When Connecticut native Katharine Seymour Day returned to Hartford from New York in 1927, she bought and moved into the home of her great-aunt Harriet Beecher Stowe at Nook Farm, and subsequently founded the Harriet Beecher Stowe Center. After learning that the neighboring Mark Twain House was about to be torn down and an automobile showroom built in its place, Day organized the Friends of Hartford and raised $100,000 for its purchase and renovation. Her successful efforts to rescue both the Stowe and Twain homes preserved the historic and irreplaceable houses as important centers of culture, research and education enjoyed today by thousands of visitors every year.
Katherine Seymour Day was born in 1870, the great-granddaughter of the Reverend Lyman Beecher and the granddaughter of suffragist and reformer Isabella Beecher Hooker. Day spent much of her early life in Europe, where she became interested in painting. She moved to New York in 1896 and continued to study painting. In 1918, she returned to school to study the psychology of color and, at the age of 47, earned a Master’s degree in psychology from Radcliffe College.
Day’s return to Hartford and subsequent successful campaign to rescue the Mark Twain House led to other ventures in historical preservation. In 1931, the Mark Twain Library and Memorial Commission was chartered by the Connecticut Legislature, and Day served as its president for many years. She bought other properties on Forest Street and set up a trust fund to ensure their future care. She became a member of the Hartford City Planning Commission, helped establish the Children’s Museum of Hartford and earned a second Master’s degree (this time in history) from Trinity College. In addition, she was an active member of the National Society of Colonial Dames of America in the State of Connecticut.
Day continued to serve on the board of the Twain Memorial Commission as honorary president until her death at age 94. She is buried in Hartford’s historic Cedar Hill Cemetery.
During This Time
1921 - 1945: Prosperity, Depression, & War
Industrial growth, economic expansion, and plenty of consumer goods gave women more purchasing power and pleasure in the 1920s. Women gained political office, but after achieving the right to vote the Women’s Movement fractured over the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA). The percentage of married women in the workforce doubled, though in menial jobs, while women of color had few opportunities. The media’s message about the home was ambivalent. For daughters, the young flapper was glamorized in movies starring Clara Bow who had It (sex appeal). But the modern mother, equipped with widely-advertised appliances, was expected to keep house and raise children with new efficiency.
The prosperity of the twenties contrasted with the hardships of the 1930s following the 1929 stock market crash. Farm families in the Dust Bowl, suffering from drought and crop failures, fled to California where they worked as migratory laborers. As impoverished families across America struggled, desertion rose (but not divorce, which was expensive), and family size grew smaller. Women’s jobs were largely confined to low-paying domestic labor, garment factories, and food-processing plants, all further segregated by race and ethnicity.
In the midst of the Great Depression, President Roosevelt, helped by wife Eleanor, brought strong leadership toward recovery with the New Deal. Professional women were included in federal projects, and work relief programs gave help to poor women. The Social Security Act of 1935 owed much to Secretary of Labor Frances Perkins, the first woman to serve in the Cabinet. African-American Mary McLeod Bethune, using her executive position in the National Youth Administration, pressured the administration to provide equal pay for blacks in all programs.
World War II deeply influenced women’s lives. Sex-segregated labor diminished, as symbolized in the poster of “Rosie the Riveter.” Women were accepted into the military, though the public was concerned about the loss of femininity. Defense industries were reluctant to admit women, but as men were drafted, the resistance eroded. Older, married women provided the largest number of new workers. Black, Mexican, and Chinese women had new opportunities, but Japanese women suffered internment in camps. With demobilization, women were laid off, but many were soon back on the job. Their role still was defined in the home, but the war had increased women’s activities in the workplace.
Special thanks to Barbara E. Lacey, Ph.D., Professor Emeritus of History, St. Joseph's College (Hartford, CT) for preparing these historical summaries.