Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Parting the Brooklyn Curtain: Imogene C. Fales

 Newspaper sketch of Imogene C. Fales, delegate to the 1896 Populist Party
Convention. The first women delegates to the Republican and Democratic
party conventions were seated in 1900.


One morning in September 1902, an auctioneer named P.H. McMahon arrived at 126 Macon Street, Brooklyn, to sell the contents of the home of Imogene Fales, who had died one month earlier.

Bric-a-Brac, Turkish Parlor Suite, Pier Mirrors, Cyl-desk, 
Library Dwarf Bookcases with volumes of books, Hair Mattresses,
Refrigerator, Crockery, Velvet Carpets. . .

Imagine those volumes of books – sociology, religion, politics, philosophy – for their owner had been a 19th century reformer.

Imogene Corinne Franciscus Fales (1830[?]-1902) worked closely with Elizabeth Cady Stanton in the suffrage movement. She helped lead the U.S. co-operative movement, which promoted shared production and profits; as she put it, “public ownership of public necessities.”

She wrote about utopia and industrialization and lectured on Darwin and the cosmos. An adherent of New Age ideas and editor of a brief-lived journal called New Commonwealth, she participated in numerous organizations including the Association for the Advancement of Women, the National American Woman Suffrage Association, the Brooklyn Metaphysical League, the Women’s National Progressive Political League, and perhaps the most prestigious women’s club of the nineteenth century, Sorosis.*

In 1894, a New York Times story titled “Open-Air Meeting a Fizzle” counted Imogene Fales among the speakers:

“All the old agitators who have been denouncing capitalists in Union Square for years.”

(I love that!)

The last house she occupied still stands with its carved oak front door and filigree iron fence and gate bordering the sidewalk, in the neighborhood of Bedford-Stuyvesant. From here and other homes in Brooklyn, Imogene Fales conducted the business of her life.

She flourished within a large circle of vibrant women who lived in New York City during the second half of the nineteenth century. In Brooklyn, these included the author Laura Holloway Langford; businesswoman & children’s advocate Rebecca Talbot-Perkins; “suffrage hiker” & educator “Colonel” Ida Craft; and Girls High School principal Catherine B. Le Row.**

These ladies were good company, impassioned about achieving influence and power for women. Their interests often converged; for example, Imogene lectured on “The Value of Industrial Art to Women” at the School of Industrial Art for Women, founded by educator and carpet designer, Florence E. Cory. Each did not necessarily embrace all of her friends’ causes, however.

 From the Light of Truth Album, Photographs of Prominent
Workers in the Cause of Spiritualism (1897)

When Imogene was a little girl, her family moved from Baltimore to New York City where she was educated privately. In 1850 she married Edward Spaulding Fales and moved to New Bedford.

Her husband had been born in Matanzas, Cuba, in 1833. He came to the U.S. as a child. The well-liked Fales spoke nine languages and became editor of the New Bedford Mercury at age 17. He studied law and traveled through Mexico and Central America before settling in Rio de Janeiro where he represented the firm Lanman & Kemp, wholesale druggists known for their beauty products.***

              In between Edward’s voyages, he and Imogene moved to Brooklyn with their two sons. Edward died prematurely in 1875. After that, Imogene sprang into action, laying plans for the Sociologic Society of America. Formally organized in 1882 with Imogene as its president, the society issued a statement:  

What is needed is, not so much an advance in wages, as the concession of the right of Labor to share in profits. In other words, to introduce a new industrial system, where Capital is restricted to a fixed rate of interest, and Labor, over and above the market rate of wages, is allowed a share in the profits of the business.

Imogene called it Industrial Partnership or Co-operation. The cause would preoccupy her for the rest of her life. But there was more – suffrage and the arts and her three children. 

The eldest, William E. S. Fales, a bon vivant, lawyer, editor, poet, diplomat, and occasional poser, fully inhabited a Gilded Age life. In the middle, Harrison Colby Fales became a fur merchant. Daughter Ethel, reportedly a gifted singer on the verge of a great career, died at age 21 in 1889.

After Ethel’s death, Imogene fled to a cottage in York Harbor, Maine, where she grieved deeply. A year later, she returned to Brooklyn, picking up where she left off.

Elected a delegate to the National Populist Convention in 1896, Imogene traveled to St. Louis where the People’s Party ensured its own demise by endorsing William Jennings Bryan as the Democratic candidate. That was 120 years ago this summer.


Imogene C. Fales delivered a paper at an 1884 meeting
of Sorosis. (Sophia Smith Collection, Smith College)

See post about William E. S. Fales, 1/25/17

*Sorosis was the first U.S. women’s professional study club, founded in 1868 by journalist Jennie June Croly, who also established the Woman’s Press Club and General Federation of Women’s Clubs.

**Ida Craft, a militant member of the Suffrage Pilgrim Party, routinely walked from city to city leading an army of suffragists.

***Now known as Lanman & Kemp-Barclay, the firm still manufactures its famous Florida Water.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Grace T. Lewis & How She Grew

Grace T. Lewis's Mt. Vernon, circa 1910

In 1915, Miss Lewis started as a clerk in the high school business office; within six years, she became Dean of Girls. Her voice may have been thunderous or eerily quiet, but definitely one or the other considering the power she wielded. Plus, she had the ear of the assistant superintendent with whom she lived in what used to be known as a Boston Marriage.

That was a polite term for a relationship between two single women, usually intimate friends, who lived together. Often their careers made them financially independent, which was the case with Grace Theodora Lewis and Catharine Inglis Rhodes.

Miss Lewis and Miss Rhodes were Methodists who did not drink or dance. But the two women loved the Metropolitan Opera, which they attended in drooping gowns with lace handkerchiefs twirled around their little fingers.

Ah yes, ancient perfume wafting across the porch as they stepped through the door of 223 South Second Avenue, a rambling Victorian house that Lewis inherited from her father. She called it “223.”  

The only child of a banker who served two years as the mayor of Mt. Vernon, N.Y., and his second wife, whose family owned a department store on the city’s “avenue,” Grace (dare I call her that?) must have been prim and proper from the moment she set eyes on the world. 

She always made it clear that her family descended from the explorer Meriwether Lewis. Evidently he was a melancholy man, but Grace didn’t inherit that gene.

Born in 1892 in Mt. Vernon Hospital, Grace attended the public schools and graduated from Goucher College, a Methodist women’s college in Baltimore, in 1913. She returned to her hometown, attended secretarial school, and found work locally.

But she wanted to go into the field of education. In 1921 she earned a Master’s degree from Teachers College of Columbia University. Then, amid slight controversy, Lewis promptly was appointed to the newly created position of Dean of Girls at the high school.

Grace Lewis’s companion, Miss Rhodes, followed a similar trajectory. Born in Aurora, Illinois, in 1893; Vassar College, 1915; Teachers College, 1923. A Mt. Vernon High School math teacher, she became assistant superintendent in 1940 but previously ran things behind the scenes for many years.

It goes without saying that Lewis and Rhodes had been fierce supporters of woman suffrage.

I have the feeling, though, that Catharine Rhodes got stuck in time, especially after she retired in 1962. Several years later, she responded to a questionnaire from her alma mater:

              What do you like most about today’s world?
              All the people who are doing their best to improve conditions lawfully and quietly.

What do you hate most about it?
Riots and fighting, cheap conduct and dirty dressing. Lack of publicity for all the good things being done.

It’s hard to blame Miss Rhodes for feeling chilled.

Some people endure relatively little social upheaval during the course of their lives. Others’ lifetimes fall along different lines.  

Another way to put it might be: in the space of her 92 years, the national protocol shifted from going to church and dressing for dinner on Sundays, to not dressing for church or Sunday dinner, and possibly not attending church or dinner at all.

If one feels besieged by change, every adjustment is hard. 

So on to Miss Lewis.

From her perch at Mt. Vernon High School, built high above the street with a bronze statue of Theodore Roosevelt – inexplicably reclining – on a plaza below, Grace T. Lewis saw a student population very much in flux.

In the early 1920s, the city government continued to be controlled by Mt. Vernon’s historically Protestant establishment, whose children attended the public schools.

Now, however, the schools also were charged with educating growing numbers of black children whose parents had fled the South after the First World War, second-generation Jews, and the sons and daughters of Italian immigrants whose hard labor could be seen in the high stone walls of the railroad cut that separated Mt. Vernon’s north and south sides racially, ethnically, and socio-economically.

In fact, Grace Lewis’s high school was one of two citywide. Its college prep curriculum contrasted with that of Edison Technical High School, whose vocational program made it the right place, in the opinion of counselors, for most of the students who faced disadvantages and discrimination.


That was a scheme with endless ramifications; it haunts the city today. 

Excerpt from a 1959 letter from Grace T. Lewis to my father,
then a Ford Foundation official, asking for consideration of a grant
to her alma mater, Goucher College

But the point here is that, as a product of her time, there would have been no expectation of Lewis to recognize the need to extend educational opportunity to students from all corners of the city’s diverse population. 

Yet she devoted herself to the pursuit of higher education for many Mt. Vernon students no matter who they were.

In 1922 Lewis established a Students’ College Fund to help “the son of foreigners, who is acting father for a large family of younger brothers and sisters . . . who has to work during his entire high school life to help support his family,” as she described in an article for The School Review.

“The colored girl, whose work has been faithfully and creditably done in adverse surroundings, should be encouraged to carry out her longing to prepare herself for teaching,” Lewis wrote.

Thousands of dollars were raised. Between 1922 and 1962, the fund inspired hundreds of Mt. Vernon’s working-class students to finish high school and enabled them to attend college.

Incidentally, the Grace T. Lewis Scholarships for Women in the Sciences are still awarded at Goucher College. Her bequests also included Meharry Medical College in Nashville, the nation’s second oldest medical school for African-Americans, and other historically black colleges.

Miss Lewis surely registered tone deaf about certain social inequities. However, on an individual basis she righted many wrongs in her beloved city.

She was, admirably, all about education.


See posts November 25 + December 21, 2015

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Mom & Abe Del Monte

Gloria Stromberg, age 17 (1945)

During the war years when my mother was coming of age in a neighborhood called Inwood at the northern tip of Manhattan, she went to the U.S. Employment Service in search of summer jobs. The office had been created by FDR in 1933 to boost Depression-era employment.

She expertly navigated the city via buses and subways. Through the 1930s, her parents owned a series of luncheonettes, including one on East 20th Street opposite the Theodore Roosevelt Birthplace and another right off Times Square. Therefore, she ventured out of her zone more than most of her peers.

In my mind’s eye, I can see her running down the steps to catch the “A” train at 207th Street.

On her first visit to the employment office, she met with a woman who said, “Next time you look for a job, be sure to wear gloves.”

In 1944, she found work as a clerk at a company on Varick Street, which runs through the neighborhood now called Tribeca. There were blueprints all over the place; the business had a contract with the U.S. Army.

The following summer, my mother filed paperwork at a company that manufactured house-dresses which were exported to South America (as we used to call it). That’s where the manager called one of the clerks into his office and said:

“How many times have I told you? Always try to put the blame on someone else!"

She still laughs about that.

During the summer of 1946, she worked for a hat manufacturer “in the West 30’s,” she recalled.

“Where in the West 30’s?’

“In the millinery district.”

“Where’s the millinery district?”

“At the edge of the garment district.”

So, it looks like Abe Del Monte & Company made its home on West 38th Street where both the office and plant were located. My mother spent each day copying data from sales sheets into a book. She sat at a desk across from a woman who had endured a mastoidectomy, an operation commonly inflicted on children who had chronic ear infections during the first third of the twentieth century.

Because of some fear related to the mastoidectomy, the woman refused to let the fans run in the windowless room. This made one of the workers, a veteran, very grumpy because he handled the “felts,” which were large, contoured fabric shapes piled high on tables along one side of the room. Eventually they would become hats.

The felts were heavy and probably exuded fine dust.

My mother never met Mr. Del Monte, but she did have her first encounter with a gay man, the hat designer.

It turns out that the company was a pretty big deal, well-known in the millinery world. As his business flourished through the 1920s, Abe Del Monte moved to a large Tudor house in Mt. Vernon, N.Y. He lived there with his wife Essie, three children, a butler, and a cook.

Abe joined the Masons and two country clubs. He became a go-to philanthropist for Jewish causes. And until the war started, he traveled regularly to Europe to check out new fashions.

Born in New York City in 1886, Abe Del Monte started his career while a young boy, working for J.M. Van Note, a successful sales agent for women’s hats. A writer for The Millinery Trade Review took note in 1904:

Truly Abe Del Monte, who has been brought up by James M. Van Note, has developed into a salesman of no little repute. He is a young man who understands the ladies’ hat business and is making himself of use to the trade as well as to his house.

In 1915, Abe started his own company and did so well that in 1918, The Illustrated Milliner ran a longish story about him.

The success of the firm was instantaneous, and amongst his friends you would often hear, “Abe is a wonder. I can’t understand how he handles his big business in so small a place.”

He moved on to larger quarters with a showroom and workshop.

Everything about the new premises points to the continued success of the progressive house of Abe Del Monte & Co.

It would be interesting to know what the writer meant by “progressive.”

After the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire in 1911, investigations of industrial working conditions proliferated. Progressive-era regulations were put in place. The United Hatters, Cap and Millinery Union organized the workers at Del Monte & Co.  

My mother didn’t see the factory although it operated in the same building where she worked. But in the course of transcribing sales information, she learned that Del Monte charged Saks twice as much as it charged Sears for the same hat.

The next year my mother graduated from college and never worked in hats again. Like all American women, though, she wore plenty of them until the 1960s arrived.


Abe Del Monte, early 1920s


Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Introducing Murray Schloss

Murray Schloss, around 1905

At its peak in the early 19th century, the Jewish community of Kleinsteinach-Riedbach in Lower Franconia, Bavaria, numbered about 200. There was a school, synagogue, and cemetery. Today the cemetery remains and the town is quite charming, as if nothing evil happened there in November 1938.

Seligman Schloss, born in Kleinsteinach in 1830, immigrated to the United States in 1853. He settled in Detroit and became a highly successful manufacturer of men’s suits; so much so that when he died in 1914 he left an estate worth more than $1 million.

In Seligman’s will, he singled out his youngest son, Murray, then 38 years old. Murray would receive nothing until he turned 50, after which he would receive several $20,000 installments until he turned 90. Seligman wrote:

His talents, which I have ever failed to appreciate, do not run along commercial lines, and it is on that regard that I have made the best effort within my power to provide permanently for him. . .

Murray was furious. He called the terms “repulsive,” and vowed to challenge the will. Murray must have been successful, for he left a considerable estate when he died in 1927 at age 51.

Why did the son infuriate his father? Was Seligman angry because Murray refused to participate wholeheartedly in the family business? Did he object to Murray’s passion for revolution? Or his rejection of Judaism in favor of John Alexander Dowie, a healer who claimed to be a prophet and established Zion City, Illinois?

Good feelings surely prevailed at some point, for Murray was the only Schloss child who accompanied Seligman and his wife, Hannah, to Europe in 1895. Unlike his brothers, who joined the firm of Schloss Brothers, Murray graduated from college. First enrolled at the University of Michigan, Murray transferred to the University of Chicago and graduated in 1904.

At Chicago, Murray attended classes taught by the compelling Professor Oscar Lovell Triggs and in 1905 joined the staff of Triggs’ magazine, To-Morrow, as managing editor. For a while, Murray wrote a column entitled “To-Morrow’s Today and Yesterday,” in which he railed against capitalism and politicians:

Revolution is in the air. In politics only can we count the tallies; but no interest that we humans have escapes the metamorphosis that the changing world is undergoing. The forms that fetter, whether legal or social, that labor-saving humanity has outgrown but not sloughed off, must go, and only by new ways of living and thinking can we attain peace and the new life.

The high-flown rhetoric echoes the style of numerous socialist publications that came and went in the U.S. between 1900 and 1920. The Russian Revolution fired up many a writer about the promise of the future. 

So it seems incongruous that during this time, Murray took over a floundering Chicago magazine called Wayside Tales which featured detective stories and photographs of theater stars. He and his business partner, Marguerite Warren Springer, widow of a real estate mogul, advertised “Tales of Work Play Life in All Moods, A Flavor of its Own.” 

Next, he rented an office in the Times Building in Manhattan and proposed to move Wayside Tales to New York. “Can it be possible that Chicago will not stand for the erstwhile slumbering magazine any longer?” commented one wit.

Well, maybe – because now Schloss is living at the National Arts Club on Gramercy Park, N.Y.!

And now Schloss is running for Congress on the Socialist ticket in the Third District of New Jersey!

“Nobody knows exactly what he does,” commented the editor of The East Side, a society rag, about Murray in 1910.

“He is a genial university man with a passion for the new civilization,” observed another journalist.

Then, Murray had the honor of being insulted by H.L. Mencken, sarcastic columnist for The Baltimore Sun.

“Schloss is an amateur socialist and culture-hound deluxe,” Mencken wrote to his friend George Jean Nathan, a critic with whom he would found the enormously popular magazine, The American Mercury.

“The conversation ran to poetry,” Mencken continued. “After my tenth seidel* I delivered my well-known dithyrambic** glorification of Swinburne+ right in the face of Schloss.”

In 1916, Murray Schloss moved out to Los Angeles. The census shows his occupation as a social worker. During the next seven years, he bought up 2,500 acres in the Inland Empire region of California, planning to create a Utopian community in an area called “Heart of the Hills.” It was said that Murray claimed to hear voices from the “Masters” who told him to build a “Temple of the Dawn.”  

After he died in 1927, there followed years of legal wrangling over the property before it went into a state trust and was given to San Diego State University in 1960. The land is now part of the Santa Margarita Ecological Reserve near the ancient Indian city of Temecula. It serves as a field station and helps to protect the Santa Margarita River and its ecosystem.

Murray Schloss gave a great gift to the environment. But his disappointed millionaire father, who fled European pogroms, surely would have raised his arms and voice to say: “Utopia? Temple of the Dawn? This is how you spent my fortune?”



*A large glass of beer.
**Spoken with fervor.
+Algernon Charles Swinburne, a Victorian poet whose florid ballads Schloss would have despised. Mencken himself was ambivalent about Swinburne.

See posts March 2 + 10, April 6, & June 15, 2016