Thursday, September 10, 2009

"Nor have the babies been forgotten"

For more than a year, April 1, 1921, to July 1, 1922, Abigail Fithian Halsey (aka Aunt Babbie, sister of Lizbeth May Halsey White & Rev. Jesse Halsey) served as secretary of the Women's Community Building in Ithaca, planning and directing the various activities of the center and, according to the organization's board of directors, successfully fostering "the growth of a real community spirit in Ithaca."

The Women's Community Building housed the City Federation of Women's Organizations, created in 1910 and comprising clubs such as the Women's Club, League of Women Voters, Child Study Club, and Cornell Women's Club. The WCB took as its purpose the provision of "opportunities that enrich the lives of women of all ages and their families through its diverse services." According to the WCB's official history:
The need for a building had been evident from the federation's inception. In 1920, the year the Nineteenth Amendment became law giving women the right to vote, the federation purchased the Winton-Brooks mansion on the corner of Seneca and Cayuga Streets in downtown Ithaca. The mansion served as the federation's center until 1959, when, because of the demand for additional space, the women of the federation raised the funds to build the present Women's Community Building on the same site.
Beginning her work at the WCB shortly after it opened, when the building had "only recently been taking over by the women, and the project had hardly formed," Abigail created a
...home where girls and women from all parts of the city and county have felt free to come for recreation, rest, or meetings, with sleeping accommodations for 14 permanent residents and three or four transients, with recreation rooms for the use of all the girls in the city, a public restroom which, during the first three months it was open, was used by 2,800 women and children, and rooms where 22 organizations have met... -Ithaca Times, June-July 1922
During Abigail's tenure, approximately 500 women and girls participated in classes at the WCB in subjects including sewing, hat making, home making, home nursing, swimming, dance, and drama. Abigail also organized a Young Women's Community Club, the members of which were described as mostly "working girls." She directed the Dramatic club, presenting plays for various audiences around the city; wrote and produced two historical pageants, one at the Tompkins County Fair, the other at the Ithaca City Hospital; conducted a popular Saturday afternoon story hour for the "little tots"; and created an exhibition and discussion series entitled Baby Week.

Prior to working at the WCB, Abigail taught in public and private schools around the country and worked for the Red Cross, Camp Fire Girls, and Girl Scouts.
Upon her resignation from the Community Building in July 1922 to pursue study "of the work in which she is particularly interested" at Columbia University, an article in the Ithaca Times reported this about Abigail's directorship at the WCB:
Girls away from home, working women and their friends have learned to find at the Community Building a home where they can become acquainted, a place where there is always welcome and where special suppers and entertainments are always held on holidays to which new comers in the city are particularly welcome. Then men, too, are learning that they are not to be excluded from the building and many have been attending the musicales and entertainments.

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