The Geography of Sisterhood: New York Clubwomen in the 1920s

Alexandra Miller, George Mason University

When Mabel E. Macomber was born in Brooklyn in 1873, she was born into a New York that was changing. The emergent city was powered by women. Macomber spent much of her life promoting the national playground cause, and even spent twelve years campaigning for the construction of a single playground. However, despite her personal ambition and eventual prominence, Macomber was not alone in the reform movement. Over 300,000 New York clubwomen worked towards many reform goals. Though not all affiliated women were as involved as Macomber, they nevertheless joined clubs dedicated to issues from temperance to vivisection inspection. Clubwomen created an extensive social network and geography of sisterhood dedicated to advancing women, and through them, the city. They formed residential enclaves where they both used the city spaces they shared to bolster their own status, promoted their own interests, and developed shared interests. Clubwomen also undermined those enclaves. However, regardless of the degree to which clubwomen bonded over shared physical spaces, the true space they shared was that of the symbolic public rather than domestic sphere. This paper first suggests a new image of the Progressive clubwomen, then characterizes the social networks which women developed due to their club membership using spatial analysis. Women joined clubs based on shared backgrounds, neighborhood, or status. However, though many women joined these clubs to form enclaves based on their neighborhood and status, others joined clubs to promote their influence outside of those shared spaces. Finally, I will address challenges which the limits of shared space and individual women posed to these residential enclaves. As a corollary to these challenges, I will further explore the spatial dimension of the tension between women’s public influence and the domesticity which they claimed as its basis.

No extended abstract or paper available

 Presented in Session 225. The Social and Economic Landscapes of New York City and Beyond