Women's History, Our History

One of the first questions I asked upon browsing the Music Center scrapbook was, "who was Edith McIntosh, and how did she come to run her own large and thriving business?" She opened her first music studio in 1920, the same year the 19th Amendment gave women the right to vote in the United States. She received her college degree in 1911, a time when limited numbers of women were pursuing higher education.

In order to answer the question of what Edith's peers were doing at the time, I examined approximately 450 business certificates (so far) at the Phillips House Museum's archives, dating from 1900 to 1936. Of about 650 names of Rockville Centre business owners listed on those 450 certificates, approximately 100 of them were women (sole or co-owners), or 15%. It is likely that the number is even higher, since some names were illegible, others used only initials, and for many, the gender could not be readily determine from just the name. This indicates to me that Edith was not particularly unusual in running her own business in the 1920s and 1930s, but comparing the types of occupations women were involved in, she was likely one of the few to have attended college.

I also took a closer look at the two main sources of Rockville Centre's history. The first was The History of Rockville Centre, published in 1969, by Preston R. Bassett and Arthur L. Hodges. Most recently, A Brief History of Rockville Centre: The Heritage and History of a Village, was published by Marilyn Nunes Devlin in 2011. I found that although they mention a similar number of women throughout each book, a larger portion of women mentioned in Bassett (1969) were only incidental to the story (married someone, gave birth to someone, happened to live in a particular house), while more of the women included in Devlin (2011) had significant roles, including business owners, volunteers in times of war and hardship, and even an airplane pilot. 

Edith's music school is mentioned by Bassett, although Edith herself is not (page 192), while Devlin mentions Edith and the significance of the role her studio played in the village's history (page 82-83).

The fact that the history of a single village can be told by different authors mentioning a list of almost entirely different list of people, highlights the need to collect a broader range of stories from all types of people in the community so that broad segments do not get left out. In this case it was the pioneering female business owners, the suffragetes, the women providing civilian and military service during wartime, and the women champions of education and quality of life. In other stories, we might be missing the poor, immigrants, or other under represented groups that still play a large part in our every day lives.