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Places That Are Better Than My Apartment: An Ongoing Series

You know, it’s not often that I feel nostalgic for the days before suffrage. Today, however, it occurs to me that, were I living in that day and age, I could at least have an apartment in Manhattan – namely, the Trowmart Inn.
According to Ephemeral New York (and this article, thanks for linking, guy) it was a “handsome hostelry” for ladies “of the class who [labor] for a small wage, and whose parents have no home within the city.” Why, that’s me! What sort of accomodations were provided for such ladies, pray tell?

For $4 a week, a girl could have a single room containing a bed, washstand, and table, plus breakfast and dinner.

You also got a library, a “good-sized laundry with porcelain tubs,” access to a “medical woman” who worked on the first floor, and, as the Times points out, plumbing which was thoroughly “modern and scientific.” In addition to this, there was no curfew, so you could gallivant around at all hours in a manner most unbecoming.

Furthermore, the building’s owner, William Martin, was a man with a mission: to improve your love life through superior real estate.

“Girls who work long hours in factory, shop, and store, and whose leisure is spent within the dull confines of a cheap lodging or boarding house, have few opportunities for making and pursuing the acquaintance of desirable young men.”

Yeah, tell me about it.

“Girls of gentleness and refinement do not care to be courted upon the open highway, nor in public parks, and thus the world is filling with spinsters, who, according to Mr. Martin, had they a proper place in which to entertain their admirers, would develop into happy, excellent wives.”

Well, maybe. At the very least, they could develop into people who could say “come over to my place” without feeling the blush of housing-related shame.

There were apparently lots of lodging houses for working girls scattered throughout the city, but, as one letter to the Times points out, they had a significant problem: women who earned “too much” couldn’t get rooms there, even if they couldn’t really afford anything else.

“It has long been evident to those interested in the subject that girls earning from $7 to $9 per week were worse off than those who earn $5 or $6… Any one who has tried to find board from $4 to $5 knows from sad experience that the person who obtains it is to be congratulated. One may succeed if one goes far uptown or into the suburbs, but there carfare will bring it up to a higher figure.”

Old-timey ladies: they’re just like us! If by “us,” you mostly mean “me!” And that is usually what I mean! Also, are you interested in hearing about economic and social disincentives for working women? Because this girl has some for you:

“It must be remembered that the more a girl earns the more she will have to spend on clothes. The clothes worn by the writer when she was earning $4.50 a week would not be suitable to wear in a first-class office, nor can she bring a luncheon and eat it in the office, as she did then. Her present salary is much larger than the former, yet she does not save much more in proportion, and she is not at all extravagant. This state of affairs often tends to crush ambition and make a girl regret an increase in her salary, since she must leave her comfortable quarters and probably in sheer desperation resort to doing her own cooking in a small furnished room. Dozens of girls ruin their health in this way, and almost starve in the effort to make ‘both ends meet.'”

How much do I love this woman? Smart, ambitious, contrary, not above telling a Times writer what is what – I kind of want to build a time machine just so that I can hang out with her. Of course, she doesn’t sign her name; she’s just “A GIRL WHO WORKS.”

One Comment

  1. X. Trapnel wrote:

    You know, they actually still have (at least one) women's boarding house/s in the city, or did a few years ago; I knew someone who lived in one while finishing her PhD. She was paying something ridiculously low, maybe 500? for a room. And I seem to recall there were even free breakfasts! I was very envious.

    Of course, No Men Allowed after hours. But then, that wouldn't be appropriate for Girls of Gentleness and Refinement!

    Wednesday, July 29, 2009 at 11:10 am | Permalink