From the Ashes, 1872-1900
A Selection of Documents from the Illinois State Archives
DOCUMENT 23PETITION FROM THE WOMAN'S CHRISTIAN ASSOCIATION TO REMIT WATER TAXES ON THEIR BOARDING HOUSE
February 12, 1883
For single skilled workingwomen at this time there were few housing alternatives. Only a small number could afford furnished apartments and there were only a handful of boardinghouses for single workingwomen. The only respectable alternative to these private accommodations was to board with a family of good character. The Woman's Christian Association was incorporated in 1877 with the object of promoting "the moral, religious, intellectual and temporal welfare of women, especially those who are dependent upon their own exertions for support." Besides operating an employment bureau and a dispensary the Association ran a Christian boardinghouse at 1514 and 1516 Wabash Avenue. Private and common rooms were clean and comfortable and meals were ample and healthy. And although these accommodations were afforded at a very low rate, the boardinghouse was nearly self-sustaining. At the end of 1883 the home housed thirty-four young women who were employed independently variously as clerks, compositors, seamstresses and teachers. There were also several students.
The first typewriter was patented in 1868. And by the early 1870s the Sewing Machine Department of the Remington Arms Co. was the first manufacturer mass-producing these machines. Compositor or typist was one of the few socially acceptable occupations for women in the commercial world at this time.
Odelia Blinn, one of the signatories of this document, identified herself as a medical doctor. Female physicians became accepted in Chicago during the Civil War when there was a shortage of medical men. An 1883 Chicago city directory listed nearly one hundred female physicians.
Points to Consider
Why did the officers of the Woman's Christian Association expect a rebate of the water tax?
What would have been some of the occupations of the women living at the boardinghouse? Which occupation is suggested by the format of this document?
What types of living arrangements would young independent women not living in this type of boardinghouse have had?
Describe the conditions and atmosphere at this boardinghouse.