The Society of American Widows: 1916

1916 widow


Omaha, Neb., March 30. The widows of the nation are organizing!

Led by Mrs. Bessie C. Turpin of Omaha, widows have founded a union to prepare for the avalanche of widows that will sweep down upon this country at the end of the European war and to better the lot of all widows in this man-made world.

“All classes in the world except widows are organized,” says Mrs. Turpin, “and there are no persons more in need of the help that comes through co-operation.

“Most widows are mothers, and when these women are suddenly thrown upon the world to support themselves and children they find almost insurmountable obstacles. We are organizing to help them solve these problems.

The Society of American Widows is no joke. It has a real program, and Mrs. Turpin has taken up the work so seriously she has lost her job as bookkeeper at the Booth fisheries.

But she has not allowed a little thing like that to block her campaign to organize the millions of widows throughout the country.

Here are some of the things the widows’ society plans to do:

Obtain from merchants a 10 per cent discount on all purchases.

Establish a sewing department, employment bureau, reading, rest and lunch rooms and a day nursery in the business districts in all large cities.

Build profit-sharing apartment houses, including gymnasium, music and assembly rooms, to be occupied by widows and their families at low rentals.

Publish a monthly magazine to deal with the widows’ problems and arouse interest in the movement in every city.

Mrs. Turpin has been able to go on with the work of organizing widows by the generosity of wealthy persons. She has been presented a checking account equivalent to two months of the salary she received keeping books for the fish company.

Any widow in any town or city who wants to start a local branch of the widows’ organization can have full information by writing Mrs. Turpin at 2415 Dewey Ave., Omaha, Neb.

“There are more than 2,000 widows in this city alone, and most of them are mothers,” says Mrs. Turpin. “It is therefore safe to say millions of children in America will also be helped by our society.

“We will try to win co-operation of business men. Already the outlook in Nebraska and Iowa is bright.

“I have found that widows number among the lowest percentage of persons receiving aid. We will not offer charity to widows. If we find one destitute we will help her on her promise to pay when she can.

“We aim to place all widows in an independent position so they may face the world without fear for the future, and, if necessary, take care of their children as well, as if there were a good husband at their side to fight their battles for them.”

The Day Book [Chicago, IL] 31 March 1916: p. 15

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: Mrs Daffodil has not been able to find that the American widows’ union ever gained much of a foothold, even though the intrepid Mrs Turpin was sadly correct about the avalanche of widows at the end of the Great War. Yet perhaps there was a different outlook in the States, for in 1919, English widows were said to be in high demand.


Single Girls Abandoned in England for Women Who Have Plenty of Experience

London, Friday, Aug. 15. Traditionally attractive, the widow is becoming even more popular with “marriageable” men in Britain.

“Why did I marry a widow? Well, just imagine you were buying a horse; you’d buy one that had been broken in. In any case you’d have more sense that to put a fresh young thing straight into harness and expect it to carry you and your dog cart into town without a mishap,” quoth one sturdy swain who possessed the heavenly gift of logic and had reached the stage of fat-and-forty, when Comfort so often cuts out Cupid.

“The same with a woman. Take my advice, marry a widow; you’ll find she is well trained for domestic life. The worst is over. She has no illusions about men.”
This growing popularity of the widow is creating quite a stir among “bachelor girls.” They prefer the name to that of spinsters. Their protest is to the effect that widows have had their share and they ought to stand aside and let others have a chance. [See a previous post on this subject.] But widows are in great demand….

The widow holds strange power. Many girls say if they wore widow’s weeds and a ring they would have proposals in no time.

“More widders is married than single wimmen,” said the immortal Sam Weller. He’s right—in England. Seattle [WA] Daily Times 15 August 1919: p. 14

Several chapters about widows, along with a myriad of other items on the oddities of Victorian mourning will be found in The Victorian Book of the Dead, by Chris Woodyard, which is now available as a paperback and in a Kindle edition. The book is a look at the popular manifestations and ephemera of Victorian death culture. In addition to mourning novelties, burial alive, strange funerals, ghost stories, bizarre deaths and petrified corpses may be taken as read.

Mrs Daffodil invites you to join her on the curiously named “Face-book,” where you will find a feast of fashion hints, fads and fancies, and historical anecdotes

You may read about a sentimental succubus, a vengeful seamstress’s ghost, Victorian mourning gone horribly wrong, and, of course, Mrs Daffodil’s efficient tidying up after a distasteful decapitation in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales.




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