Gertrude Codman Carter’s Diary, May 1917
Today we return to the 1917 diary of Gertrude Codman Carter. You may read the previous entries here:
The entries for May 1917 are more extensive than the first few months of the year, beginning with May 3 and ending on May 31 with only one extensive gap in the middle of the month. In these brief entries we catch glimpses of Gertrude ever on the move between family, society, and artistic obligations -- nursing her young son in bed with a cold, regular trips to Ilaro where building was still underway, the arrangement of a “very successful” dinner party followed by an evening at the theater to see a play about German spies in Southeast England during World War One (at this point still raging in Europe).
Gertrude makes several reference in May to “Self Help” meetings. The Women’s Self-Help Association (or Society) was a charitable organization that she and a group of other Barbadian women founded in 1907 -- and which, according to the Barbados Museum & Historical Society, only ceased operations in 2011. The organization arranged for what today we might consider a “fair trade” shop in Bridgetown, Barbados, where women could sell handicrafts and artwork to tourists as a means of adding to the family income. Edward Albes of the Pan-American Union wrote approvingly of the shop upon visiting Bridgetown in 1913:
In the salesroom of the association may be found picture postals, photographs, curios, Indian pottery, lace, embroidery and fancy needlework, homemade jellies, cakes, pies, light lunches, delicious ices, etc., and all at remarkably low prices. The association...is maintained by the ladies of Barbados, and is a splendid example of practical benevolence.
Not everyone saw “practical benevolence” of upper-class women as so splendid, of course. Writing shortly after the war, in 1920, women’s rights activist Maria Moravsky sniffed in The Suffragist:
The members of these organizations occupy their time mostly by reading sentimental 'colonial' novels, eating ice cream, selling their old jewelry and making crochet -- in order to help their families. Hand-craft -- sewing babies' caps, making embroidery and laces -- is considered less humiliating by the old-fashioned Barbadian gentlewomen than salesmanship or clerical work.
This passage hints at the tension that may have existed between Gertrude -- an upper-class woman seeking to put her own professional skills and resources to work in support of women’s industry -- and a new generation of activists critical of labor they deem “humiliating” and “old fashioned” compared to the twentieth-century pink collar opportunities opening up for (some, white) working class women in department stores and offices. As we have seen in already in the first quarter of the year, even Gertrudes spare records of her daily life can offer an opportunity to explore the complex -- and not always easy -- gender, class, and racial politics of her particular life, opportunities, and actions.
* * *
Somerset House Team Tournament.
Also Brazilian ambassador & his [illegible] sent by the Perkins.
Circus again. A great success particularly the [illegible] which [illegible].
Headache from curtain lights of last night.
Carrolls to tea (?) [or (!)]
4.30 Mrs. Lew.
Made cement baskets under dreary room windows.
Swimming party at the Lewistons.
Self Help meeting.
Jon had a cold & kept him in bed.
Swim with John who [illegible] all right again.
12.45 Improvement Society which just asked me on its committee.
Pachu & Lew in P.M.
Band Hall stone work.
Eve. I gave a dinner party for the Harold Leightons. I made special cards & had a short dinner - [illegible] theater. But excellent. The Whytes. Dr. Wm. Pilgrim, Mrs. South, Mrs. Fell, Mrs. Da Costa, Laddie [illegible], Miss [illegible] (who did not go to the theater), Mr. [illegible] Carpenter.
Went to “The Man Who Stayed at Home” (Clifton Whyte in the name part).
A very successful evening.
11. Mrs. Collyum about Self Help difficulties. She was so nice.
Cook very ill had to be sent home.
4.30 Batting party.
Walked to Illaro with Mrs. Fell.
Afternoon [illegible] with the Pils.
Eve wrote letters.
Early to Ilaro
Auction in town.
8 a.m. Public Buildings with Miss Packer.
10.30 Self Help.
1. [illegible] meeting.
P.M. Burtons tea party. Miss Burton sang “Buffalo Gals come out to play - come to play by the light of the moon.” John also sang charmingly.
Bathing party at Mrs. Harold Whytes. John had a find romp with Edna.
* * *
As always, if you are interested in viewing the diary or letters yourself, in our library, or have other questions about the collection please visit the library or contact a member of the library staff for further assistance.
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