The Library Company of Philadelphia


Women Together



Photographs depicting students of the Ogontz School for Girls, taken by H. Parker Rolfe in 1892-1893.


Typically, women's lives were closely circumscribed by family obligations. Yet many girls formed lasting bonds in school and sometimes maintained these relationships into adulthood. This was especially likely when the women strove to be economically independent through their work.


The Ogontz School for Girls, founded as the Chestnut Street Seminary in 1850, moved to financier Jay Cooke's estate Ogontz in 1883. Its students came from elite families from the Philadelphia region and elsewhere. Many of the more than 200 photographs in an album owned by Ida F. Drew, a student from Chicago, were taken in the 1892-1893 academic year by professional photographer H. Parker Rolfe (1856-1939).


Note the girl in the front row of the astronomy class wearing a necktie. In the 1890s, wearing a tailored shirt paired with a necktie was a fashionable look for women, so it's hard to know whether this young woman was challenging gender norms of the day.

Group of unidentified female students. Albumen photograph, ca. 1885.


School photographs – even when the identity of the students and the settings are unknown – reveal details about how the young women interacted. In the foreground of this photograph, some of the young women lean toward each other in ways that appear casual, relaxed, and intimate.

Two students at Westtown Boarding School. Gelatin silver photograph, ca. 1896.


This posed photograph makes light of the sad moment when two friends must go their separate ways after they graduate from Westtown Boarding School, a Quaker school located outside Philadelphia. According to the signs above the women's heads, one is going to Bryn Mawr (College?) and the other is going to Moorestown (New Jersey?).

Defaced tintype in an album of unidentified portraits, ca. 1890. Gift of Michael Zinman.


What prompted someone to scratch out the face of the standing woman in the photograph on p. 48 of this album? In many cases, strong attachment can turn to strong antipathy, especially after some sort of betrayal. But we will probably never know the identities of these women or what happened that caused the rift.

Harrison S. Morris, "Jessie Willcox Smith," in The Book Buyer (April 1902).


Three articles by Harrison Morris in The Book Buyer promoted the careers of three women artists who studied first at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts (PAFA), and later took classes in book illustration with Howard Pyle at Drexel Institute. Pyle would nickname them the "Red Rose Girls" after they moved out of their shared studio on Chestnut Street in Philadelphia to Red Rose Inn in Villanova. After a fourth woman joined them and managed the household, they moved to another shared residence in Mount Airy, which they called "Cogslea" and themselves the "Cogs" family. "Cogs" was an acronym from the first letter of their last names: Henrietta Cozzens (the non-artist), Violet Oakley, Elizabeth Shippen Green, and Jessie Willcox Smith.


Morris was the managing director of PAFA at the time, so he had a vested interest in promoting the careers of the then-struggling artists who were living "their daily artistic lives under one roof in the gentle comradery of some Old World 'school.'"

Frances Hodgson Burnett. In the Closed Room. New York: McClure, Phillips & Co., 1904.


All three of the "Red Rose Girls" developed styles that showed the influence of the English Pre-Raphaelite Movement and went on to have productive careers as artists. Jessie Willcox Smith (1863-1935) and Elizabeth Shippen Green (1871-1954) became especially known for their portrayal of beautiful children in ethereal settings. The blonde girl depicted in this frontispiece is, in fact, a character who is dead. In the story, she guides the dark-haired girl in the dying process.


Two reference photographs of child model Alice Griswold. Gelatin silver photographs, ca. 1916. Jessie Willcox Smith Photograph Collection.


People who interviewed Smith often assumed that she spent much of her time surrounded by children such as the ones in her artwork. Once, when asked what she considered beautiful in a child, she replied, "Good manners." Actually she preferred to work from reference photographs. One imagines that young Alice Griswold might have been thoroughly intimidated while the impressively tall Miss Smith posed her artfully for these photographs.

Mathilde Weil, photographer. Violet Oakley at Work upon the Panel of "International Understanding and Unity" for the Senate Chamber – Capitol of Pennsylvania. Gelatin silver photograph, ca. 1913.


The third member of the Cogs family, Violet Oakley (1874-1961), became a muralist whose most extensive commissions were for the Pennsylvania Capitol building. In this photograph, art photographer Mathilde Weil shows her standing on scaffolding in front of the female allegorical figure of Unity. Oakley continued the work of noted artist Edwin Austin Abbey, who died in 1911 with much of the project still unfinished. For Unity, Oakley developed her own designs.


Despite the triumph of achieving public recognition for her artistic ability, Oakley was at a low point in her life. Elizabeth Shippen Green, a member of the four-woman household, had married and moved to New England in 1911. Oakley was not easily reconciled to the change. However, she soon began teaching mural arts at PAFA, where she met a student named Edith Emerson (1888-1965). Oakley and Emerson would become close and move into Cogshill, a separate residence near Cogslea. Emerson became the one who preserved the legacy of the Red Rose Girls for posterity.

Frances Willard and Anna Gordon:
Partners in Activism


Postcard depicting Frances Willard, 1907. Purchased with the Davida T. Deutsch Women's History Fund.


After her early years teaching and then working as an administrator at Northwestern University, Frances Willard (1839-1898) became increasingly involved in organizing groups of women in and around Chicago in support of temperance. In 1879 she was elected president of the Woman's Christian Temperance Union. In calling her crusade "Home Protection," Willard used the rhetoric of domesticity. She also linked temperance to voting rights for women, prison reform, and numerous other social reform agendas, deploying conservative values to promote then-radical ends. Under her leadership, the WCTU flourished. From 26,000 members in twenty-four states in 1879, it grew to nearly 150,000 in forty-eight states by 1890, with Willard remaining president until her death in 1898.

William R. Alger. The Friendships of Women. Boston: Roberts Brothers, 1868.


From childhood, Frances Willard insisted on being called "Frank." As a young woman in the 1860s, she began her career teaching at female academies in the Chicago area and later became the administrator for the Woman's College of Northwestern. Surviving letters suggest that she had a series of crushes on women and was known as a "beau." In her journal, she noted how much she enjoyed reading William Alger's book on female friendship. Alger's evocative but chaste rhetoric speaks of "budding maidens at school," suggesting that "in their mental caresses, spiritual nuptuals, their thoughts kiss each other ...." During this same period, Willard briefly planned to marry a young pastor but broke off their engagement. As luck would have it, her former fiancé would become her boss at Northwestern University in the 1870s. Willard resigned in 1873 after a difficult year during which he repeatedly undermined her authority.

Frances E. Willard. How to Win: A Book for Girls. New York: Funk & Wagnalls, 1886. Gift of Charles E. Rosenberg.


As president of the WCTU, Frances Willard ran the organization and wrote and lectured extensively. Willard composed 40 to 60 letters daily, in addition to writing articles and news stories. In 1886 Willard wrote How to Win, in which she encouraged girls to be independent, earn their own living, and follow their intuition to discover their own "best gift." Willard dedicated the book to her secretary Anna Gordon ("one of the noblest types of American young womanhood") as a "loving souvenir of eight years' comradeship" in the temperance cause. Before Willard met Gordon, who was fourteen years younger, the Chicago branch of the WCTU sometimes faulted Willard's poor account-keeping. But with Gordon in the role of Private Secretary to the President, Willard was free to pursue a far-reaching agenda for social reform and rapidly became prominent nationally.

Frances E. Willard. Glimpses of Fifty Years. Chicago: Woman's Temperance Publication Association, 1889.


In a mere six weeks in late 1888 and into 1889, Willard composed her 700-page autobiography, which was published by the WCTU. Fifty thousand copies sold within weeks. Willard was rightly proud of her reform work on various causes, which helped large numbers of women move into the public sphere without the stigma of radicalism. In 1890 the WCTU was largely based in the Willard family home ("Rest Cottage") in Evanston, Illinois (depicted on the book's cover). Soon afterward, the construction of a large headquarters in Chicago overextended the WCTU's resources, and after the Panic of 1893 much of its rental space was vacant. Around the same time, Willard's own health also suffered.

Anna A. Gordon. The Beautiful Life of Frances E. Willard. Chicago: Woman's Temperance Publishing Association, 1898.


By the mid-1890s Willard had adopted a vegetarian diet, perhaps as a result of her friendship with Ella Kellogg, the wife of dietary reformer John Harvey Kellogg and herself a leader in the WCTU. When Willard developed pernicious anemia, her health-consciously vegetarian diet only exacerbated the disease. After her death at the age of 58 in 1898, Gordon produced this memorial volume almost immediately. In Willard's 1889 autobiography, she had described Gordon as her "devoted friend, faithful secretary, and constant travelling companion," but during the 1890s, Willard spent extended periods in England as the special friend of Lady Henry Somerset, herself a British temperance leader, while Gordon remained in Evanston. Gordon acknowledges the help of Lady Henry ("that loyal and great-hearted friend, who by the law of kinship among great souls was closely united to Miss Willard in endeavor, achievement and ideals"). Willard's magnetic personality engendered devotion and commitment. Underlying her political agenda was the idea that domesticity, feminism, and female solidarity could transform society.


One of the book's illustrations shows Willard, Gordon, and Somerset, with two other WCTU officers.