She dared to defy the odds, step into a man’s world, and make her mark.
May 4, 2013
The role of strong, trailblazing women in history has been a vital element in the development of America. Sometimes, these women become lost in our memories, as time goes on. Coming from strong stock myself, I’ve felt compelled to write about the strong women in my own family and hope I can follow in their footsteps.
I recently became familiar with a woman of vision who founded a women’s club in 1868 that has endured and grown stronger to this day. You probably don’t remember her name, but she was a true innovator. “Jennie June.”
Jane Cunningham Croly was an American author and journalist. Her family moved to the United States from England, in search of freedom of religion. Forced to find a means of supporting herself after her father’s death in 1854, she travelled to New York to find employment. She was 25 years old.
This fearless woman was a recipient of good fortune when The New York Tribune accepted her first article, and she went to work as a journalist for the New York Sunday Times and Noah’s Weekly Messenger. ‘Jennie June’ was born. This was how she penned “Parlor and Side-walk Gossip”, a woman’s column. One account describes her as “small of stature . . . charming in manner with attractive blue eyes and brown hair, but beneath her engaging personality dwelt an independent spirit.” 
An independent spirit. How it makes my blood race. Would I have the courage, back in 1854, to stride confidently into a man’s world and hold my own? How far we’ve come, ladies!
She wasn’t a hard woman, just a woman determined. She married, had children, all those things that were expected of ladies of that day. Most women gave up any type of career once married. Not Jennie June! Editor of Demorest’s Magazine, (devoted to women’s fashion), editor of the Cycle Magazine (she founded it), and Home-Maker’s Magazine, and author of Jenny June’s American Cookery Book, to name a few of her accomplishments.
But, this isn’t about her journalistic talents. It’s about a club she founded, of which, I am so proud to be a member.
Jennie was a journalist, and imagine her excitement when, in 1869, Charles Dickens came to speak in New York City. Tickets were available for her male counterparts, but alas, not to Jennie June or any other female journalists. This was a pivotal point in her life.
Her strong, independent spirit rose up, and she formed the famous women’s club, Sorosis – “a centre of unity” that sought “collective elevation and advancement.” They became a sort of college for older women who wanted to learn.
In 1890, she formed the General Federation of Women’s Clubs, to support clubs throughout the nation and further their efforts at providing education, improved working conditions, health care, scholarships and other reforms.
She did believe a woman’s proper role was to be a good cook and a good homemaker, an ambivalent idea, like so many other women in that era. On one hand, she wrote very traditional essays on fashion, food, and home-making, yet she was a strong supporter of widening women’s options.
Maybe she didn’t think of herself as an innovator, but 123 years later, the club she formed is going strong and their list of accomplishments continues to grow.
1906 – GFWC member Alice Lakey spearheads a campaign essential to the passage of the Pure Food and Drug Act.
1922 – GFWC purchases 1734 N. Street NW in Washington, DC, and establishes it as the Federation’s Headquarters.
1961 – GFWC’s Women’s Clubs crusade for Seat Belt program.
1997 – GFWC – over 5 years, raised and donated 13.5 million to public libraries and public school libraries across the nation.
2004 – GFWC members contribute $180,000 to purchase a fully-equipped New York City Fire Department ambulance in response to Sept. 11.
These are but a few of this clubs accomplishments, all started by one woman, Jane Cunningham Croly who dared to step into a man’s world and make her mark.
Patty can be reached at [email protected], Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, Goodreads, LinkedIn, and www.pattywiseman.net