The Womans Building and the World
During the last quarter of the nineteenth century and concurrent to the
emergence of women's movements in the United States and Europe, a new
type, the Woman's Building made it s appearance at the World Exhibitions.
Up until the First World War, it remained a significant component of these
events. Sixty percent of the World Exhibitions occurring between 1873
and 1915 contained a Woman's Building (1).
To answer this question, I plan to investigate the notion that Woman's Buildings were constructed due to the intersection of two somewhat conflicting trajectories. Certainly, as Karen Offen has noted, associating specific economic activities or functions with bourgeois femininity was central to issues concerning political and economic power relevant to the growth of the nation states during the second half of the nineteenth century (2). Therefore, the construction of an exhibition building to represent bourgeois femininity clearly had a didactic function, as it located gender difference in relation to an emerging economic system. As we shall see, these Woman's Buildings and their vast displays and did not challenge prevailing feminine ideals, but repeatedly reinforced traditional female roles.
Meanwhile, between 1851 and continuing up to the First World War, the
World Exhibitions became the locus of "every kind of human activity"
(3), where any number of contemporary social or cultural concerns, such
as the emerging women's movements, found expression as well.
Slide 1: Flower Pavilion of the Viennese Florist Emilie Hasinger, Vienna World Exhibition, 1873. (Source: Gunda Barth-Scalmani and Margret Friedrich: "Frauen auf der Wiener Weltausstellung von 1873." in Brigitte Mazohl-Wallnig (Editors): Bürgerliche Frauenkultur im 19. Jahrhundert. Vienna, 1995.)
Slide 2: Ladie Orchestra, Vienna World Exhibition, 1873. (Source: Illustrirte Zeitung. Leipzig. October 1873.)
When considering the typology Woman's Building, several factors are important to consider. Products manufactured by women and activities meant to engage a female audience were displayed throughout the pavilion and spaces found at the World Exhibitions. The function of a Woman's Building was didactic: it was erected to describe and to affirm a bourgeois feminine ideal.
The participation of women at the American and at the European World Exhibitions was shaped by differing circumstances. In Europe, the exhibits in the Woman's Buildings as well as women's participation at the World Exhibitions concerned identifying a feminine ideal in relation to the intertwining roles of production and consumption (5). The names of the European Woman's Buildings ----"Pavillon der Frauenarbeiten", "Palais des Travaux féminins"---- called attention to women with work, or more precisely, work executed by and understood as being appropriate for bourgeois women. In contrast, the American World Exhibitions engaged the collective economic potential of bourgeois women. They were valued as fund-raisers, support workers and (paying) visitors; their participation helped insure the success of a World Exhibition. Furthermore, American women saw their World Exhibitions as a venue to present gender specific activities not solely defined by economics or political activity, what has become known as Women's Culture (6). Broadly defined, Women's Culture encompasses female activities and relationships not primarily motivated by direct political engagement, such as labor performed in the domestic sphere or participation in organizations where women played a dominant role (7). The architecture of the Woman's Buildings reflected the differing qualities of bourgeois women's participation at a World Exhibition. The European type typically contained galleries furnished with tables and vitrines displaying women's handiwork, while the American type had more of a variety of spaces allowing for a broader range of activity. One last factor contributing to the development of the type was the rapidly changing construction of the bourgeois feminine ideal. During the period in question, "an historically changing concept of what a women should be" (8) was profoundly shifting. Bourgeois women increasingly engaged in remunerative work and political activity or chose independence and careers over marriage and procreation. This changing construction of femininity attracted a variety of negative reactions, from disparagement to criticism and even aggressive backlash. As we shall see, these responses to emancipation also gave impetus to the creation of Woman's Buildings.
Vienna World Exhibition, 1873
Slide 3: Rudolf and Jeanette von Eitelberger. (Source: Gottfried Fliedl: Kunst und Lehre am Beginn der Moderne. Die Wiener Kunstgewerbeschule, 1867 ? 1918. Salzburg/Vienna, 1985.)
Slide 4: Vienna World Exhibition 1873. Site Plan. (Source: Handbuch der Architektur. Ausstellungsbauten. Stuttgart, 1906.)
The first Woman's Building to appear at a World Exhibition, the Pavillon der Frauenarbeiten (Pavilion of Women's Work), was erected at the Vienna World Exhibition 1873. The office of Carl Hassenauer, supervising architect of the exhibition, was responsible for the design.
The Pavillon der Frauenarbeiten was constructed when the bourgeois feminine ideal,
where women were expected to seek satisfaction in domesticity and motherhood, was being
broadly challenged. Throughout Europe, the need for middle class women to train for
gainful employment was becoming evident. In response, organizations such as the Wiener
Frauenerwerbsverein (Vienna Women's Business Association), founded in 1866, and
administered by bourgeois and aristocratic women, undertook a variety of activities to
support women who remunerative labor (9).
Rudolf von Eitelberger, founder of the Museum of Art and Industry in Vienna, had
closely modeled his activities to improve applied art production on contemporary English
precedents. Although women played an important role in the English Arts and Crafts
movement, they were expected to limit their activities to producing decorative arts and
needlework and to consuming handsome goods for the home. Under von Eitelberger's
direction, similar attitudes concerning of the participation of women in the Viennese
movement to revive the applied arts were current at the time of the World Exhibition. For
example, women were allowed to study at the School of the Museum of Art and Industry, but
were expected to limit their activity to needlework, flower painting and decorating
porcelain (12). Furthermore, von Eitelberger did not limit his activities to his own
institutions, but often contributed educational materials intended to improve bourgeois
women's taste and appreciation of the applied arts to the Weiner Frauenerwerbsverein (13).
Slide 5: Ernst Ludwig Richter. Die Hausfrau, woodcut. (Source: Gunda Barth-Scalmani and Margret Friedrich: "Frauen auf der Wiener Weltausstellung von 1873." in Brigitte Mazohl-Wallnig, Editors: Bürgerliche Frauenkultur im 19. Jahrhundert. Vienna, 1995.)
Slide 6: Vienna World Exhibition. Site Plan. The Pavilion der Frauenarbeiten is located among the small structures to the north of the Main Building. (Source: Ueber Land und Meer. Allgemeine Illustrirte Zeitung. Nr. 50. Leipzig, 1873.)
The first Woman's Building erected at a World Exhibition came into being due to an apparently simple reason: the exhibition of women's work was proposed fairly late in the planning of the event, sufficient space was no longer available in the Main Building. The Pavillon der Frauenarbeiten was a simple, wood frame building, located to the north-east of the Main Building, adjacent to other structures representing departments of the Austrian government. The women's exhibition shared space with second group, "the History of Invention". Plans of this structure have not been kept (15).
Although a number of women who were active in the administration of the Wiener Frauenerwerbsverein did participate in the selection and organization of the Pavillon der Frauenarbeiten, the project was directed by Jakob von Falke, an expert on the applied arts and assistant to Rudolf von Eitelberger at the Vienna Museum for Art and Industry. Initially, the Pavillon der Frauenarbeiten was to display a broad range of objects (including fine arts and literary production) executed by local and foreign women. In its final form, the presentation largely consisted of "feminine handiwork" ?small items, such as needlework, textiles, leather and pearl work ----executed by women from all corners of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. As "feminine handiwork" was not considered to be a high art form and was often executed without remuneration, the exhibition reinforced a bourgeois feminine ideal which championed domesticity, marriage and motherhood over gainful employment for bourgeois women. (16).To lend this construction of femininty further emphasis, a copy of a painting from Ernst Ludwig Richter, "Die Hausfrau", depicting a young mother fondly viewing a group of young children at play, was placed at the entry to the exhibit (17).
The small exhibition received extensive publicity and generated broad commentary. Many critics questioned why women continued to execute needlework when much of it was not only of poor quality, but was being rendered obsolete by the machine. Some, such as Jakob von Falke, drew the conclusion that bourgeois women should continue to execute needlework as a means to improve their taste, which would enable them to become more informed consumers of decorative items and accessories for the home (18).
Clearly, there were women who were uncomfortable with pavilion and its contents. Marianne Hainisch, observed that many women had not only objected to the Pavillon der Frauenarbeiten's premise, but that authentic "women's work" --- unpaid toil performed daily in the domestic sphere--- was impossible to present in a critical and meaningful manner in such a structure (19).
Philadelphia Centennial Exhibition, 1876
Slide 7: Elizabeth Duane Gillespie. (Source: Jeanne Madeline Weimann: The Fair Women. Chicago, 1981.)
Slide 8: Site Plan, Philadelphia Centennial 1876. (Source: Handbuch der Architektur. Ausstellungsbauten. Stuttgart, 1906.)
Although numerous American journalists reported on the Vienna World Exhibition for American newspapers and magazines (20), the modest Pavilion der Frauenarbeiten did not directly serve as precedent for the Woman's Building erected at the 1876 Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia. The Philadelphia building was more prominent, its exhibits were more varied and women played a more engaged role in its organization than had been the case at the Vienna World Exhibition. Indeed, the Philadelphia Woman's Building occupied a significant position in the larger narrative of the Centennial Exposition as well as in teh developement of the type (21).
Why did this difference occur? In contrast to the hierarchical social structure and diversity (religion, nationality) which marked Europe of this period, American society being Protestant and non-urban, was more homogenous. This otherwise harmonious picture, however, was slowly being disrupted by growing economic uncertainty and combined with increasing transience among the population (22).
Meanwhile, bourgeois American women enjoyed greater access to the pubic sphere than their European sisters. During the Civil War of the 1860's, women from different classes throughout the Union had been thrust into public life by participation in the Sanitary Commission, an organization established to support the Northern Army. As Carroll Smith-Rosenberg has observed, "Drawn from their homes by male patriotic rhetoric, however, they did not return" (23). After the defeat of the South, northern American women continued their engagement in social and charitable work, particularly in urban areas. Their continuing engagement in the public sphere led women to call for parity with men in wages, education and employment opportunities (24).
Indeed, the Centennial Women's Building was a product of the new bourgeois American woman of the 1870's. Yet bourgeois women created the Women's Building in a profoundly different mode than what had appeared in Vienna, not only due to their increasing involvement in the public sphere, but as they collectively wielded real economic power in a way their European sisters did not. During the 19th century, American women were renown for their ability to raise funds for the benefit of charitable causes (25). To inspire national support for the 1876 Centennial Exposition, organizers asked a group of Philadelphia women to generate interest and secure voluntary contributions for the upcoming event. Under the leadership of Elizabeth Dune Glimpse, a Philadelphia resident and descent of Benjamin Franklin, the Women's Centennial Commission actively worked for the Centennial, but demanded that an exhibit of women's work be given a representative place at the upcoming exhibition (26).
In 1875, their request for "ample space" in the exhibition's Main Building
was rejected, due to over subscription by foreign nations. The idea to erect a separate
Woman's Building to house their exhibits was proposed by the Chairman of the Committee on
Grounds, Plans and Buildings for the Exposition, Thomas Cochran. He argued that while
introducing the factor of gender would disrupt the clarity of organization in the Main
Building, women would have more space and more autonomy in their own pavilion (27).
Slide 9: Exterior view, Women's Building, Philadelphia Centennial. (Source: Jeanne Madeline Weimann: The Fair Women. Chicago, 1981. p. 6.)
Slide 10: Interior view, Women's Building, Philadelphia Centennial. (Source: Jeanne Madeline Weimann: The Fair Women. Chicago, 1981. p. 5.)
The Woman's Building of the 1876 Philadelphia Centennial Exhibition was located to the north of the Machinery and Main Halls, in a park-like area surrounded by gardens and smaller pavilions. Designed by Hermann Schwartzmann, the supervising architect of the Centennial Exposition, female organizers later regretted the failure to commission a practicing architectural draftswoman, Emma Kimball, with the project. Although the profession of architecture was in its nascent state in the United States at the time of the Centennial, the omission is all the more striking as women did play a small but significant role as the designers of residential buildings at this time (29).
Nestled among a variety of structures ( pavilions for the federal states, foreign countries and commercial manufacturers) the Woman's Building was an innovative and imposing structure. A central tower rising to a height of 30 meters lent the structure a dominant appearance (30). Its plan, created from the superimposition of a square upon a Greek cross, was a novelty among the Centennial pavilions. Architectural writers noted that with the exception of four columns marking the crossing, the interior space was free of structural supports, which provided flexibility. Exhibits including fine and applied arts produced by American and foreign women were to be seen, along with a kindergarten, a library containing literature by women, and a printing office for a journal published during the Centennial by women. As was typical of the World Exhibitions for the time, women performed unusual lines of work -- such as a operating a steam engine --- in public (31).
Radical political activity cast a shadow upon women's participation at the exhibition. A "Declaration of the Rights of Women" was distributed b activists, led by Susan B. Anthony, at a meeting in Philadelphia's Independence Hall on July 4, 1776. Later in the day, the document was read in public at the nearby Independence Square (32). The Women's Centennial Commission, however, did not champion such sentiments and propaganda in support of suffrage was not exhibited in the Woman's Building (33).
As in Europe, the need for bourgeois women to be gainfully employed was becoming increasingly apparent in the United States (34). Mary Cordato has noted that although the Women's Centennial Executive Committee supported women's right to work, the vast displays inside the 1876 Women's Building tended to undermine this growing need (35). Cordato has noted that women's work presented as "a multifaceted phenomen that encompassed domestic, skilled or professional, and community related, voluntary achievements." Exhibits of non-remunerative labor, such as housekeeping and charity work, though, outweighed small displays of describing the activities of professional women (36).
European observers understood the building as a venue to exhibit "feminine
handiwork" and vehemently criticized the quality of the handiwork presented in the
building (37). Americans viewed the structure and its contents in a different light.
Although contemporary American
The World's Columbian Exposition, Chicago 1893
Slide 11: Seal, Queen Isabella Society. (Source: Jeanne Madeline Weimann: The Fair Women. Chicago, 1981.)
Slide 12: Isabella Pavilion. (Source: Jeanne Madeline Weimann: The Fair Women. Chicago, 1981.)
During the seventeen year lapse between Philadelphia and Chicago Woman's Buildings, women's representation at the World Exhibitions did not cease (40). Yet the Woman's Building erected for the 1893 Columbian Exposition revolutionized the type: it acquired a monumental form, celebrated the pariticipation of women in both the fine and applied arts, and engaged broad intrnational support.
The Columbian Exposition appeared during a period of rapid expansion, urbanization and industrialization which transformed the United States. According the historian Alan Trachtenberg, the "White City" produced "---an oasis of fantasy and fable at a time of crisis and impending violence---" (41).
Just as the homogeneity of American culture was eroding, the bourgeois feminine ideal was being challenged. Waves of immigration, particularly from Eastern and Southern Europe, were swelling the populations of the industrializing cities. At the turn of the century, three quarters of Chicago's population of one million were foreign born (42). Carroll Smith-Rosenberg has noted that with immigration to cities, shared values and experiences not longer existed between native and newly arrived women, and the solidarity and the dialog developed between bourgeois and working class women which had existed in previous decades begins to break down (43).
The racial composition of the United States was changing as well. Harsh, racist and restrictive Jim Crow laws enacted in the southern states during Reconstruction propelled southern blacks to move away from the Deep South, mainly to the west, first in for Kansas, and later in the Oklahoma Territory. A strong black middle class was emerging, and black middle class women, --- like their white counterparts ---- founded clubs with the goal of improving social services to the black community (44).
And bourgeois American women were redefining femininity as well. During the 1880's, a new feminine ideal emerged in the United States: the "New Woman" was single, educated in a university and financially independent (45). As Judy Sund has observed, it was a group of these "New Women", the Isabella Society, had intended to erect a pavilion at the 1893 Columbian Exposition, to honor Columbus' sponsor, Queen Isabella of Castile, and provide spaces for their organization (46).
Slide 13: Board of Lady Managers. (Source: Jeanne Madeline Weimann: The Fair Women. Chicago, 1981.)
Slide 14: World's Columbian Exposition, 1893. Site Plan. (Source: Werner Hegemann and Elbert Peets: The American Vitruvius: An Architect's Handbook of Civic Art. (1922) 1988. New York.)
Their bid was destroyed by Bertha Potter Palmer, a powerful
Chicago businesswoman, socialite and president of the Board of Lady Managers, a group
aligned with the organizers of the Exposition. They had lobbied to insure women's
contribution as producers of manufactured goods was properly documented and represented in
the exhibition's main halls, and that women were to be named to the official juries.
Initially, Palmer had intended to erect a "Woman's Building" to house a
historical exhibit of the progress women had achieved since Columbus' discovery of the
Americas and to provide office space for the Board of Lady Managers (47).
Slide 15: Woman's Building, Exterior. (Source: Unsere Weltausstellung. Chicago, 1893.)
Slide 16: Women's Building, Interior.(unfinished) (Source: Unsere Weltausstellung. Chicago, 1893.)
Under Palmer's direction, the Woman's Building and its vast contents produced a
selective portrayal of white, bourgeois femininity. The project reflected the biases of
women like Bertha Potter Palmer: generally supportive of women who sought a role for
themselves in the public sphere, but who rejected "...politics, suffrage, or other
irrelevant issues" as being appropriate feminine concerns (49).
Slide 17: Agriculture Building, Interior. (Source: Unsere Weltausstellung. Chicago, 1893.)
Slide 18: Women's Building, Interior. (finished). (Source: Unsere Weltausstellung. Chicago, 1893.)
Palmer and her Board of Lady Managers produced a novel structure, different from preceding Woman's Buildings and from the other major structures forming the White City in that it was multi-functional structure in the broadest sense, containing galleries, a shop, offices, a restaurant, hotel rooms, and assembly spaces. This Woman's Building also attracted substantial participation from women outside of the host nation. Due to Palmer's extensive efforts, women from forty countries submitted national displays, contributed books to a library containing works by female authors or spoke at an accompanying Congress (51).
Palmer's other transformation of the Woman's Building reflected the growing association of bourgeois femininity with the patronage of the fine arts. During the second half of the nineteenth century, a "feminization of the arts" occurred in the United States, where bourgeois women became identified with the patronization, and to a lesser extent, the production of the fine arts. Particularly between 1870 and 1880 "the ladies of high society" became a central force working for the erection of monumental public fine museums to view the fine arts. Alan Trachtenberg has observed, "Open to the public, such institutions seemed to their advocates and supporters democratic enterprises, serving to diffuse knowledge , taste and refinement. What they in fact diffused, however, was a set of corollaries to the idea of culture. Organized by the urban elite, dominated by ladies of high society, staffed by professionally trained personnel, housing classic works of European art donated by wealthy private collectors, the museums subliminally associated art with wealth, and the power to donate and administer with social station and training. Their architecture reinforced the message: magnificent palaces with neoclassical fronts, marble columns, sweeping staircases, frescoed ceilings, and stained-glass windows. The splendor of the museums conveyed an idea of art as public magnificence, available in hushed corridors through a corresponding act of munificence by private wealth...." (52).
The interior of this Woman's Building did not resemble that of a typical exhibition pavilion, where exposed steel and wood structures provided a temporary enclosure for vast quantities of manufactured goods. Instead, the internal spaces of the Chicago Woman's Building were designed to convey the feeling of a "magnificent palace". Details such as the wood construction covered with plaster suggested the "marble columns", large, prominent murals recalled the "frescoed ceilings" of a new American art museum. Just as the interior of a fine arts museum was created to impart "knowledge, taste, refinement" on visitors, this Woman's Building was to evoke these qualities and associate them with a bourgeois feminine ideal.
Although the 1876 Philadelphia Woman's Building displayed the work of female artists, serious artists considered it a nothing more than a "bazaar". Aspiring and talented women were advised not to exhibit their art in it (53). Bertha Palmer's biggest contribution was to attempt to transform the Woman's Building into a structure which recalled the sobriety of an American museum of fine arts and provide a legitimate venue to view art and design.
In a sense, it was Bertha Palmer --- more than the young female architect, Sophia Hayden --- who designed this Woman's Building. During the initial planning phase in 1891, Palmer developed the dimensions of the plan (a rectangle measuring 200 feet by 400 feet) and the idea of the structure (a central skylit hall illuminating the interior) with the Fair's supervising architect, Daniel Burnham (54). She oversaw the competition among female architects where Hayden emerged as victor (55).Over Hayden's protests, Palmer appointed the renowned American designer, Candace Wheeler, to co-ordinate the building's interior decorations. She also supervised the choice of other decorators who designed smaller rooms in the structure. Indeed, Sophia Hayden's contribution consisted of designing the structure's carefully articulated massing and developing the facade, an eclectic mix of Renaissance and neo-Classical detailing (56).
Palmer strove to realize an esthetically pleasing, and not simply a functional, exhibition building. To this end, she commissioned collected and arranged art, design by female artists to be carefully placed in the Women's Building. Of note was the Central Hall ---erroneously labeled the Rotunda as the space was neither round in section nor in plan --- furnished with neo-classical ornamentation, which housed an exhibit of paintings, including a historical survey of women's art and works by leading American, German, French and English female artists (57).
As Kathleen McCarthy has shown, Palmer's vision proved uncomfortable, particularly for the women commissioned to execute the art and design, or invited to exhibit their work. Whereas Mary Cassatt's initial negative reaction to the Woman's Building has been well documented, less established artists were ambivalent as well. Sara Hallowell, a leading art broker, advised Palmer against the project. In her estimation, the problem was twofold: there were too few accomplished female painters and talented female artists preferred to exhibit in a mainstream, and not in a sex-segregated, venue. Indeed, Palmer's philanthropy from on high was viewed as damaging by the women she strove to support. The American painter Anna Lea Merritt observed: "Recent attempts to make separate exhibitions of women's work were in opposition to the views of the artists concerned, who knew that it would lower their standard and risk the place they already occupied. What we so strongly desire is a place in the large field,... the kind ladies who wish to distinguish us as women would unthinkingly work us harm." (58)
Exposition Universelle et Internationale de Paris, 1900
Slide 19: (The Parisienne). The Political Lady, J. Tissot 1883-85. (Source: Tamara Garb: Bodies of Modernity. London, 1998.)
Slide 20: (The Femme Nouvelle) Dreams, Vittorio Matteo Corcos. (Source: Geneviéve Fraisse and Michelle Perrot, eds.: A History of Women, Vol. 4. Cambridge and London, (1991) 1993. Cover photo.
Due to changes in French educational laws in the 1880's that gave women the right to higher education, a feminist movement emerged in France during the 1890's. Higher education had enabled a small --- but visible --- minority of career-oriented, educated and independent women to be labeled the "femme nouvelle". Two feminist congresses held in Paris in 1889, concurrent with the World Exhibition and devoted to women's rights and women's work, respectively, marked the beginning of more fervent, and sometimes conflicting, activities of the 1890's. Between 1892 and 1900 four further congresses devoted to feminist themes were held in Paris and twenty-one feminist periodicals were founded (59).
Fundamentally different from the feminism emerging in the United States, the French women's movement was largely subscribed to by bourgeois and aristocratic women, who accepted the notion of separate spheres, with marriage, maternity and domesticity being the appropriate vocation for women. Their goals were to foster solidarity among women of different classes through a variety of social welfare projects and to reform restrictive marriage laws (60).
During the last decades of the 19th century, a unique bourgeois feminine type, the "Parisienne", appeared. As Tamara Garb has observed, the fashionable, "Parisienne" was "...the ultimate counterpoint to the bourgeois male....". Extravagantly dressed, carefully coiffured she demonstrated "...the glamour and superficial excesses that money and modernity could buy." (61)
The "Parisienne" was a public figure, found strolling along the newly created boulevards and parks of the metropolis. As Garb has noted, she was essential to the functioning of the French economy, consuming cosmetics, clothing, toiletries at the department stores and arcades and supporting services such as the fashion magazines and hair styling salons created to enhance and inform her appearance. Paris was the beneficiary of her efforts, as the allure of a city populated by beautiful women strolling the newly created boulevards, was an unique urban attraction in and of itself. "The city", noted Garb, "constituted her stage." (62)
Slide 21: Catalogue, Exhibition of the Arts of Woman. 1896. (Source: Debora L. Silvermann: Art Nouveau in Fin-de-Siècle France. Berkeley, 1989.)
Slide 22: Suffragette, caricature (Source: Debora L. Silvermann: Art Nouveau in Fin-de Siècle France. Berkeley, 1989.)
Beginning in the middle of the 1890's, a concerted reaction to the "femme
nouvelle" arose. The independent "femme nouvelle" was perceived as a threat
to stability and order, in particular to the sanctity of the family, while her lack of
concern for her appearance challenged the city's identification with the
"Parisienne" and endangered industries and economies established to serve her
Slide 23: Palais de la Femme (Source: Collection Prof. Mary Pepchinski)
Slide 24: Birds eye view. Exposition Universelle, 1900. (Source: Collection Prof. Mary Pepchinski)
These conflicting bourgeois feminine ideals, present in
fin-de-siécle Paris, were accommodated at the Palais de la Femme, constructed for the
1900 Exposition Universelle et Internationale de Paris. The small pavillon was located
between the base of the Eiffel Tower and the Pont d'Iéna and surrounded by other small
The Palais de la Femme was atypical of the European Woman's Buildings, being a multi-functional structure more closely resembling the American type. The unusual program reflected the experience of its organizer and initiator, a Madame M. Pégard. A leading bourgeois feminist and pivotal figure in the movement to renew applied art production through the participation of women, Pégard had directed the French section of the 1893 Chicago Women's Building. Her experience in Chicago, where she encountered the American woman's "independence, initiative and authority" (68) inspired much of her work in the women's and applied arts movements in France duirng the 1890's (69).
Slide 25: Entrance, Palais de la Femme (Source: (Source: Collection Prof. Mary Pepchinski) Slide 26: Side view, with Restaurants (Source: Collection Prof. Mary Pepchinski)
Not as well financed a previous structures, the Palais de
la Femme was criticized as spaces had been leased to private entrepreneurs, such as
restaurants and a hairdresser (70). This criticism aside, the structure was praised for
conveying a sense of the "Parisienne". According to one observer, the pavilion
was executed in a "charming Baroque style" (71).
Louisiana Purchase Exposition, St. Louis, 1904
Slide 27: Wellesley College Graduates. (Source: Geneviéve Fraisse and Michelle Perrot, Editors: A History of Women, Vol. 4. (1991) 1993.Cambridge and London.)
Slide 28: Women suffragettes (England). Source: Geneviéve Fraisse and Michelle Perrot, Editors: A History of Women, Vol. 4. (1991) 1993. Cambridge and London.)
By 1900, American women increasingly worked, studied at the university level, belonged to clubs or social and philanthropic organizations. Growing industrialization and the expansion of cities brought about professional opportunities for women and provided them with more leisure time (73). After 1900, a second and third generation of "New Women" appeared, more concerned with self-fulfillment and sexual experimentation than previous generations (74).
Slide 29: Site plan, St. Louis, 1904. (Source: Paul Sigal: Exponiert. Berlin, 2000)
Yet the changing bourgeois feminine ideal which emerged after 1900 does not completely explain why the Woman's Buildings lost their representative form at the American World Exhibitions. The answer, I believe, can be found in the legacy of the Columbian Exhibition. Commenting upon the impact of this World Exhibition, the historian Alan Trachtenberg has observed that the Neo-Classical architecture of the exhibition's White City, conveyed the impression of a unified homogenous American culture and confirmed the hegemony of an elite, ruling class. Populist sentiments and diversity were suppressed (75). Arguably, the bourgeoisie was no longer threatened in the way they had been prior 1900. The didactic expression of feminine ideal was no longer imperative.
The experience of women at the Louisiana Purchase Exposition in 1904 suggests that both conditions --- the growing emancipation of as well as the affirmation and acceptance of an elite American culture ---- contributed the type's obsolescence in the United States.
A Board of Lady Managers was appointed to the 1904 Louisiana Purchase Exhibition in St. Louis, for the simple reason that one had existed at the Chicago exhibition. Many of the women appointed to the St. Louis board were either extremely wealthy or had married influential and powerful men. Others had achieved recognition through their own efforts in business or the professions. Collectively, they had engaged in diverse undertakings in the public sphere prior to their engagement for the 1904 exhibition. This Board of Lady Managers was concerned less with the interests of women, more with the general success of the exhibition. Offered $50,000 by the fair organizers towards the erection of a Woman's Building, female organizers rejected the offer, preferring to have worked produced by women exhibited in the main exhibition halls. A second offer, to use an existing building on site for their offices and entertainment was accepted. Located outside the main exhibition area, it was used as a temporary office space and social events. It later served as the physics hall of Washington University (76).
The Belgian World Exhibitions: Lüttich/Liége 1905, Brüssels/Bruxelles1910, Gant/Ghent1913
Slide 31: Female Hand Lacemakers, Brussels, 1910. (Source: Daheim. 46 Jahr. Nr. 39. 25 July, 1910.)
Slide 32: Women operating Lace making machines, Brussels 1910. (Source: http:/users.skynet.befuncard/indusfem.jpg) Following Paris, three further Woman's Buildings appeared at the smaller Belgian World Exhibitions of 1905 (Liége/Lüttich), 1910 (Bruxelles/Brüssels) and 1913 (Gand/Ghent).
Slower than other European nations to developed a women's movement, Belgium only witnessed the significant feminist activity at the close of the nineteenth century. During the 1890's a small group of women briefly agitated, for suffrage. Bourgeois women did achieve some gains: they were permitted entry to universities in Brussels, and a national women's council was established in 1905. However, the impact of these progressive tendencies appears to have been slight, as leading Belgian feminists, such as the pioneering lawyer and women's rights activist Marie Popelin, found their work more appreciated abroad than at home (77).
At the beginning of the twentieth century, the Belgian women's movement increasingly
came under the influence of socialism. Feminist activists were most successful when
advocating for the protective laws for working women. In certain highly industrialized
areas, female textile workers joined women's organizations in large numbers. The women's
suffrage movement received support from socialist organizations, who saw in women voters a
potential "weapon" against the conservative political alliances dominated by the
Catholics and clergy (78).
The Belgian Woman's Buildings largely exhibited traditional handicrafts and
contemporary applied art production executed by women. As in previous Woman's Buildings,
such displays were not meant to call attention to middle class women's need for
remunerative labor, as bourgeois women who engaged in applied arts were expected to limit
themselves to the execution of "feminine handwork" or at best collaborate with a
spouse who was himself a professional in this field (80).
Exposition universelle et internationale de Liége, 1905
Slide 33: Exposition universelle et internationale de Liége, Site Plan.(Source: Architektonische Rundschau. 1906. Heft 2.)
Slide 34: Exposition universelle et internationale de Liége, Site Photo. (Source: Collection Prof. Mary Pepchinski)
The Exposition universelle et internationale de Liége was located at four riverbanks, facing the confluence of the rivers Ourthe and Meuse. The Palais de la Femme was situated at the Parc d'Acclimation, where according to contemporary architectural writers, the most interesting pavilions representing the Africa, Asian colonies, and the Balkans as well as a building to display the fine arts, had been erected (82).
Slide 35: Exposition universelle et internationale de Liége 1905, Pavilion, Montenegro; the Palais de la Femme can be seen at the right corner of the photograph .(Source: Architektonische Rundschau. 1906.Heft 2.)
Slide 36: Exposition universelle et internationale de Liége 1905, Pavilion, Bulgaria. the Palais de la Femme can be seen at the left corner of the photograph .(Source: Architektonische Rundschau. 1906. Heft 2.)
One contemporary report noted that ,"the Palais de la Femme, in a French style, consisting of two decorated pavilions connected by an open hall, contains a much admired collection of expensive Belgian lace and other artistic feminine handwork, from old and recent times .... .." (83).
Exposition universelle et internationale de Bruxelles, Brussels 1910
Slide 37: Exposition universelle et internationale de Bruxelles, Site Plan. (Source: Erik Mattie: World's Fairs. New York, 1998.)
Slide 38: Exposition universelle et internationale de Bruxelles, Palais des Travaux
féminins (Source: Collection Prof. Mary Pepchinski) Brussels, 1910 For the Universelle
Exhibition in Brussels 1910, the Palais des Travaux féminins, a neo-classical, single
story building, was situated adjacent to the pavillons of the Belgian section at southern
entrance to the fairgrounds. Of the three Belgian Woman's Buildings, the Brussels
pavilion, designed by the architect van Voorde, was the largest and contained the most
diverse exhibits. It was also enjoyed the most extensive international participation of
the three, as women from the Netherlands, Haiti, South America, Uruguay, Turkey and
Germany submitted objects for display (84).
Exposition universelle et internationale de Gand/Wereldtentoonstelling Gent, 1913
Slide 39: Exposition universelle et internationale de Gand/Wereldtentoonstelling Gent (1913), Site Plan. (Source: Zentralblatt der Bauverwaltung. 2. August 1913.)
Slide 40: Exposition universelle et internationale de Gand/Wereldtentoonstelling Gent (1913) - Court of Honour. (Source: Zentralblatt der Bauverwaltung. 2. August 1913.)
For the Exposition universelle et internationale de Gand/Wereldtentoonstelling Gent (1913) a semi-detached pavilion, located at the southern entry to the exhibition, displaying applied arts production by women was connected to the main complex. The structure was also designed by the architect van Voorde (86).
Panama-Pacific International Exposition, San Francisco, 1915
Slide 41: Photo Phoebe Hearst. (Source: Sara Holmes Boutelle: Julia Morgan Architect. New York, 1988.)
Slide 42: Exterior, YWCA Building (Source: Sara Holmes Boutelle: Julia Morgan Architect. New York, 1988.)
As war raging in Europe, one last pavilion appeared at an American World Exhibition. At the insistence of the local heiress Phoebe Hearst, a building to provide refreshment to women visitors and workers at the Panama-Pacific Exhibition of 1915, held in San Francisco, was erected. The building, though, was financed and sponsored by the YWCA - Young Women's Christian Association -- an organization which provided services to young women seeking work in large industrializing cities during the early 20th century. A didactic representation of the bourgeois feminine ideal was no longer provided the impetus for the construction of this Woman's Building. Instead, the type's premise had shifted: the presence of women in the public sphere was now accepted and required accommodation (87).
Slide 43: Photo Julia Morgan (Source: Sara Holmes Boutelle: Julia Morgan Architect. New York, 1988.)
Slide 44: Detail, Porch, YWCA Building (Source: Sara Holmes Boutelle: Julia Morgan Architect. New York, 1988.)
The architect Edward C. Champney of San Francisco designed the YWCA Building's exterior. It was conceived of as a symmetrical pendent to a second structure, the Press Building, both of which framed the exhibition's main entry. Probably at the suggestion of Phoebe Hearst, the architect Julia Morgan was asked to design the pavilion's interior. Morgan was the first women to graduate from the Beaux-Arts in Paris and in 1904 had established a successful practice in San Francisco Bay Area. As opposed to Sophia Hayden, whose facade design for the 1893 Chicago Women's Building can been seen as a debut work, Morgan a seasoned professional, having built extensively for both the Hearst family as well as for the YWCA (88).
Slide 45: Ground Floor, YWCA Building (Source: Sara Holmes Boutelle: Julia Morgan Architect. New York, 1988.)
Slide 46: Upper-Level resting room (Source: Sara Holmes Boutelle: Julia Morgan Architect. New York.)
Although the two story structure contained a restaurant,
offices, club rooms, galleries, an assembly hall and resting rooms, it was less a venue to
support activities and exhibitions associated with Women's Culture, more a place to relax
and revive oneself after visiting (or working at) the fair. The successful restaurant
(open to both sexes) earned the YWCA a substantial profit (89).
As we have seen, there would be differing economic imperatives to support the creation of a Women's Building at a World Exhibition. They affirmed women's position in the public sphere, while upholding a bourgeois feminine ideal that did not challenge or question relations of economic power or politics. Women were permitted to participate in the ephemeral public sphere the World Exhibitions presented, providing their presence did not disrupt the larger narrative of these events.
Beginning with the earliest Women's Building (the 1873 Pavillon der Frauenarbeiten) contemporary observers repeatedly noted that these buildings and their contents failed to provided a substantial critique of bourgeois femininity, or evoke the energy and invention which characterized the "New Woman". One visitor to the 1900 Parisian Pallais de la Femme expressed his disappointment noting, "...one only showed a modern woman in the sense of a fashion journal" (90). Similar views can found for many of the buildings mentioned.
Women's Buildings never provoked unease, or challenged the status quo, or stimulated women to rethink femininity in a radically new, expanded mode. Nor were these buildings were meant to be inclusive: femininity was presented as a selective, indeed an elitist quality. In the American Woman's Buildings, this can be seen in their exclusion of Afro-American and immigrant women from participation. In the European examples, native women of the colonies and working class women were at best marginally present as contributors to the buildings and their contents.
Although the World Exhibitions attempted a presentation of diverse human production and activities, the Woman's Buildings did not portray femininity in terms of difference and diversity, but affirmed traditonal feminine ideals during a period marked by extreme and radical change.
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