How She Spent Her Summer Vacation: 1904

EARN VACATIONS

How Self-Supporting College Girls Manage.

ALL INDEPENDENT

NOT TOO PROUD FOR ANY HONEST EMPLOYMENT

Do Sewing and Fancy Work, Serve as Companions and Wait at Table.

Vacation to the average college girl suggests rosy visions. It means halcyon days at home, where she is really the guest of honor in her family circle. Little functions are given in her honor. The home dressmaker is busy planning her fall clothes; there are trips to the shore and visits to friends, and the college girl feels that life as a whole is certainly jolly.

But there exists another class of college girls, to whom the mellow summer days represent anything but leisure and luxury. These are the girls who make not hay, but money, while the sun shines. To the girl whose every want is provided by indulgent parents summer means absolute relaxation, but to the girl who is making her own way through college, with perhaps a small allowance from some rich relative, summer means merely a change of work. Like the adaptive American girl that she is, however, she finds that the change of work is really a recreation, and she has real pleasure in the increase of her funds.

Methods of earning money vary at different colleges, and are governed generally by the class of pupils how attend. For instance, at a woman’s college in New York state, notorious for the wealth of its alumni, several girls who are clever and dainty with their needles are earning their way by making exquisite lingerie and dress accessories for fellow-pupils with liberal allowances. One of the girls thus explained her work:

Work With Taste.

“We keep closely in touch with the newest designs in lingerie, neckwear, fichus, and so forth. Where our classmates run into New York on Saturday for matinees and concerts, we haunt the exclusive shops, not only for bargains in materials, but for the newest ideas. During the past year we have kept constantly on hand collar and cuff sets made in Russian cross-stitch, Hardanger and broiderie d’Anglaise. These we sell to the girls, not only for their own use, but to send home as gifts. It is really funny to hear a girl gasp: ‘Oh, mother’s birthday is next week! What shall I send her?’ And that is where we make a sale. Of course we must make our things a little more dainty than anything you could buy at a shop. They must not suggest machine work.

“Such work means that we must give up many of the little social pleasures and use our eyes constantly, but we wear glasses when doing the needle work. After all, sewing and studying do not wear on the eyes in just the same way.” Sometimes there comes to this college the daughter of a wealthy man who is not versed in modes and fashions, or does not know how to buy or wear the little articles of dress which mark the smart girl, and he is quite willing to pay for a course of training in the gentle art of dressing in good taste. In other words, she not only buys needle work from these college seamstresses, but adds a comfortable sum for the information.

A Smith College girl, who is to be married in the fall, has placed her entire order for trousseau lingerie with two undergraduates, who will execute the order during the summer at their own homes.

She Wanted Boarders.

The number of domestic occupations which girls seek as a means of making vacation money should convince the veriest pessimist that the higher education cannot down the distinctive feminine instinct. As an illustration, a Wellesley girl, who had been famous for the quality if not the quantity of her chafing dish at the spreads, announced that she had taken a summer camp in the Maine woods and wanted boarders. In a very short time she had more applications than accommodations. The shacks, which the girls will occupy with a chaperon, are primitive, and the life will be entirely in the open, but the fare will be wholesome and well served. The college girl will do all of her own cooking. She expects not only to pay for her own vacation, but to make a comfortable nest-egg for the next college term.

At one of the eastern colleges where a summer school is held, two pupils from the winter term have remained to do dormitory work. Ten girls from a New England college have gone to act as waitresses at an exclusive mountain resort. No other waitresses will be employed, and the girls have secured a few special privileges in the matter of rooms, bathing hours, &c., otherwise they will be treated exactly like the rest of the help in the house.

At Bryn Mawr there is a regular society for helping self-supporting girls to secure summer work. Notices are sent to the old alumni, asking for positions a secretaries, companions, tutors, governesses and the like. College girls are in demand as governesses or companions for young girls whose parents are traveling or occupied with social or business affairs. The girl who “stands in” with the faculty is sure to get a place during the summer.

Goes Clerking.

A student who shows herself particularly suited to clerical work is sometimes retained as secretary at the college during the vacation, or is given employment in the college library. College offices must be kept open during the summer, and it is then that the clerical work is really the heaviest. Innumerable letters must be answered, prospective patrons must be received and shown over the college grounds, and the great wheels of education must be oiled and put in working order of the fall term.

Summer tutoring is one of the most lucrative methods of raising money during the vacation. Girls how have failed in their examinations are more anxious to secure the services of a classmate who has passed triumphantly through the ordeal than to hire a professor who is perhaps to posted on the recent trial. The unsuccessful one, by giving a few hours each day to this work, may pass in a second examination, which is given before the fall term opens. Two girls, who are taking post-graduate work at a Pennsylvania college, have opened a boarding house in a pretty suburb near Philadelphia. One of them looks after the housekeeping and the other does the tutoring, and they have all the pupil-boarders they can accommodate.

A Bryn Mawr girl has taken a position for the entire summer with a wealthy family who owns a hunting lodge on the Canadian lakes. The family consists of a man, wife and two sons. The men folk are devoted to hunting and fishing, and the wife and mother is devoted them, though not to their sports. So she contents herself for the entire summer in a wild and lonesome camp, where it is practically impossible to entertain the average summer guest. The men folk go on long hunting and fishing expeditions with Indian guides, and the woman is left a week at a time with her servants. The Bryn Mawr girl has gone with her as a companion, and will be well treated as a friend rather than an employe. Her duties will consist of reading with her hostess, tramping with her through the woods, and making herself generally agreeable and companionable. For this she is paid not only her expenses, but a little salary. Her outfit of clothing is most simple, consisting of short skirts, leggings, big hats, etc., with none of the summer fripperies which look so dainty and come so high.

At one of the colleges where the girls go in heavily for athletics a couple of students will put in their vacation at the very practical work of making gymnasium and basketball suits in the club colors. The suits will be made to fit different types of college girls as these young dressmakers have learned to know them, and will be ready to turn over to customers after the second fit when the college opens.

The Evening Star [Washington DC] 2 July 1904: p. 5

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: While one certainly applauds these plucky young lady scholars, Mrs Daffodil cannot let pass unchallenged several absurd notions proposed by the journalist who wrote about their summer labours.

First, “The number of domestic occupations which girls seek as a means of making vacation money should convince the veriest pessimist that the higher education cannot down the distinctive feminine instinct.” The heading about “not too proud” suggests non-existent options for these self-supporting scholars; the author seems unaware that opportunities for ladies outside the “traditional” domestic occupations are exceedingly limited.

[Given the correct opportunities, Mrs Daffodil would have pursued a career outside of the domestic sphere, perhaps in medical research or procurement: “bodysnatching” as it is termed by the vulgar. Fortunately she has been able to turn that interest into a lucrative and useful side-occupation.]

Talk of broiderie d’Anglaise and chafing dishes reinforces the foolish notion that higher education will make a female mannish or deranged or dissatisfied with her “proper” station in life—a dissatisfaction, in Mrs Daffodil’s opinion—devoutly to be wished.

Second, “the change of work is really a recreation.” Well, really… Mrs Daffodil would like to see the author set to waiting tables at a summer resort and subjected to heat, fatigue, unpleasantries, and over-familiarity, if not outright insult and abuse from “gentlemen” on holiday. Then one would give much to hear his thoughts on how a “change is as good as a rest.”

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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2 thoughts on “How She Spent Her Summer Vacation: 1904

  1. floodmouse

    Yes, it is notable that no young ladies are presented as having earned pocket money building lofts for their dormitory friends, or repairing the bicycles used to scoot around campus. (Though actually, I’m not 100% sure campuses had bicycles in 1904, and I’m pretty sure they didn’t have lofts yet.)

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    1. chriswoodyard Post author

      Bicycles were in vogue, but, yes, many shocking lacunae in the work available to these zealous young scholars! To-day, of course, self-supporting young ladies would be trying to find the funds for unpaid summer internships.
      Best wishes,
      Mrs Daffodil

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