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Society

London’s Ladies’ Clubs

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Ladies began to carve out a separate, independent life of their own by the late 1890s, and there came to London a proliferation of clubs catering specifically to gentlewomen of rank and means. Inside, the clubs mirrored that of their more famous counterparts like White’s or the Marlborough Club, as centers of leisure and relaxation, as well as providing a London address for women who primarily resided in the country.

The Albermarle Club, founded in 1874, is marked at the first ladies’ club, but it admitted both gentlemen and ladies–a shocking development in and of itself. The first women’s club was the Somerville Club, founded in 1879, for graduates of the college and those of a strong intellectual and philanthropic bent, but the first ladies’s club was the Alexandra, which was founded in 1884 and required its prospective members maintain eligibility to attend Court Drawing Rooms. The other ultra-exclusive club was the Victoria (1894), and both possessed dining rooms, reading rooms, drawing rooms, and bed chambers for its members, the last of which accommodated ladies for a fortnight’s lodging. Other clubs of note were the University Club (1887), which counted among its members university graduates, licensed physicians, and students or lecturers who had been in residence for at least three terms in Girton or Newnham, Cambridge, or Lady Margaret or Somerville, Oxford; the Pioneer Club (1892), founded by Mrs. Massingberd for ladies of rank and professional women, its aim being that of promoting democracy and abolishing class lines within its handsome residence; and the Writers’ Club (1892), which strove to provide opportunities for English lady journalists.

By 1899, London saw nearly twenty-five clubs catering specifically to the needs of London’s aristocratic and middle class women–and that number did not include the growing number of clubs and societies formed for the benefit of working-class women. Soon, not only did other British cities follow the lead with such clubs as Edinburgh’s Queen’s Club (1897) and Manchester’s The Ladies’s Club, but American cities, with New York’s The Colony Club being the most opulent and aristocratic club of its kind. Though they were primarily sociable in focus, the clubs could be a hotbed of political activism, with many suffragists taking prominent positions in the multitude of clubs which sprang up since 1899, and social change.

The Negro Exhibit at the 1900 Paris Exposition

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view of Paris 1900A major development of the nineteenth century was the emergence of world’s fairs, all of which served to entertain visitors and impress them with the technological and cultural advances of Western nations and their colonies which increased exponentially–and dazzlingly–after the 1851 Great Exhibition hosted by England under the auspices of the Prince Consort. By the 1900 world’s fair, which was held in Paris, there had been eleven other expositions, held in such places as Vienna, Philadelphia, Sydney, New Orleans, Barcelona, and Chicago, which introduced a variety of inventions and cultures to awed visitors.

Interior of Negro ExhibitionThough there were three more expositions of significance by the dawn of WWI (St Louis in 1904, Seattle in 1909, and San Francisco in 1915), the one held in 1900 was unique in that it was the first and last fair to bridge the gap between the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. This was also the pinnacle of imperialism, and the “nadir of race relations in America.” After witnessing the successful campaign for the inclusion of African-Americans in the Chicago World’s Fair of 1893, African-Americans viewed the Paris Exhibition as another avenue to promote the progress of their people in the thirty-five years since the end of slavery. The year before the fair, W.E.B. Du Bois, a noted sociologist and activist for African-Americans, began to collect material for the display, and focused on “creating charts, maps, and graphs recording the growth of population, economic power, and literacy among African Americans in Georgia.” In conjunction with Daniel A.P. Murray, assistant to the Librarian of Congress, Du Bois was able to assemble a large collection of written works, which included a bibliography of 1400 titles, 200 books, and many of the 150 periodicals published by black Americans.

Du Bois stated that the objective of the exhibit was quadruple, and by displaying it he hoped to illustrate “the History of the American Negro, the Present condition of the Negro, the Education of the Negro, and Literature of the Negro.” he project was backed with a $15,000 budget appropriated from the American government and amounted to numerous artifacts, including “musical compositions, books by African American authors, and the poetry of Paul Laurence Dunbar, their award-winning display of photographs, books, models, maps, patents, and plans from several black universities, including Atlanta, Fisk, Howard, Hampton, and Tuskegee, showed the world African Americans “studying, examining, and thinking of their own progress, and prospect.”

One highlight of the exhibit utilized nine model displays to depict the progress of Negroes from slavery to the present day. The models began with the homeless freedman and end[ed] with the modern brick schoolhouse and its teachers. Finally, to illustrate the increase in population of the race and to demonstrate other contributions, there were charts showing population growth, the decline in illiteracy and a record of the more than 350 patents granted to black men since 1834. Du Bois stated, concerning the exhibit “we have thus, it may be seen, an honest, straightforward exhibit of a small nation of people, picturing their life and development without apology or gloss, and above all made by themselves.” As a result of its great success, the Negro Exhibit was awarded with seventeen medals during its time on display at the Paris Exposition. Specifically, it received “two grand prizes, four gold medals, seven silver medals, two bronze medals and two honorable mentions” in the various categories of appraisal.

Further Reading:
About Du Bois and the Paris Exposition
The 1900 Paris Exposition
The Exhibit of American Negroes
W.E.B. Du Bois and the 1900 Paris Exhibition
Africans, Darkies and Negroes: Black Faces at the Pan American Exposition of 1901, Buffalo, New York
A small nation of people: W.E.B. Du Bois and African American portraits of progress from the Library of Congress with essays by David Levering Lewis and Deborah Willis.
The Exhibit Online

Fascinating Women: May Yohé

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May Yohe

Perhaps it was the possession of the ill-fated and cursed Hope Diamond which destined Mary Augusta Yohé to a life of infamy and ruin. Nonetheless, you must say that her fate was that of a series of missteps and foolish actions–rather in the vein of Lily Bart–with which the ebullient American musical actress chose to guide her life.

Mary Augusta, known henceforth as “May,” was born in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania on April 6, 1866 to William W. Yohé, a former officer of a Pennsylvania Regiment during the Civil War, and Lizzie Batcheller, the daughter of a hotel proprietor. The two separated sometime during May’s childhood, and Lizzie supported the two with a successful business (of which has yet to be revealed) in Philadelphia. May’s father, William, was known for his dark good looks and musical talents, and Lizzie spent her free time singing in church choirs. Lizzie had apparently acquired enough money and success to send twelve year old May abroad for her education, and three years later she returned home, pretty, polished, and poised. However, May wanted to go on stage. She went in as chorus girl, and within a few years she emerged as a star after a well received turn as “Prince Prettywitz” in the Crystal Slipper at the Chicago Opera House in the summer of 1887. From then on, May’s career was a dazzling success, a success which baffled her critics, who found her “an indifferent actress [who] does not possess good stage presence, and has a figure by no means striking.” But perhaps that was what audiences desired: a beautiful woman who was on stage to have fun.

By the early 1890s, May was famous for another reason: her rumored elopement with Lord Francis Hope, the younger brother and heir presumptive to the Duke of Newcastle-under-Lyne, who was owner of a half-dissipated estate. Lord Francis himself, who acquired the surname “Hope” and the legendary Hope Diamond from a grandmother’s bequest, was in dire financial straits, and after his quiet 1894 marriage to May, he and she continued their extravagant ways. Not even a year later, the two had frittered away his entire inheritance–the land, the estates, the pictures, the heirlooms, and the Hope Diamond. But as a future Duke and Duchess, Lord and Lady Francis Hope could beg or borrow on their expectations, which they did, further increasing their exorbitant debts.

In 1900, flush with ill-gotten wealth, Francis and May undertook a world tour. On their way home, they acquired an acquaintance, the dashing Captain Putnam Bradlee Strong, who was one of the most popular officers in the US Army and a particular favorite of President McKinley. May took one look at Captain Strong and fell head over heels in love. Rather than continue on to England with Lord Francis and, in the manner of the well-born Englishwoman of the day, keep Captain Strong as a lover, May deserted her husband for her darling Bradlee (American women were much too sentimental and conventional to English eyes). May became Mrs Strong in San Francisco, but within two years, their quarrels and relative poverty tore apart the marriage, and she charged that Captain Strong made off with £20,000 worth of jewelry. Strong appeared in London soon after to denounce this claim, and May followed him, where a reconciliation was had.

May and Bradlee, both penniless but flush with publicity, decamped for America where May returned to the stage in an act created for the two. Unfortunately, May’s theatrical success had been forgotten and Captain Strong had no acting talents whatsoever. Rather than remain shackled to a waning star, the captain filed for bankruptcy and divorce in 1905. After this, May sunk into obscurity, and years of poverty followed, whereupon she took positions as a scrubwoman, a housekeeper, and a janitor. In 1914, she wed Captain John A. Smuts, and remained married to him for quite some time. When in early 1938, LIFE Magazine featured her in a short article, it was only because of her tenuous connection with the Hope Diamond, which by then was in the possession of Washington D.C. socialite Evalyn Walsh McLean, and the novelty of a former owner working for the WPA as a statistics research clerk for $16.50 a week. A few months after this feature, the tempestuous May died at age 72 of “arterial sclerotic heart disease and chronic vascular nephritis.”