“The somewhat churlish treatment accorded to Mrs. Croly’s application for a ticket, and, subsequently, to other ladies who applied for an extension of the same privilege upon the same terms as men, suggested to Mrs. Croly the idea of a club composed of women only, that should manage its own affairs, represent as far as possible the active interests of women, and create a bond of fellowship between them.”
— Jane Cunningham Croly, A History of the Woman’s Club Movement in America
Born this day in 1829: Jane Cunningham Croly (1829–1901), journalist, feminist, pioneer of the woman’s club movement
Jane Cunningham Croly was born Jane Cunningham in Leicestershire, England, and grew up in New York state. In 1855 she moved to New York City to pursue a career in journalism. She began writing a weekly column in the Sunday Times and Noah’s Weekly Messenger. “Parlor and Side-walk Gossip” was one of the earliest instances of a woman’s department in a city newspaper. It also became what is believed the first syndicated column authored by a woman. She wrote for several other publications as well. As was the standard for women writers, she wrote under a pseudonym, “Jennie June.”
In 1856 she married fellow journalist David Goodman Croly. The couple would have four children, one of whom died in infancy. In 1860 both began working for the New York World. Croly managed the World’s women’s department from 1862 to 1872. She also wrote for the Weekly Times, and for 27 years was the chief staff writer for Mme. Demorest’s Mirror of Fashions (later Demorest’s Monthly Magazine). She also created the first newspaper shopping guide. She wrote for many other publications as well, including Godey’s Lady’s Book and The New York Times.
Although much of her writing was about fashion, she poked fun at the confining clothing of the day (as well as the more extreme fashion reforms). She devoted much of her writing to the improvement of women’s standing in society. She urged middle class women, who were freed from the more burdensome household duties, not to waste their minds on trivialities. She believed deeply that the key to women’s emancipation was financial independence and economic equality—gained through equal opportunity for employment. She believed that all other freedoms would follow, including the right to vote. She insisted that women, if they wanted equal outcomes, should put equal effort into their endeavors.
In 1868, the New York Press Club held a reception honoring Charles Dickens—and did not allow women to attend. Croly was incensed. In response she created a professional women’s association called Sorosis—the first major woman’s club in the nation.
She threw herself into the woman’s club movement. She held a national convention of woman’s clubs in 1889. It brought together representatives from more than 60 woman’s clubs to help organize their social reform efforts. The convention led to the creation of the General Federation of Women’s Clubs. Croly wrote a history of the movement, The History of the Woman’s Club Movement in America (1,170 pages long!), published in 1898. She also founded, in 1889, the Women’s Press Club of New York. She was inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame in 1994.
Other books by Croly include Jennie Jungian: Talks on Women’s Topics, 1869; For Better or Worse, 1875; Cookery Book for Young Beginners, 1866. See also this tribute to Croly, Memories of Jane Cunningham Croly, “Jenny June,” by the Women’s Press Club of New York City.
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