January 16, 2018

Female Empowerment--in 1911

The theme of Female Empowerment has dominated the news cycle recently. But this is not a new idea. The first wave feminist movement took place at the turn of the century. These New Women had college educations, supported themselves, and waited longer to marry than their mothers did.

In 1911, the North American Construction Company, manufacturer of Aladdin kit homes, issued a brochure that featured three New Women who worked as teachers in Chicago. (All scans and photocopies in this article courtesy of the Clarke Historical Library of Central Michigan University.)

The women built a vacation cottage in Michigan and sent in photos of them building the house.  They had "confidence in themselves and a determination to build their own house without outside help."

The women started by mixing and pouring concrete for the foundation. This step was challenging for most homebuyers. In the Chicago area, many people who intended to build their homes themselves ended up hiring contractors to lay the foundation and handle the concrete duties. Luckily for our teachers, it doesn't look like they had to dig too deeply for the cottage's foundation.

Next, the women laid the sills (the horizontal boards across the bottom on which the house rests).

The teachers spiked the sills together.

According to the brochure, the women had memorized the instruction book before coming to Michigan. They already knew what each pre-cut piece of lumber looked like, and what piece went where.

We can finally discern their faces in this photo! Next the side wall studding went up, followed by the roof rafters.

Can you imagine how hot they were, working in long-sleeved dresses and undergarments?

It's looking like a house now!

Wish we could see this photo clearly. Are they wearing overalls?

According to the brochure, "These girls, whose pictures we show you here, passed a delightful vacation erecting their own little cottage and enjoying it after completion."

This was the end result--the "Style A" house. I wonder how long it took them to complete and whether it is still standing near Elk Lake.

Style A from the 1910 Aladdin catalog.

I know the point of this brochure was to say that Aladdin houses were so easy to construct that even women could do it. But damn, ladies, I am so impressed. How many men or women of today could build this house? 

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