Case 3 of 3: Charity & Profit    

The Useful and the Beautiful. Philadelphia: Lippincott, Grambo, & Co., 1850.

This book depicts the life of a young middle-class woman who initially scorns those less fortunate than her. She learns the benefits of charity and hard work after hearing stories about the injustices of the piecework trade.


The Useful and the Beautiful

Ella Rodman Church. Money-Making for Ladies. New York: Harper and Brothers, 1882.

Ella Church believed the precarious position of women as dependents was a preventable evil. She detailed an array of opportunities for middle-class housewives to increase their income without entering the ranks of wage-earning women.




The Second Annual Report, of the Managers of the Ladies' Depository. Philadelphia: Lydia R. Bailey, 1835.

Elizabeth Stott and sixteen of her friends founded the Philadelphia Ladies' Depository Association in 1832. The depository provided distressed gentle women a venue for the sale of fancywork on a confidential consignment basis. A small percentage of the profits went to operational expenses, while the remainder was given to the artist. This proved an ideal situation for women not suited for jobs in business or industry. Similar depositories emerged in many major cities across the country. Members paid annual dues, as a charitable contribution, ranging from one to five dollars. Members also offered their services as shop managers and bookkeepers. After the Civil War, these organizations became better known as exchanges. Exchanges raised public consciousness regarding the working conditions and exploitation of wage-earning women, particularly those in needlework trades.


Committee on Work in Account with Ladies' Depository - Chart

Mathew Carey. Essays on the Public Charities of Philadelphia. Philadelphia, 1829.

Long hours and inadequate wages led many workingwomen to poverty and vice. Charities fought to end this exploitation by educating consumers. Carey includes in this collection of essays a letter from a woman concerned with the plight of needlewomen and the need for wage regulation. "There is no subject that has more painfully occupied my mind, than the very inadequate return, for I will not call it compensation, made to females who depend on their needles for support...I allude to persons who have been delicately brought up, but have all there prospects blasted, and who have not strength for any other employment than the needle. …Let a few ladies for high standing unite and ascertain from personal inspection what amount of wages can be earned by an industrious woman at sewing, washing, spooling, &c. &c. and then recommend such an increase of wages in all these branches."


Mathew Carey. Essays on the Public Charities of Philadelphia.

"Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts."

On June 11, 1845, the original building of the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts was partially destroyed by fire. The blaze consumed many valuable paintings and sculptures. Sarah Hale planned a "Grand Bazaar," as a fund-raiser to rebuild the Academy. Contributions were requested from all ladies of Philadelphia asking them to send "products of pencil or pen; needle, spindle or shuttle; knitting or netting needles; braiding or bead work; embroidery, feathers or shell work."


Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Art. Albuman Photograph by Robert Newell. Ca. 1870. The current building illustrated above was built years after the aforementioned fire, and is the current home of the Academy.

An Appeal for the Future Preservation of the Home and Grave of Washington. Philadelphia: T.K. and P.G. Collins, 1855.

The extraordinary success of the Bunker Hill Monument Association's Ladies' Fair encouraged similar efforts to preserve the nation's history. To raise money for the purchase of Mount Vernon, women around the country held small town fairs, selling fancywork. The Mount Vernon Ladies' Association formally took possession of the historic residence in February 1860.





When the Civil War broke out the need for everything from socks to nurses was immediately evident. Church groups, sewing circles, and similar organizations quickly re-established themselves as soldiers' aid societies. These societies joined forces under the auspices of the United States Sanitary Commission. Town fairs and local benefits initially supplied the funds necessary for clothing, medical supplies, and the training of nurses. When this proved inadequate, major cities held "Sanitary Fairs" incorporating the efforts of many communities.

Chester County Soldiers' Socks. Philadelphia: Bryson & Son Printers, [1863].

Great Central Fair. Catalogue of Valuable Illustrated German Books, Needlework, Autographs, Relics, and Curiosities, Guns...December 21, 1864...Thomas Birch & Son Auctioneers. [Philadelphia]: Sherman and Co., 1864.(Left)

Great Central Fair. Benevolent Institutions Booth. [1876]. Modern print of stereograph by A. Watson.


Chester County Soldier's Socks Broadside
Great Central Fair. Benevolent Institutions Booth. [1876]


In February 1830, Sarah Hale suggested in Godey's that women come to the aid of the financially troubled Bunker Hill Monument Association. For the next ten years, women in the New England states collected funds through voluntary subscriptions. This proved inadequate so in 1840 the Association granted the women permission to hold a fair. To ensure attendance, the fair opened in September, the same week as the National Whig Convention in nearby Boston. The women earned $33,066 in seven days, more than enough to complete the obelisk. Of the items sold, Warren writes: "The young sought to rival the expertness of the aged; delicate hands that rarely worked, -and then in ornamental finery,-joined with those which daily toiled; those who plied crochet in worsted of various colors with those who knit the stocking; those who skilled in embroidered work, and those practiced in plain sewing,-all combined to make something useful or attractive, that could be sold for the purpose of building the monument. That was the glorious busy summer of 1840."

Warren, George Washington. The History of the Bunker Hill Monument Association. Boston: James R. Osgood and Company, 1877.

Bunker Hill Monument Association. Act of Incorporation. Boston: Samuel N. Dickinson, 1830.


"The Obelisk" from Warren's The History of Bunker Hill.


"Women's Pavilion". Albumen photograph. Centennial Photographic Co., December 1876.

There would have been no Women's Pavilion at the Centennial Exposition without the tireless efforts of Benjamin Franklin's granddaughter, Elizabeth Duane Gillespie. The original space allotted by the Centennial Commission for the use of the Women's Centennial Committee was inadequate. The women requested a building of their own devoted to the arts of female industry. The Commission, for financial reasons, denied this request. Gillespie responded with a national fundraising effort, which included concerts, art shows, benefits, bazaars, and "Martha Washington Tea Parties," where tea was served in commemorative cups. Many of these activities relied on the profit of needlework sales and other donated items from women across the country. Successfully built at a cost of $30,000, the Women's Pavilion was an exhibit of female ingenuity in itself.

Exhibits and activities in the building were required to highlight female capacities outside the nursery and household that attributed to the progress of the nation. The exhibition building housed paintings, sculptures, and 75 inventions patented by women. Demonstrations included the operation of sewing and knitting machines, a Jacquard loom, a telegraph office, a cylinder printing press, and a spooling machine. In 1860 the federal census reported 25,000 women working in manufacturing, a quarter of the entire workforce. Needlework displays included examples of crochet, knitting, tatting, quilting, and embroidery. The use of needlework to raise funds for the building of the Pavilion exemplified its capacity outside the domestic sphere.

"Bird's Eye View, Centennial Buildings." Tinted lithograph, H.J. Toudy & Co., publishers, 1875.

The philanthropic efforts of women throughout the nineteenth century educated them in skills such as business management, fundraising, and organization, which in turn helped their political crusade for equality and suffrage. Victorian volunteerism also gave women the self-confidence necessary to become inventors, writers, educators, and doctors. The Centennial Exposition provided an ideal venue for women to highlight these achievements.


"Women's Pavillion." Godey's Lady's Book and Magazine. December 1876.