Thursday, November 24, 2011

Girls' Friendly Society

Girls' Friendly Society (GFS) charm, donated to Wiawaka
in memory of Margaret S. Pattison.

Wiawaka was founded as a part of the Girls' Friendly Society or GFS, an international Episcopalian charitable organization. The GFS was originally founded in England in 1875 by Mary Elizabeth Townsend and was the first organization within the Church of England(1) with the purpose of serving women. Part of the mission of the Society in the early twentieth century was to protect single working girls – in Troy, often young Irish immigrant women – from what were perceived as the dangers of urban life. These dangers included idleness and pre-marital sexual activity. They also arranged educational programs for the working girls to teach them proper etiquette, various skills, and household management. GFS meetings and activities were held in the cities during much of the year, serving to both educate the young women and to literally keep them off the streets. Girl members of the GFS were required to be “virtuous” (code for virginal) and were expelled from the organization if they became “unvirtuous” by being sexually active outside of marriage. This standard was changed during the second quarter of the twentieth century.

Wiawaka was one of several Holiday Houses operated by the GFS across the country. The GFS found holiday houses particularly important, as many of the regular meetings and activities were curtailed during the summer months when the organizers went on holiday. The holiday houses were a means for working girls to experience the healthy benefits of consuming leisure and nature, while still being under the moral supervision and direction of the GFS. The working women who stayed at these holiday houses were referred to as “girl guests;" GFS organizers were known as associate members.

Certainly, many of the women working in the factories were very young. I don't (yet) have data for workers in the Troy factories, but women working in the Triangle factory in New York in the very early twentieth century were as young as 14. Single women at the time were also generally referred to as girls and not considered grown women until they married. Class status also played a role in the designation of women as girls – the founder of Wiawaka, Mary Wiltse Fuller, never married, but most certainly would not have been included in the category of unmarried women called “girls."

The Girls' Friendly Society in America Associates' Record, a publication documenting the activities and programs of the GFS from 1912 to 1914 (including descriptions of events and activities at Wiawaka -- search for "Wiawaka" and "Lake George") is available online via Google Books. You can read it online, or download it for free as a .pdf. It's a very interesting read, helping to put the early years of Wiawaka into a larger context.

The GFS remains a vital and active international organization serving girls and young women. There is only one surviving holiday house in the US operating under the auspices of the GFS; it is located in Cape May, New Jersey. There is very little academic research about the history of the GFS, and what has been written deals predominantly with the British arm. Some references include:

Cordery, Simon (1995) Friendly Societies and the Discourse of Respectability in Britain, 1825-1875. Journal of British Studies 34(1): 35-58.

Harrison, Brian (1973) For Church, Queen and Family: The Girls' Friendly Society 1874-1920. Past & Present 61: 107-138.

Richmond, Vivienne (2007) It Is Not a Society for Human Beings but for Virgins: The Girls' Friendly Society Membership Eligibility Dispute 1875-1936. Journal of Historical Sociology 20(3): 304-327.

If you don't have access to these through an academic library or online resources (most are available through JSTOR if you have a subscription), you can request them through your local library's reference/inter-library loan service (there may be a small cost for copies).

(1) The Church of England is also known as the Anglican Church and the Episcopal Church.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Working Conditions

What were the living conditions of the women who worked in the textile factories in Troy and Cohoes who visited Wiawaka? What were their family circumstances? Their working conditions? What were there lives like, and how did Wiawaka fit into that?

One of the important aspects of their lives and identities was their work in the factories. What was working in a textile factory like in the early twentieth century? (Troy was known as "Collar City" as the place where removable collars were invented and manufactured in huge numbers.) I don't yet have specific information about the Troy factories; but below is a discussion of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory in New York City by Dr. Robyn Muncy, who teaches here at the University of Maryland in the History Department. Her discussion describes the working conditions in the factory (which she describes as an example of a "good" factory for the time) and in textile factories in general. She also talks about the women's lives and how they were perceived in the labor movement.  Though there is no mention of labor relations or the specific working conditions of the factory women in the Wiawaka records that I've looked at, this was the environment in which the women worked and in which Wiawaka was organized.

If you click through to watch this on YouTube (here), you'll find links to the rest of the discussions and presentations at this conference held on the anniversary of the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire. If you're not familiar with the fire and it's effects, you can watch the other videos and read more about it at the following excellent sites:

Remembering the Triangle Factory Fire 100 Years Later (1911-2011) by the School of Industrial and Labor Relations, Cornell University. An interactive website presenting many different aspects of the Fire and the people it affected.

The Triangle Shirtwaist Fire Trial by Douglas Linder of the University of Missouri-Kansas City. This website explores the events in the legal context of the trial that followed.

About the Triangle Fire by Robert Pinsky of the University of Illinois. This site provides a brief history, and then presents both an eye-witness and photo-essay account of the events (be aware that the dead are present in some of these photos).

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Toolkit: Atlas.ti

 I thought I'd share some of the tools we're using on this project. When most people think about archaeological tools, they think about tools we use in the field -- shovels, dustpans, brushes, etc. Those help us get our information out of the ground; but then we have to make sense of it.

One of the challenges of the Wiawaka Project is the massive amounts of data that need to (and will need to be) both managed and analyzed. This information includes the layout of the property including building and roadway locations (and former locations); excavated data (what artifacts were found where -- both horizontally across the site and vertically in time); photographs (contemporary and historical); maps (historic, modern, and site plans); primary documents (guest registers, meeting minutes, census data); secondary documents (other writers talking about Wiawaka or other similar sites); background research (similar sites, general historic context, information about the Girls' Friendly Society, information about Troy, information about factory workers at the time, etc. etc.); the list is almost endless, and overwhelming. Not only do we have to keep track of all these various pieces of information, we have to be able to make connections between it all; to make sense of it.

Atlas.ti splash screen, waiting for data to be entered!

Atlas.ti is a qualitative data analysis (qualitative = descriptive data, vs. quantitative = numerical data)  program that allows us to identify themes or threads across many types and formats of document (types = as described above; formats = .pdf, .doc, .jpg, etc. etc.). These are flagged in each document pulled into the program using codes. Once data has been coded in documents (there will be hundreds thousands of documents for the Wiawaka Project; indeed, I have hundreds of site and research photographs already...), Atlas.ti can be used to pull out information matching those codes (themes) from *all* the documents so it can be looked at all together. Relationships between the codes can be made as well, so the program can pull out related themes -- again from across all the documents, or just a subset of them. Making sense of the data comes next, but the program will make it easy to find relevant data.

As a bonus, the program keeps track of where all the digital sources are on my hard-drive. Which makes it easier for me to manage the data storage (rather than building a massive set of relational databases on my own).

I've not used the program before, but will be getting some hands-on practice as part of one of my courses. I am very excited by the organizational solutions the program provides, and the way it will allow me to pull at different threads in the data to help make sense of it.