Women Journalists and the Municipal Housekeeping Movement: Case Studies of Jane Cunningham Croly, Helen M. Winslow and Rheta Childe Dorr

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1992

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Abstract

While suffragists in the late nineteenth century commanded a high profile in their fight for the vote, other less militant women also advocated a wider sphere for women. These semi-traditional women believed a woman's place was in her home, but defined women's "homes" as the cities in which they lived. Their natural "sphere," therefore, involved "municipal housekeeping" chores, which included helping women and children and rooting out corruption, crime, filth and immorality in the cities. This dissertation uses a case study approach to illustrate the involvement of three women journalists, Jane Cunningham Croly, Helen M. Winslow and Rheta Childe Dorr, in the municipal housekeeping movement. These women were chosen because their careers, taken as a whole, show how writing about municipal housekeeping evolved over time from a plea for women to become more socially responsible into a logical argument for suffrage. Croly, a founder of the women's club movement in the United States in 1868, advocated a more public role for women in her newspaper and magazine work, especially in her magazines for club women, The Woman's Cycle, The Home-Maker, and The New Cycle. Winslow, editor and publisher of The Club Woman, and Dorr, a writer on reform for Hampton's magazine, were affected by Croly's ideas and, in turn, expanded them into publicity for women to assume a wider sphere in public affairs. The work of these women from Croly's articles in the 1860s to Dorr's militant reform writing in the 1900s illustrates how journalists portrayed the municipal housekeeping movement. All three believed in the concept of a separate sphere for women, but they sought to expand its limits. Croly's gentle reminders that women should seek interests outside the home gradually gave way to Winslow's argument in favor of women's involvement in municipal government, which in turn was only a step away from Dorr's advocacy of equal rights, including the vote, for women. Thus, the municipal housekeeping journalism of Croly and Winslow gradually merged into the suffrage journalism of Dorr.

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