The Mysterious Fate of Lena Smith, Part Two

What was Lena doing in Boston?  Unfortunately, this was not handed down as part of the family story.  Some speculation is possible, at least.

Lena seems to have been quite an intrepid young woman.  Having grown up in small town Ohio, she traveled nearly 800 miles to the brand new world of golden-age Boston in order to forge her own way.  Perhaps, like so many of us in our teenage years, she chafed under the perceived dictatorial rule of her parents and stifling expectations of the community in which she had grown to adulthood.  Maybe she was attracted by the bright lights of the big city.  She might even have traveled to further her education, though options were somewhat limited for those of her sex at the time.

Even her hairstyle (seen here) can be viewed as an indication of the kind of young lady she was.  Short hair on a woman was far from the norm.  In fact, it was considered to be less of a fashion statement and more of a political one.

In a syndicated article that appeared in the Fort Wayne Journal-Gazette on 27 March 1916, journalist Nixola Greeley-Smith documented the movement toward short hair for women:

Mrs. Charlotte Perkins Gilman has called public attention to the fact that more and more women are cutting their hair short after the manner of men. “It was not the Lord who gave men short hair,” observed Mrs. Gilman, in ridiculing man’s claim to the exclusive privilege, “it was the scissors.”

“Men have a habit of seizing upon everything comfortable and calling it masculine. They stole women’s right to short hair as they stole her right to wear trousers…and as they stole her right to the vote.”1

This association of bobbed hair with women’s suffrage makes repeated appearances in newspapers across the country, including in an article published in the Sikeston Standard (Sikeston, Missouri) in March, 1917:

SUFFRAGETTES CUT HAIR

Woman Displays Clipped Locks At Headquarters Of Congressional Union.

Washington, D. C., March 20.–For many years the lobby in Washington was noted for the short haired women and long-haired men, who frequented the corridors of the Capitol and tried to put through all kinds of freak legislation. It seems now as if the short-haired woman, at least, was about to return. The fashion was started at the headquarters of the Congressional Union, than which there is no more vigorous lobby anywhere, when Mrs. Jessie Hardy Stubbs Mackaye took off her hat with a flourish and disclosed thick clipped black locks, curling a la Mrs. Vernon Castle about her neck and ears.

The locks were amputated, it was explained, because in this shape it is not only easier to manage, but more sanitary and sensible than the long, hair-pinned locks which heretofore have been considered the crowning glory of woman, save in the ranks of the old-time lobbyists like Dr. Mary Walker, who not only have worn short hair for many years, but has worn trousers as well.

It was said at Congressional Union headquarters that more than fifty prominent suffragists were in favor of the new hair cut, provided proper dispensations from their husbands were forthcoming. However, Mrs. Mackaye was still alone in her bobbed-hair glory tonight.2

All of this makes me very curious to know whether Lena was, in fact, involved in the women’s suffrage movement.  One way or another, she was likely quite foreward-thinking and obviously brave enough to sport her short hairstyle regardless of the opinions of those around her.

Do any of you out there know whether there are resources I might use to find out if Lena was a suffragette in Boston?

Next Time: The Mysterious Fate of Lena Smith: Part Three

 


1 Greeley-Smith, Nixola. “Short Hair for Women! The Slogan Now; Many Lead in New Fashion,” Fort Wayne Journal-Gazette (Fort Wayne, IN), 27 Mar 1916, p 7 col 5.
2 “Suffragettes Cut Hair,” Sikeston Standard (Sikeston, MO), 23 Mar 1917, p 8 col 7.

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5 thoughts on “The Mysterious Fate of Lena Smith, Part Two”

  1. I never knew that about hairstyles and the suffragettes. Interesting! Have you tried a newspaper search? Also, you might contact the Boston Public Library. They might have suggestions for you. Good luck! I’d love to know more about Lena. She sounds like quite an interesting woman.

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  2. Interesting! I am teaching a lesson tomorrow at Daughters of Utah Pioneers. Part of the lesson talks about how Wyoming was the first state to give women the right to vote, but Utah was the first state in which women actually voted (they got the right to vote just after WY, but held an election just before). I hope you will (or already have, since I am behind) update us. 🙂

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