A VISIONARY ANCESTOR - A Compassionate Initiative for Women April 18 2018, 13 Comments
Recently I went down to the Ground Zero Museum in New York. While down there I also visited St. Paul's Chapel, the site that welcomed survivors of the terrorist attack on the Twin Towers on 9/11/2001. It is also a famous landmark in New York City's history.
Soon after, I discovered an article about my great-grandfather, Reverend W. Montague Geer, who was the Vicar at St. Paul's Chapel for about 25 years.
Given the recent sexual misconduct allegations against men in high places, I was heartened to read how my great-grandfather provided a long-lasting Women's Club at the Chapel for young women who worked for local business men. Apparently these women, most of them stenographers, wandered the streets at lunch time with no particular place to go. Here is an excerpt from a newsletter in the Trinity Church Archives entitled "100 years Ago:Parish Ministries For women in 1910.
"In January 1907, the Rev. W. Montague Geer, longtime vicar of St. Paul’s Chapel, stuck his foot in his mouth. He was concerned that the downtown stenographers (almost all young women) who congregated in the churchyard were in danger of being seduced by their employers during the lunch hour.
In an interview with the New York Times meant to publicize his plans for a stenographer’s club that would offer “protection” at lunch time, Geer described the situation as he saw it:
“…Many of these young girls are like kittens—playful and naturally affectionate. A business man who occasionally employs a stenographer from another office recently said to me: ‘You don’t know what temptations we business men are subjected to.’
“The rush of business life is dangerous…”
Geer spent the next week trying to downplay his comments. “I wish to clear the air a little,” he told the Times, “I have been quoted as saying that the proposed club was to be a reformatory, and that such an institution was needed for the stenographers and typewriters downtown. I made no such statement.”
But Geer had, in the words of one young woman, “brought down upon his head the wrath of every stenographer in the city.” Young business women protested that they were competent to look after themselves. Employment agency managers weighed in against Geer’s claims of lecherous clerks.
Geer went ahead and called a meeting to discuss formation of a club. One hundred stenographers came. An “informal session” was held by the stenographers after Geer spoke, and they endorsed the club-- and the idea that it should be run entirely by their own contributions, rather than by any donations from their employers.
Sixty-five women signed up for the club, paying 25 cents for 31 lunch tickets. They met in St. Paul’s parish house, which was located in the west end of the churchyard. Membership soon swelled to 800, and a lunch room was created. Members purchased their lunches at cost.
“You can hardly realize what this Church means to me,” one member was quoted as saying in the Club’s annual report for 1910. “To get away from the rush outside, and step into the peaceful churchyard and up to this attractive room. The friendly greeting that always awaits me, the green plants in the window, the selected pictures on the walls…everything is so restful and it all makes life in the business world so much easier for me.”
The Club soon organized a library, a singing class, and ran a successful Ladies’ Employment Bureau. At the time, women stenographers were not well-paid— yet club members continuously paid for lunches for children in St. Paul’s kindergarten and supported other charitable programs."