An Industrial School for Working Girls, Huron 1889

In the 1880s, Women’s Christian Temperance Union (W.C.T.U.) groups in various parts of the country worked on women’s issues beyond temperance. Some set up schools, homes (or boarding houses), employment bureaus, lunch rooms, or reading rooms for single ‘working girls’ or ‘unfortunate girls.’ For instance: in Memphis and Chattanooga, Tennessee, in Rhode Island, in Omaha, Nebraska, and in Akron, Ohio.

In October 1889, the W.C.T.U. in Huron started an “industrial school for working girls” under the direction of Emma Smith DeVoe. Their initial membership was 30 students. One of their first meetings was held on a Friday evening, October 25th, at the Baptist church (where DeVoes were members). They then held regular meetings at the Grand Army of the Republic (G.A.R.) Hall on Tuesday evenings (an organization with which the DeVoes were local leaders).

From “Page 75 : Entire Page,” DeVoe, Scrapbook D, WSL Manuscripts:

“There have been from time to time innumerable orders, lodges, reading rooms, Y.M.C.A., insurance companies, etc., formed to aid the working men, while our women have been slow to see the benefits that would be derived from a united and determined effort on their part to improve the condition of the working women.
The object of this society shall be to promote the interests of our working women, physically, mentally, and spiritually, by teaching branches of study best suited to the needs of its members, conducting talks and discussions on important topics to the working classes; to throw a sisterly influence for good around each member; to aid each member in securing suitable employment; to care for its members in time of sickness and need…
All ladies who have working girls in their employ are requested to please call their attention to this notice.”

“Let us not loose sight of the dignity of labor.”

“After the lessons were over there was plenty of fun, and the merry peals of laughter that were heard all over the building would prove to any one how heartily these girls enjoy a meeting that is all for themselves.”

The school held reading and writing classes, and they worked on a cookbook for a fundraiser for the school. Prof. R.R. Wardall gave a writing class and illustrations on ornamental penmanship. The DeVoes also started a labor bureau, to connect young women seeking employment with employers, which was operated from J.H. DeVoe’s (Emma’s husband) shoe store on Dakota avenue in downtown Huron. There was a segregated class for “colored” women, with six students and “under the same management.”

At one of the meetings, Dr. Larkin gave a lecture on respiration for which “she brought a pair of sheeps lungs and caused them to be inflated and made the evils of tight lacing very apparent. She recommended the Mrs. Jenness Miller dress reform, which is new, pretty and graceful as well as healthful.” The next meeting was planned to be a conversation on dress reform with “magazines and patterns on exhibition.”

Dr. Harriett H.H. Larkin was active in local suffrage activities with Emma DeVoe. She was the widow of Wallace T. Larkin, a Civil War veteran. Larkin had graduated from the Hygeio-Therapeutic College of New York in 1863. In 1869, she briefly co-ran a “health institute” in New York City, before moving to California to run her own practice, a “Hygienic Home,” and sanitarium in San Jose and Orange. Her practice included obstetrics, women’s illnesses, Turkish and Russian baths, sun-baths, “Swedish movement-cure” treatments (massage/vibration for internal health), and more. In California, she had also been an active proponent of equal suffrage and temperance. She passed away in 1898. Larkin’s lecture recommended Jenness Miller dress reform — Annie Jenness Miller of Boston “promoted a larger waist bodice called an emancipation waist” instead of traditional corsets.

In December 1889, they held a social at the Grand Army hall with a literary and musical program, a talk by Emma DeVoe on the school, a talk by Dr. Larkin on respiration, and general social time.

From what I can tell, the school lasted only for that winter, from mid-October 1889 to perhaps January 1890. Emma DeVoe was tremendously busy, on the road organizing and campaigning for an equal suffrage amendment during 1890, and possibly let the school lapse?


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