether the two groups were kept separated.






7. Albert Benedict Wolfe, The Lodging Problem in Boston (Boston, 1906), 5.

8. Morris Knowles, Industrial Housing (New York, 1920), 340-41.

9. See for instance "Her Sister in the Country Who Wants to Come to the City to Make Her

Way," Ladies Home Journal, 28 (Spring, 1911), 16; Alice N. Lincoln, "Some Ways of

Benefiting a City: Working Girls Homes," The American Monthly Review of Reviews, 18

(November, 1898), 604.

10. See for example Bureau of Census Benevolent Institutions 1910 (Washington, D.C.,

1913) which lists homes for working women with those for the aged, infirm, destitute, incur-

able, epileptics and convalescents; and the 1900 Williams Cincinnati Directory (Cincinnati,

1900), 291-92.

11. Charles Frederic Goss, Cincinnati: The Queen City, 1788-1912 (Cincinnati, 1912), 282.


50                                         OHIO HISTORY

Two 1898 publications established early twentieth century standards for

working women's housing. In the first, Mary S. Ferguson of the U.S.

Department of Labor described the ideal boarding place as one in which

"working girls and young women of good moral character can live at prices

within their reach, in which they can find . . . the conveniences, social plea-

sures, and good influences of a real home, and ... many comforts and wide

opportunities for pleasure and culture."12 Concerned about homes "with the

odor of charity," the author cautioned her readers "to distinguish between phi-

lanthropic effort and charity."13 Ferguson also objected to unnecessary rules

and suggested that administrators offer advice instead of interference. Future

buildings, she insisted, should afford workers greater privacy in the form of

individual sleeping rooms and rates which accommodated factory workers.

The second publication, "Girls' Cooperative Boarding House," described the

"women's hotel of the future." Author Robert Stein presented his vision of a

"gigantic but elegant building" which featured a public dining room on the



12. Mary S. Ferguson, "Boarding Homes and Clubs for Working Women" Bulletin of the

Department of Labor, 15 (March, 1898), 141.

13. Ibid., 142.

Housing the Women Who Toiled 51

Housing the Women Who Toiled                                     51


ground floor opened to both women and men.14 The restaurant would subsi-

dize the hotel as well as employ some residents as waitresses and cooks. The

training they received in these positions would allow them eventually to

move to better paying positions outside the hotel. Courses in dressmaking,

millinery, stenography, typing, bookkeeping, photography, and typesetting

would be offered to residents as well as free and regular lessons in "language,

elocution, dancing and physical culture." Stein imagined that the hotel would

function as a place where society ladies and girls of humble origins could mix

freely and engage in uplifting activities such as literary and scientific clubs,

and dramatics and musical exercises. A membership committee would screen

men invited to coed activities to ensure that only "gentlemen" were admitted.

The hotel would also operate a farm on a body of water about ten miles from

the city. There a spacious villa, playgrounds, fields, orchards, boats, and

sandy beaches would provide a vacation resort where tired the city dwellers

could recuperate in play and pleasant work. An open invitation would be is-

sued to young rural women and men to come and socialize with the city

women and participate in the educational and evening offerings at the resort.15

Both of these early publications exorcised the notion of charity as a primary

force in the establishment of homes for working women, preferring instead to

consider the homes "endowed" in the manner of other community services

such as libraries, schools, museums, and hospitals.


Working Women in Cincinnati


The employment patterns of Cincinnati women were fairly consistent with

those of the female U.S. labor force at-large. The average single, white fe-

male worker in 1888 was just over 22 years old. She began work at age 15

and had been employed in her present occupation for five years. She was

likely to have been born in the U.S. (81 percent) but of foreign-born parents

(74 percent fathers, 71 percent mothers), most notably either Ireland or

Germany.16 Since men and women participated about equally in the 1890-

1910 migration from the southern U.S., African-American women entered the

Cincinnati labor force in large numbers. During this period the total number

of African-American women increased by 57 percent and single women by 63

percent. Of the single women 61 percent were between the ages of 15 and 24

and 32 percent between 15 to 19 years old.17 By 1910, 49 percent of all




14. Robert Stein, "Girls' Cooperative Boarding Clubs," Arena, 19 (March, 1898), 397-417.

15. Ibid.

16. Working Women in Large Cities: Fourth Annual Report of the Commissioner of Labor

(Washington D.C., 1889), 268-69.

17. William Loren Katz, ed., Negro Population in the United States, 1790-1915, William

Loren Katz, editor, (New York, 1968), 273-76.


52                                                        OHIO HISTORY


Cincinnati African-American women over the age of 16 worked outside the

home.18 In Ohio the largest percentage of African-American workers engaged

in laundry (32 percent) and tobacco factory (43 percent) labor.19

Women's employment was generally characterized by low pay, long hours,

and unhealthy conditions. Wages in 1900 averaged $4.60 for a 58 hour

week.20 Employers' assertions that women worked only to buy luxuries

were disputed by surveys such as those done by the Ohio Bureau of Labor,

which clearly indicated that female employees had difficulties in meeting ba-

sic survival needs. 21 Table 1 illustrates the amounts spent by the average

Ohio female wage earner for basic needs in 1900. Board, rent, light and heat

consumed over one-half of the average worker's wage, leaving transportation,

health care, entertainment, and laundry to be bought with a mere $1.38. A

more descriptive picture of the living conditions afforded by the wages allot-

ted Cincinnati women was provided by another survey which offered individ-

ual portraits of workers contained in the aggregate statistics.22


Number 23

Packer in a cracker factory. Is probably over 30 years of age, altho [sic] exact age

was not reported. Has had nearly 15 years experience in factory work. Began as a

minor, in a paper box factory, working as a turner and a stitcher and finally ad-

vancing to assistant forelady. Due to a seemingly justifiable cause, she left and

began work for a far lower wage. Does her own sewing and sewing for a relative,

in return for which relative does her laundry for less than market rate. Goes to

night school (free) and her desire for improvement is evidenced by her entries for

lessons in dressmaking. Lives in 1 room where she does light housekeeping.

Keeps her room neat and clean. Gets only one real meal a day. Goes irregularly to

relatives in better circumstances for a considerable number of meals. She has a

passion for flowers, but indulged herself only to the extent of $0.50 worth during

the year. Rather more resigned than cheerful. Factory conditions where she

works, according to her statement, are without a menace to health. 23


Number 31

She is a bindery employee. Wages $7.00 per week, thirty-three years of age and

had five years and nine months experience at bindery work, besides two years at

labeling. Her work was irregular on account of her mother's poor health. If this

worker was not living in a boarding home for working girls her condition would

be very serious, as she has been out of work for fifteen weeks during the past year.

She has had to neglect some dental work that she really should have had done, as


18. David A. Gerber, Black Ohio and the Color Line, 1860-1915 (Urbana, 1968), 278-79.

19. Negro Population, 522.

20. Working Women in Large Cities, p. 17; Work and Wages of Men, Women and Children:

Eleventh Annual Report of the Commissioner of Labor, 1895-96 (Washington D.C., 1897), 30-


21. "Part V: Working Women," Twenty-Fifth Annual Report of the Ohio Bureau of Labor

Statistics (Columbus, 1902), 802-03.

22. Dept. of Investigation and Statistics, Cost of Living of Working Women in Ohio

(Columbus, 1915).

23. Ibid., 175-76.

Housing the Women Who Toiled 53

Housing the Women Who Toiled                                     53


she had no money to pay for it. She has been in the habit of keeping an account

of her income, but her expenditures are so nearly confined to absolute necessities

that she had not previously kept account of them . . . her most unusual expenditure

is for a newspaper in order to look in the want columns for work.24


Each of these portraits demonstrated the frugality required of female workers.

Though in their thirties, both continued to live hand-to-mouth existences,

sacrificing nutritional and physical needs because of poor wages. In the case

of Number 31, one wonders whether the boarding home for working girls was

able to provide the same type of support structure provided Number 23 by her

relatives with whom she shared meals and traded sewing for laundry duties.


The Origins of Housing for Cincinnati Working Women


An 1888 U.S. Commission of Labor survey of women who worked in

large cities found that the percentage of working women living at home was

higher in Cincinnati than any of the other twenty-one studied. Though this

was generally thought to indicate good housing conditions, the survey author

noted otherwise, declaring that the homes of Cincinnati working women were

"unusually uninviting."


The streets are dirty and closely built up with ill-constructed houses, holding from

two to six families. Many of the poorer parts of Cincinnati are as wretched as the

worst European cities, and the population looks as degraded. Rents are dispropor-

tionately high and commodities dear. 25


Cincinnati compared poorly with other midwestern cities such as Cleveland

where "separate houses, good sanitation, comfortable surroundings, and a

general respectability are the rule rather than the exception, and extreme

poverty is rarely witnessed." The survey also noted that working women in

Indianapolis lived in "cottages" which as a rule were neat and comfortable

with moderate rents. 26

Only one Cincinnati residence, the Sacred Heart, founded in 1882, was in-

cluded in the survey. The home, managed by a Miss McCabe, charged rents

which ranged from $1.00 to $3.00 a week. Despite the rather high rates, the

survey noted it was crowded with four to seven women sharing each tiny

sleeping room. Compared to the "airy cottages" of Indianapolis, the Sacred

Heart seemed squalid and illustrated a critical need for additional housing for

Cincinnati working women.





24. Ibid., 197-98.

25. Working Women in Large Cities, 17.

26. Ibid., 18.


54                                           OHIO HISTORY

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Housing the Women Who Toiled 55

Housing the Women Who Toiled                                      55


The report failed to mention the existence of two similar homes: the House

of Mercy founded in 1858, and the YWCA residence opened in 1868. Several

other units opened in the following decades. Between 1858 and 1930 nine-

teen planned residences for single women were developed in Cincinnati.

Some were short-lived, others merged, and only one, the Anna Louise Inn,

remains in existence today. There is scant information on several of the in-

stitutions, as many of the original records have either been destroyed or are

privately held. But available information suggests that particular ethnic, reli-

gious, and racial groups set up their own homes, often with financial assis-

tance from white philanthropists. For instance, by 1924, four homes had

been established for African-American women: the Home for Colored Girls,

Colored Catholic Girls Home, the Evangeline Booth Home for Colored Girls

(for unwed mothers), and the Cincinnati Friendship Home. The first, the

Home for Colored Girls (HCG), was founded in 1911 by the Cincinnati

Protective and Industrial Association for Colored Women and Girls, a group

composed of local philanthropists and reformers, both African-American and

white.27 The absence of hotels and boarding houses open to African-

Americans in the city indicated a critical need for the facility. The founders

intended the HCG to serve women, ages 14 to 35, seeking employment in

the city. Train depot employees and volunteers greeted visitors with informa-

tion about the facility on their arrival.28 Despite its initial success, after less

than a year the organizers abruptly changed its mission to a home for younger

girls from "broken and troubled homes."29

The Friendship Home, which opened in 1918, became the first permanent

planned residence for African-American working women in Cincinnati.30

Though many of its residents came to the city hoping to find industrial labor

connected to the war effort, few found anything except domestic service, until

the mid-1920s when white-collar opportunities such as teacher, social worker,

nurse, and librarian began to open to African-American women.31 The Home

required each boarder to attend church services. Piano and voice lessons were

offered regularly, and some residents participated in the Friendship Home

Choir which performed at events throughout the city to raise funds for the fa-


The Blue Triangle Club, the West End Branch of the Cincinnati YWCA,



27. Williams Directory of Cincinnati (Cincinnati, 1969), 326; Goss, Cincinnati: The Queen

City, 324.

28. Gerber, Black Ohio, 449-50; Frances Kellor "Assisted Emigration from the South-the

Women," Charities, 17 (October 7, 1905), 12.

29. Home for Colored Girls (n.p.: n.d.). Pamphlet located at the Cincinnati Historical Society.

30. Goss, Cincinnati: The Queen City, 324.

31. Ruth Esther Meeker, Six Decades of Services, 1880-1940: A History of Woman's Home

Missionary Society of the Methodist Church (n.p., Methodist Episcopal Church, 1969).

32. Ibid.


56                                                        OHIO HISTORY


opened in 1919, accepting women ages from 14 to 35.33 Both transients and

permanent members were welcome and fees were based on ability to pay.

The three-story, twelve-room building was largely supported by contributions

from local churches and lodges. The first and second floors of the building

were used for club and recreational purposes, and the third story was a dormi-

tory. 34 The name "the Blue Triangle Club" was given to African-American

branches of the YWCA throughout the country.35 The home ran a laundry,

the proceeds from which helped to support the facility. Women who could

not find employment worked in the laundry in exchange for their room and

board.36 A day nursery, also housed in the facility, provided another em-

ployment opportunity for residents. Working mothers could leave their chil-

dren at the center for five cents a day.37 A tea room served as a meeting place

for residents and nonresidents at an affordable price. Recreational facilities in-

cluded a gymnasium, swimming pool, and basketball and tennis courts which

were available to nonresidents as well.38

David Gerber contends that African-American women's clubs of this period

tended to neglect the real needs of the migrant poor. Unable to understand the

struggles of the too distant lower-class, African-American clubwomen offered

them little more than platitudes.39 Gerda Lerner, however, suggests that

African-American women were deeply involved in social work.40 In

Cincinnati it would appear that both views had merit. African-American

women certainly were present on the interracial boards which helped to de-

velop the planned residences for this group of working women. However,

records do not explain to what extent they were also key actors in the concep-

tualization and maintenance of these projects.41 The Martha House, operated

by the Jewish Social Services and funded primarily through the contributions

of one anonymous donor,42 appeared to fill a specific need. When it opened

in 1920 the few Jewish women residing at the YWCA left for the Martha

House, perhaps indicating that the 'Y' had offered a less than hospitable




33. Wendall P. Dabney, Cincinnati's Colored Citizens: Historical, Sociological, and

Biographical (New York, 1922), 216-18.

34. Ibid., 210.

35. Jane Olcott, The Work of Colored Women (New York, 1919), 106-07.

36. Dabney, Cincinnati's Colored Citizens, 210.

37. "Friendship Home Statement to the Public," The Union, 14 (January 18 1920), 1.

38. Ibid.

39. Gerber, Black Ohio, 113.

40. Gerda Lerner, Black Women in White America: A Documentary History (New York,

1972), 435-58.

41. Jane Edna Hunter's A Nickel and a Prayer (Nashville, 1940) provides an interesting de-

scription of her struggle to gain interracial cooperation in establishing a home for African-

American single working women in Cleveland.

42. Frances Ivins Rich, Wage-Earning Girls in Cincinnati: The Wages, Employment,

Housing, Food, Recreation, and Education of a Sample Group (Cincinnati, 1927), 30.

Housing the Women Who Toiled 57

Housing the Women Who Toiled                                    57

Click on image to view full size

environment to its Jewish residents.43 Located on Auburn Avenue in Mt.

Auburn in a section of Jewish homes (Map 1), this residence was the first

to situate itself outside the walking city, forcing the residents to use public

transportation to jobs downtown.



43. Anderson, "Home and Community," 36.


58                                                     OHIO HISTORY


Providing housing to women employed in industrial occupations was an

initial goal of most of the planned residences. Yet the evidence suggests that

this represented the planners' greatest failure as facility after facility admitted

increasing numbers of white-collar workers. This seems to have been related

to the fact that industrial workers, with little formal schooling, earned less,

worked longer, and were older than their white-collar counterparts. As a re-

sult they had less money to spend on room and board. An example of this

dilemma can be seen in the Anna Louise Inn, founded in 1909. The Union

Bethel, Cincinnati's oldest social service institution, began its activities in

1830 with the goal of providing decent living quarters and religious services

to riverboat workers along the Cincinnati wharf area.44 In the style of the

Hull House in Chicago and Toynbee Hall in London, the Union Bethel set

up, in 1900, a settlement house serving 19 blocks of Cincinnati's most im-

poverished population. Boys' and girls' clubs were formed, a gymnasium and

library organized, public baths installed, and Cincinnati's first kindergarten

established in the settlement. In 1906, the Union Bethel opened a lunchroom

for women working in nearby factories. It was through this effort that the

trustees learned of the need for better housing for women workers and resulted

in the building, in 1909, of the Anna Louise Inn for Working Women.45

The Inn, named after the daughter of Charles P. and Anna Sinton Taft, ma-

jor donors in the construction of the facility,46 became the largest home for

working women within Cincinnati. The five-story brick and terra-cotta build-

ing had the latest amenities, including steam heating and gas lighting.47

The home had 120 single sleeping rooms, several parlors for entertaining

guests, a dining room, and offered social, religious and educational activities.

Richly furnished with oriental carpets, oil paintings, giant gilded mirrors, and

carved furniture, the facility must have astounded its residents.48 The weekly

rent, based on a sliding scale, averaged, in 1900, between $2.75 to $4.75 a

week for a room and 21 meals. To qualify for residence workers had to earn

less than $10 a week.49 The home met with immediate success and a long

waiting list resulted. In 1915, the Tafts again responded to the need for addi-

tional rooms and made a gift of the property adjoining the Inn so that a wing

could be built.50 Though the bylaws stated that the Inn had no restrictions as

to race or religion of residents, there were no African-American boarders until





44. Howard C. McClary, 150 Years of Community Service: The Story of the Cincinnati Union

Bethel, 1830-1980 (Cincinnati, 1981), 1.

45. Ibid., 22.

46. Ibid., 32.

47. Sanborn Insurance Maps, located at the Cincinnati Historical Society.

48. Goss, Cincinnati: The Queen City, 299.

49. Ibid.

50. McClary, 150 Years of Community Service, 40.

Housing the Women Who Toiled 59

Housing the Women Who Toiled                                   59


the 1960s.51 References were required and, despite Bethel Union's original

intention of providing housing for nearby factory workers, the majority of

residents held white-collar jobs such as stenography, bookkeeping, office

clerk, telephone operator and sales.52 Although it is unclear as to why this

occurred, factory workers might have been intimidated by the opulence, or

might not have known how to apply for admission. Perhaps home managers

favored white-collar women, or the trustees found it financially advantageous

to admit those capable of paying the fee at the top of the sliding scale. That

this situation occurred more often at the more grandly designed structures

suggests the latter explanation.

The homes which most successfully met the needs of industrial workers

were those in which the residents were older, such as the Sacred Heart Home

for Working Girls. Those employed as white collar workers in clerical and

sales positions were generally younger than those in industrial work. For ex-

ample, in 1900 two-thirds of the home's 73 residents were age 30 or older and

66 percent held either industrial or domestic labor occupations. In 1910, 58

percent were age 30 or older with an average resident age of 35. The

youngest boarder was 18 and the oldest 65. Sixty-three of the 80 residents

(79 percent) held occupations which could be identified as industrial or domes-

tic labor. Thirteen of the residents had been unemployed between one and 40

weeks in 1909. Comparatively lower percentages of residents held indus-

trial or domestic labor jobs at the Lawrence (42 percent), Anna Louise Inn

(29 percent), Glenn Industrial (24 percent) and the YWCA (22 percent). Ages

also ranged lower; 58 percent of residents at the Sacred Heart were under the

age, compared to the Lawrence (29 percent), Anna Louise Inn (26 percent),

Glenn Industrial (24 percent), and the YWCA (32 percent).53


The Decline of Housing for Cincinnati Working Women


There are several reasons for the general decline of planned housing for

women. At the top of these are the influences of the changing city and the

societal conceptualization about women and work. The rise of public and

private transportation facilitated the suburbanization of Cincinnati. As

smaller neighborhoods sprang up around Cincinnati they created their own

business districts where women could also find employment, thus increasing

the availability of jobs closer to some women's family homes. The electric

streetcar increased accessibility to Cincinnati's outlying areas, such that for

the first time blue-collar workers could afford to live beyond the city limits



51. Ibid., 65.

52. Information compiled by the author from: U.S. Bureau, Thirteenth Census of the United

States (Washington, D.C., 1910), Sheet 8A.

53. Ibid.; and from U.S. Bureau, Twelfth Census of United States (Washington D.C., 1910).


60                                        OHIO HISTORY

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Housing the Women Who Toiled 61

Housing the Women Who Toiled                                     61


and commute to work. As a result, it was possible for young women to live

at home and travel progressively longer distances to work. In addition, the

locus of female employment shifted as businesses moved to the hilltops sur-

rounding the city, then to outer rings in the concentric business zones which

emanated from the downtown river basin.54

Between 1910 and 1920 the residential population within the basin slowed

as a result of a number of factors, including war casualties, a severe influenza

epidemic, and the temporary absence of soldiers from their homes. By 1920,

the residential population decline began to affect adversely the occupancy rates

of the planned units. A further decline in the basin population between 1920

and 1930 occurred as heavy industry grew in the area and the more prosperous

residents fled the deteriorating areas of the city. Railroads, warehouses and

factories expanded and intruded upon the basin's residential districts in the

west end of the city, pushing the now mostly African-American population

of the West End farther north and east into the city. Density increased as

those too poor to leave crowded into the ever-diminishing housing stock.

The Depression of the 1930s spurred a wave of outward migration from urban

to suburban and rural areas in Hamilton County, Ohio, and Campbell and

Kenton counties in Kentucky.55

The changing patterns in the city's residential districts resulted in the ex-

tensive relocation of women's homes throughout the period between 1910

and 1930. The planned units generally moved north, following the trend to

suburbanization. In 1916 the Lawrence opened a second home, the Eleanor

Earnshaw, in the northwest section of the city (Map 2).56 Yet only seven

years later the home's trustees complained that the neighborhood had grown

"rough and undesirable" and worried that the "usefulness of the House is al-

most over."57 On the other hand, the property around the Lawrence increased

in value, essentially as the result of the demand for business office space in

the former residential area. With the profit from the sale of the Lawrence and

a loan from the Procter family, the trustees purchased the former Auburn

Hotel in Mt. Auburn, and both homes, the Lawrence and the Eleanor

Earnshaw, combined into one facility, called the Eleanor Lodge (Map 3).

This placed the home out of the basin, and required some residents to use the

nearby streetcar for their daily commute to work.58




54. Miller, Boss Cox's Cincinnati, 3-56.

55. James A. Quinn, Earle Eubank and Lois E. Elliott, Population Changes-Cincinnati,

Ohio and Adjacent Areas 1900-1940 (Columbus, 1947), 7.

56. Cincinnati Enquirer, June 10, November 4, 1916.

57. Twenty-Sixth Annual Report of the Board of Managers of the Lawrence Home (n.p.,

1923), 11.

58. Twenty-Seventh Annual Report of the Board of Managers of the Lawrence Home (n.p.,

1924), 7-8.


62                                          OHIO HISTORY

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Housing the Women Who Toiled                                      63

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64                                                    OHIO HISTORY


ingly serious problem especially affecting older boarders.59 In 1930 the

Board began to discuss moving again to a "more modern building in a more

convenient neighborhood"; however, the Lodge struggled on in this same lo-

cation until it closed in 1948.60

The Glenn Industrial Home relocated in 1916, primarily due to a change in

the racial makeup of the neighborhood, as the migration of southern African-

Americans expanded the boundaries of their neighborhoods in this period

(Map 2).61 In 1928 the Glenn (now called the Esther) moved still further

north.62 Though the primary reasons for the relocations are attributable to

"white flight," African-American workers benefited indirectly as the

Friendship Home for Girls took over each Glenn facility as it was abandoned

by whites (Map 3).63 Esther Hall remained at its Ninth Street address until

1967 when it moved into suburban Walnut Hills where it closed two years


The Sacred Heart changed both its location and its name, becoming the

Fontbonne in 1925 (Map 3). Only the Fontbonne, along with the Central

YWCA and the Anna Louise Inn, remained in the basin area until the 1970s.

These three homes were rather large institutions and heavily subsidized by

benefactors through financially difficult periods, perhaps key factors in their


It would appear that once the homes moved out of walking distance from

the residents' place of employment, a major part of the attraction for these

homes was lost. If women were going to commute they could do so just as

well from their parents' homes. The Depression of the 1930s pushed many

women out of the work force and the planned homes suffered from a lack of

boarders throughout this period. Some facilities never recovered from its fi-

nancial impact. Additionally, by the 1930s women were no longer considered

"adrift" when they left home to engage in work. Young women had joined

the labor force in significant numbers over a long enough time that the con-

troversy about them had all but faded. The single wage-earner's presence in

the city was considered as normal as her presence in the labor force.

Gradually, prohibitions against single women living independently in their

own apartments were lifted and young women began to reject the restrictive





59. The Thirty-Second Annual Report of the Board of Managers of the Lawrence Home

Association (n.p., 1929), 6.

60. The Thirty-Third Annual Report of the Board of Managers of the Lawrence Home

Association (n.p., 1930), 7-8.

61. Cincinnati Enquirer, October 5, 1916.

62. Meeker, Six Decades, 221.

63. Social Service Directory of Cincinnati and Hamilton County (Cincinnati, 1934), 135.

64. Williams Directory of Cincinnati, (Cincinnati, 1967), 337; Williams Directory of

Cincinnati (1969), 326.

Housing the Women Who Toiled 65

Housing the Women Who Toiled                                   65


expectations of the planned home. Cooperative apartments in which two or

more women shared the cost of rent became more popular.


Analysis of the Homes


Despite the difficulty in obtaining detailed information about them, it

would appear that Cincinnati homes for working women met or exceeded

their original goal of providing a safe, convenient, and financially accessible

shelter for single working women. In fact, one might argue that the planned

housing offered better conditions than those found in the average Cincinnati

home. In 1917 roughly one-third of all U.S. citizens were judged to be living

in homes that were "bad by any standard," and at least one-tenth of all

dwellings "constituted an acute menace to health, moral, and family life."65

Similarly, a 1916 Cincinnati Consumer League study found that, of 290

homes visited in the rooming house district, only 60 met the requirements set

by the League's Room Registry Bureau. Of the 60, 47 had rates in excess of

the average rents paid by working women.66 This condition did not improve

in the next decade as a 1927 survey, comparing Cincinnati women living in

planned homes to those in regular boarding houses or apartments, found that

the planned unit residents paid far less rent: a weekly average of $2.75 com-

pared to $5.75.67 The survey concluded that the few good rooms (outside the

planned units) available in the city were priced so high that the average work-

ing woman could not afford them without seriously impairing her resources

for food, clothing, health care, car fare, recreation and other necessities.68

Rates in the planned shelters varied and generally provided a better buy

than the alternatives. In 1927 weekly rates could be found from $1.50 for

bed at the Friendship Home for Colored Girls to $9.00 for a room and board

at the Eleanor Lodge. The average wage of planned shelter residents was

$17.79 a week while those who boarded in the rooming house district earned

$18.36 a week. The Ohio Council of Women in Industry designed a budget

to accommodate the average working woman's salary (Table 3).

The suggested expenditure of $5.50 a week for room and board illustrates

the economic difficulties faced by working women of the era. Though

planned shelters required far less in rent than traditional facilities, most of the

homes charged more than $5.50 a week. In 1926, only three of the eight fa-





65. Robert H. Bremner, From the Depths: The Discovery of Poverty in the United States

(New York, 1956), 205.

66. The Consumer's League of Cincinnati, A Study of Living Conditions in Rooming Houses,

Bulletin 20 (June, 1916), 2.

67. Rich, Wage-Earning Girls in Cincinnati, 31-3la.

68. Ibid., 42-43.


66                                         OHIO HISTORY

cilities open to white women-the Esther Home for Girls, The Fontbonne,

and the YWCA-charged $5.50 or less a week for room and board.69 The

sliding scale for the Anna Louise Inn was set at $6 to $8 a week; Eleanor

Lodge at $6 to $9; Emanuel $3.50 to $6 for rent and an additional $4.20 for

board; the Mt. Carmel $6.25; and the Martha $6 to $7.50.



69. Social Service Directory of Cincinnati, 1926

Housing the Women Who Toiled 67

Housing the Women Who Toiled                                   67


Unfortunately those earning below the average wage or who had higher

than usual expenditures could not afford to live in the planned homes. The

fees charged at the homes for African-American women were substantially

less than those for white women. In 1929, the average African-American res-

ident's wage was $15 a week. The Friendship Home still charged only $1.50

per bed for dormitory-style living arrangements, and the Blue Triangle Club

charged $2 to $5 a week for rent. However, the additional cost of a weekly

meal ticket at $2.50 pushed room and board to $4.50 to $7.00, more than

many women's ability to pay.70

Night classes and planned units proved another factor in attracting residents

to planned facilities. Twenty-one percent of those living in planned housing

in 1927 possessed only an 8th grade education (or less), 46 percent had com-

pleted high school, 15 percent had some college, and 2 percent had four years

of college. A greater percentage of those living in the planned units attended

night classes than those living in private or boarding houses. Thirty-three

percent of office workers attended evening classes, as did 8 percent of store

clerks, but less than 1 percent of factory workers. 71 Though the most popu-

lar requests for classes included psychology, music and art, facilities such as

the YWCA continued to offer only old standards such as etiquette, dressmak-

ing, English, the life of Christ, and Christmas crafts.72

At least 53 percent of the residents returned to their parent's homes only

once a month or less. 73 Thus, wage-earning women looked to the city to

provide amusements for their leisure time. To that end the planned homes of-

fered libraries, classes, outings, and other wholesome events to attract resi-

dents away from the more questionable entertainments provided in the city.

In evaluating the social life at the Cincinnati YWCA in the 1920s and 1930s

Anderson illustrates this by noting that the residents "created an informal,

woman-centered community that reflected both their shared consciousness as

paid workers and their anticipation of future marriage" in such activities as

engagement parties, taffy pulls, and mock weddings.74

Several of the planned residences owned or had access to summer resorts

where residents could find relief from the dirty and sweltering city. The Anna

Louise Inn had the Glen Vere, a camp located about 15 miles northeast of the

city. The YWCA's summer cottage was in Loveland, a rural community 25

miles from the city, and the Lawrence and the Eleanor Earnshaw homes used

the Girls' Friendly Society summer resort in Clermontville, located near the





70. Social Service Directory of Cincinnati, 1929

71. Rich, Wage-Earning Girls, 55-57.

72. Ibid.

73. Ibid.

74. Anderson, "Home and Community," 38.


68                                           OHIO HISTORY

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70                                                   OHIO HISTORY


Ohio River, twenty-five miles east of the city on eight acres of land donated

by local philanthropist Thomas J. Emery in 1903. At Clermontville the res-

idents usually stayed for two weeks during the summer for which they paid

$2.50 a week. A vegetable garden supplied a good portion of the meals, and

the surplus was sold to help support the residence. Over three hundred

women each summer enjoyed the pleasures of boating and swimming in the

river, hay rides, picnics, tennis, and croquet, dancing, indoor games, and li-

braries, as well as orchards and gardens.75 For many city-born women the re-

sorts became their first opportunity to spend time in a rural environment.

Though few homes specified religious, racial or class preferences, appar-

ently limitations regarding these factors existed. The screening process pro-

vided the opportunity for eliminating those with an "inappropriate" religion,

race or class background. Since none of the homes, except those specifically

designed for them, had any African-American boarders between 1890 and

1930, a bias seems evident; resistance to integration likely worked against in-

terracial housing. Most of the facilities attracted a young, educated, native-

born clientele with white-collar occupations. The few units which catered to

older women holding industrial jobs seemed marginally funded, offering little

or no support services and far less glamorous surroundings. While segrega-

tion of the homes by race, age, and income might have occurred as a result of

the filtering process established by the resident's board and/or its administra-

tors, self-selection was also a likely factor. For example, a Protestant might

have avoided homes run by Catholic orders, while homes which featured a

large percentage of industrial workers may have resulted from residents urging

their friends to board there.

Often there was an incongruity between the intended clients and those actu-

ally served. For instance, though the Sacred Heart rules required residents to

be between the ages of 14 and 30, in 1900, over 44 percent were beyond this

age. At the Anna Louise Inn, originally founded as a residence for industrial

workers, only 18 of the 119 residents held factory jobs. The imposing ele-

gance of the four-story mansion which became the Glenn Industrial Home

must have been intimidating to the unemployed transients for whom the fa-

cility was originally intended. The Women's Home Missionary Society's

slogan of eradicating poverty by stemming ignorance of economy and health,

and its mandatory attendance at twice weekly religious services, doubtlessly

caused less pious workers to avoid the home altogether.

Directors of the homes seemed unaware of the acute need for permanent

housing facilities until their temporary residents became increasingly long-

term. However, over time some flexible funding agencies changed the mis-

sion of their facilities to reflect more accurately the clients' needs. Some



75. Annie L. Roelker and Anna H. Foster, The First Annual Report of the Girl's Friendly

Society Vacation House (n.p.: c.1904), pamphlet located at the Cincinnati Historical Society.

Housing the Women Who Toiled 71

Housing the Women Who Toiled                                   71


broadened age requirements, others set rents on a sliding scale, while still

others provided opportunities for unemployed women to work at the home

in exchange for rent, board, or both.

Even with the best of intentions these homes never met the housing needs

of all single Cincinnati women workers, particularly in the period between

1890 and 1930. As the number of rooms increased so did the waiting lists.

For instance, in 1900 there were 35,150 Cincinnati wage-earning women

over the age of sixteen but only 165 places in planned residences.76 By

1920, through expansion and the development of new facilities, 701 rooms

became available for the now increased female work force of 50,231.77

Nor did planners anticipate the decline in the need for the homes in later

decades. Eventually, as working women gained a measure of indepedence, and

thus were more able to provide for themselves, the homes suffered from in-

creasing vacancies and growing overhead until, today, only one remains, the

Anna Louise Inn.

Despite its many problems, the housing movement for women workers is

one of historical importance. It documents a fundamental shift in American

attitudes about women's roles in the workforce and in the cities and illustrates

how physical changes in the city and its infrastructure indirectly influenced

those attitudes.































76. Women in Gainful Occupations, 141.

77. Mary Ferguson, "Boarding Homes and Clubs," 191.