by Paul R. Spitzzeri
In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the growing proportion of white middle and upper middle class women in greater Los Angeles provided for a proliferation of a wide variety of women’s clubs, among the best known being the Friday Morning Club, the Ebell Club, and the Fine Arts League.
Many of these organizations emphasized social events, musical performances and had broadly educational agendas, but some were very interested in political and social issues and were involved in such movements as woman suffrage, temperance, settlement houses for immigrants, and others. Most were exclusively white, although there were some clubs for women of color, though they did not get nearly the contemporary coverage or attention.
Tonight’s featured object from the museum’s collection is the fifth issue of the first volume of The Club Woman, edited by Adeline Stanton from a home in the South Park neighborhood of Los Angeles and dated 1 March 1910. It is a fascinating look at the reports of nearly two-dozen clubs throughout greater Los Angeles, some society pages, and two feature articles. One of these was on what was still a relatively new phenomenon, given that the first automobile appeared in 1897 in Boyle Heights, and involved “Women Motorists.” Most striking, however, is the first installment of “A Disquisition on Female Beauty” by Major Benjamin C. Truman, a notable resident of Los Angeles for some four decades by that point.
As to the reports from clubs, the Ebell reported that Stanford University’s founding president, David Starr Jordan, who served in that role and then as chancellor for a quarter century from 1891 to 1916 after previously helming the University of Indiana, spoke on “The Stake of Women in Public Affairs. It was stated that Jordan “favored woman’s suffrage, and urged his hearers when they came to vote to uphold the great American principle of equality.” He added, though that “fair play for the common people,” fighting disease, conserving natural resources, sanitation and equality were “more necessary . . . than the victory or defeat of a certain political party.”
At another meeting, Mrs. Lou Chapin spoke on national and international affairs, including in England, France, Russia, Macedonia, India and China. With the latter, Chapin commended the late Empress Dowager and of recent accomplishments in that nation, though a revolution was in the offing just the following year.
The Friday Morning Club head a talk by Robert Watchorn on “Immigration and its Many Phases,” in which the former immigration commissioner at the Port of New York used his fund of knowledge with “dry humor” to state that “the immigrant instead of a menace to the country, [is] one of its great needs,” a statement for us to note 111 years later. He was quoted of observing that “the immigrant of today is the citizen of tomorrow” and added that “who knows when a future Abraham Lincoln or George Washington is entering, or being turned away from our shores?” It was further noted that there were 12,000 immigrants entering the United States each year, but 3.5 million native-born babies so this was considered “proof against the assertion that the country is in danger of passing into control of foreigners.”
Another program was a memorial to Pasadena-based author Margaret Collier Graham, who died in mid-January at the age of 59 and who wrote short stories that were published as early as 1892, including two collections through Houghton Mifflin and appearing in 1895 and 1905. It was reported that “loving friends paid the highest tribute possible, in extolling her life and her works,” including a letter from Caroline M. Serverance, the club’s founder nearly three decades before and who was “an old-time friend of Mrs. Graham.” Other speakers read an unpublished work of Graham’s on “The Use and Abuse of the Novel;” shared anecdotes of her early life, including struggles with her invalid husband (this is why they came to Pasadena from Illinois when the Crown City was a young city); and more.
A third program of note included a crowded clubhouse for a performance by the Pasmore Trio, consisting of the sisters Dorothy, Mary and Suzanne Pamore on cello, violin and piano, respectively. The young women, according to the article, played so that “in both ensemble and solo work, the performance was all that could be desired. Technical skill combined with artistic rendition, and ‘temperament’ to make the entire concert one long to be remembered,” with pieces by Schumann, Chopin, Corelli Bocherini and Couperin on the program.
The short report from The Fine Arts League included the statement that “the commission tendered by the Board of Supervisors of Los Angeles County, has been accepted” by the organization with respect to the new county building at Agricultural Park. It was explained that “the rotunda and gallery . . . will be made beautiful with works of art” and that the offer was such “that the League will defer building the long-contemplated art home,” the plans for which were nearly done.
The new county facility, with $150,000 appropriated, “for a beautiful building to be devoted to art, science and history, has done something really worthy.” Opened in 1913, the Beaux Arts structure housed what was originally designated as the Los Angeles Museum of History, Science and Art, now the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County, in what was later called Exposition Park. The art portion, though, seceded in concept in the mid-1950s and was realized with the opening of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, now undergoing a radical and controversial remaking.
The Civic Association review included the note that a successful new “premises collection” ordinance was passed in Los Angeles that “provides for the placing of the garbage can 70 feet from the street line, instead of on the curb as has heretofore been the order.” There was also news that a “penny lunch” was reinstitued at the Ann Street School in what is now Chinatown so that “100 children are being fed there each day.” Another project concerned battling against billboards and the group, “after some lively discussion,” voted “to have attractive folders, containing a directory of the firms who do not advertise on billboards, for the use of housewives.” The Association also decided to send a letter protesting the controversial Hetch Hetchy reservoir project for San Francisco and which is within Yosemite National Park and which is still the subject of efforts to return it to its natural state.
In “The Musical Corner,” there were short items about the Harmonia Club and its recent meetings with musical numbers, a paper on “Current Events,” and another on Spanish dances; the National Council of Jewish Women having a musical and tea at the Gamut Club, with poems read and performances on the piano and violin; and a concert by the Los Angeles Symphony Orchestra, founded in the Nineties and the precursor to today’s Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra.
There were other reports by such organizations as the Ruskin Art Club, the American Woman’s League; the California chapter of the Colorado Cliff Dwellings Association (a paper given to one meeting, however, concerned “The Roman Forum”!); the Imperial Order of the Daughters of the Empire; the Pasadena Shakespeare Club; the Women’s Club of Hollywood, which was not yet associated with the film industry and which was annexed to the City of Los Angeles in 1910; and the Wednesday Afternoon Club of Alhambra, which Laura Gonzalez Temple joined after she and her family moved to that city later in the decade and which had a talk on “the all-absorbing question that is facing the American public today” and, of course, any day, that is, “The High Cost of Living.”
The “Women Motorists” piece, which is unattributed, but was probably written by the editor, began with the remark that, after entering “a fashionable automobile establishment,” a young woman was seen talking to the salesman “about the mechanist of the machine” in which she was interested,” as if buying accessories for a new party gown.” The writer added “I was later informed that the woman of today has as much to do with the purchasing of a car as a man” and not just interested in the boyd color or the accessories. Moreover, “they can operate, and, when necessary, can repair a car as well as the average man.”
It was noted that women drivers were only recently a rarity, but “we now see almost as many of the gentler sex handling cars as men” and there were rumors that a Woman’s Automobile Club of Los Angeles was in the offing, similar to the first such organization set up in Philadelphia five years prior. The writer noted that this club was in the former mansion of notorious Revolutionary War traitor Benedict Arnold, that tea was served each afternoon, and members included some of the most prominent society women in the city.
It was added that suburban tours were frequently taken by the Philadelphia club members and “on these occaisons the most appropriate costumes are worn,” including a small hat that “when exposed to wind” had “the simplest trimming” as most practical. The writer wrapped up by observing “I noticed an attractive girl driving down Broadway last week. She wore a small round turban with a crown of soft leather in a mode shade, with red facing. This fitted closely to the head and was held in place by a veil of the same shade.” Other examples were cited as acceptable, including fur hats and one “with a pongee crown and silk facing.” Also in vogue was a hood “like a child’s bonnet” rather than the previous year’s version “covering the face and head.”
Speaking of attractiveness, this leaves Truman’s piece “the first of a series of articles written exclusively for “The Clubwoman [sic] by the well-known author and world wide traveller.” Truman, a Civil War correspondent who was also an aide to Andrew Johnson, when the future president was military governor of Tennessee, came to Los Angeles in the early 1870s and was the proprietor for several years of its oldest newspaper, the Star. Some of his articles were repackaged into the 1874 book Semi-Tropical California and he went on to be a relentless promoter of the Golden State as well as an author and playwright, even being known for his expertise in the manly art of duelling.
Obviously, it is hard to imagine Truman’s “A Disquisition on Female Beauty” being possible for a woman’s publication in later years, much less today, so it is comical to read his declarations, including the opening line that “the standards of feminine beauty have never been fixed by competent authority,” as if such were ever possible. Still, he thought he’d give it a try. Truman then offered that
The Chinese, for instance, find the true standard in their short-statured, round-faced women, with plum-colored complextions. An African prefers the color of his native race, with lips and nose on a scale corresponding with the breadth of the continent. These are, however, extreme instances. The Italian and the Spaniard, with more reason, give the palm to the black-haired and black-eyed beauties who unite the finest features of the brunette type, while natives of the northern climes find all that is lovely and angelic in woman associated with blue eyes and fair complexions.
This blatantly racist set of generalizations were certainly of its time, especially with the Alien Land Law, barring Asian ownership of land in California, passed within a few years and continuing systemic racism prevailing against Blacks even in what some thought was a more liberal Golden State and Los Angeles. Truman, however, turned to other expert opinions.
For example, he claimed, “a poor nose, or a bad mouth, or homely chin, may even counteract great beauty and lustrousness of eyes, magnificent complexion and expression.” He even thought it fit to proclaim that “intellectual or moral loveliness may atone for many deficiencies, but these cannot make beautiful in the eyes of civilization a mouth too large, a chin too sharp, and eye too small and lustreless, or a nose out of line with projection.”
Warming to his subject, Truman declared that a man with “excellent judgment” might even “wed a woman with an ugly mouth and homely chin, or with a crooked nose and pallid cheecks,” but this could not meet with the approval of the rest of society. Moreover, he went on to assert that “it is my belief that feminine beauty, both of face and form, has advanced in all civilized countries, from the earliest women down to the present time.” He addressed the purported loveliness of women from Esther to Cleopatra to Dante’s Beatrice (adding such Americans as Martha Washington, Dolly Madison and Mrs. Grover Cleveland) before noting that “to have a splendid figure and a face not displeasing by any marked irregularity is no doubt a happy and fetching combination.”
As he revealed where the loveliest women of all the earth were to be found, Truman thought it fit to tell his female readers, “where the most beautiful women of the present day are to be found, and what country produced the most beautiful speciments of female beauty [did he really need to use the same basic word three times in one sentence?], is the object of the wroter, who has for fifty years made the subject one of great care and study. Who were the ideal speciments for the self-appointed expert? Why, the daughters of Erin and the fair flowers of the Emerald Isle of Ireland, of course:
The youthful Limerick face is the perfection of human beauty—a human ceramic without a blemish. There is nowhere such lustrousness and expressive blueness of eyes not such freshness and healthfulness of color and complexion. The Limerick girl almost always has beautiful dark hair, though auburn and golden are not infrequent, and noticeably regular and sometimes very pretty teeth; and if her nose is often inclined to retrousse [up-turned] and there is a partial “Galway expression of mouth,” thse but add piquancy to her other beautiful features. The Limerick girl is also the highest example of exquisite wit and ingenousness . . .
Yet, Truman cautioned, “they are not so good a composite as the girls of many American cities, however, nor does their loveliness improve with age like that of many strikingly beautiful demi-blondes of various countries,” these almost certainly northern European. He went on to distinguish Irish girls by area (“the North of Ireland girls are not so pretty as their Southern sisters”) and claimed that “the Irish little girl is not particularly attractive” much less the problem of a lack of “winsome staying qualities.”
In fact, he said, by age twenty, “or at any time after marriage,” the situation was such that “I know of no other woman who goes to pieces so rapidly . . . unless it be the Mexican girl,” with there being the inevitable racist jibe at Latinx women. As if to provide the proper rationale, Truman reasoned that it was “hard work and drudgery from childhood up,” along with “early and excessive family perils and cares,” the harsh climate and “ignorace and disesteem of facial ‘decorative art,” that was to blame for the incipient decay.
Truman concluded by claiming that “while poverty and hard luck hang out their sullen symbols along all the highways and byways of Erin,” with nary a mention of horrific English policies in Ireland,” I never saw an Irish girl in her own country but who looked as if she had been scrubbed with Sapolio [a famous brand of soap], and as if her luxuriant tresses had been arranged by fairer hands than her own.” One would like to be generous and assume that Truman wrote for humor or satire, but it just doesn’t appear to be the case.
As for the editor, Adeline Stanton, she migrated to Los Angeles with her family, as so many tens of thousands did, during the great Boom of the Eighties when the mayor of Los Angeles was William H. Workman, nephew of Homestead founders William Workman and Nicolasa Urioste. Her father Lewis was a prosperous cigar manufacturer in Cleveland when the family came to the Angel City and lived for many years just east of the University of Southern California and Interstate 110 runs through where their house once stood.
Adeline, the youngest of nine children, graduated from Los Angeles High School in 1900 and, having gotten involved in women’s clubs, including the Los Angeles Women’s Press Club, which had a very brief summary in the publication, and took on the editorship of The Club Woman late in 1909. When the federal census was taken about a month and a half after this issue was published, she was listed as a “Magazine Editor.”
Unfortunately, the publication did not last long and, when the next census was taken, Adeline did not have a profession. In 1927, when she was in her mid-forties she married Otto Wiemer, an electrical engineer working for the City of Los Angeles and who later worked as a research. They were married just over twenty years until her death in 1948 at age 66. Adeline’s brother, Philip, achieved local renown as a real estate developer, responsible for such major Orange County city projects like Huntington Beach, Seal Beach (known as Bay City, for which there was an ad in the publication) and the community named for him, Stanton. He also served in the California Assembly from 1903 to 1909, was a candidate in 1910 for the Republican primary for governor, losing to eventual winner Hiram Johnson, and lost a primary for the United States Senate six years later. His Spanish Colonial Revival mansion in northwestern Anaheim is a National Register listed landmark now part of a private high school.
This issue of The Club Woman is certainly an interesting look at the activities of regional women’s clubs in 1910, on the heels of a successful effort the following year to allow women to vote in state elections, and as other social movements, such as Prohibition were gaining steam, thanks to many such organizations.