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Clothes Made a Woman

March 26, 1992|ANNE KLARNER

Women have come a long way since the beginning of this century. Equal pay for equal work? A glass ceiling? Those ideas would have seemed ridiculous to our forebears. After all, women didn't support families, and no lady would want to be an executive, a job far too rough for her delicate sensibilities.

You can see just how far women have come in the "Women at Work" exhibit at the Doctors' House Museum in Glendale. Throughout the 1889 home, mannequins are dressed in the authentic work clothes of the jobs available to women from 1890 to 1910.

"It's what women did at the turn of the century, what was open to them, which wasn't much," said Mary Franzen, the docent coordinator of Doctors' House, run by the Glendale Historical Society.

At the turn of the century, women, for the most part, could own only a millinery or dress shop or a saloon, said museum display chairwoman Karen MacDonald, who chose the theme. MacDonald added that there was also the "oldest profession," and pointed out, "that's really how women got their foot in the door. You go way back to the 1600s and that was the only business women could own."

By the start of the 20th Century, a slow change had begun. Women were just entering the clerical field. A woman could also be, as seen at Doctors' House, a nurse, a saleslady (although usually for her husband's business), a teacher, a seamstress and, "of course, we were forever the cooks and cleaners," MacDonald said.

Franzen commented that she is often asked if women really did wear all those corsets and heavy petticoats and long dresses to scrub floors, to which she replies, yes.

"You didn't get up and put on jogging suits like we do today," she said.

Except for a nurse's uniform, which is a reproduction, all of the dresses on display were worn by real working women of the era. The dresses come from the museum's clothing collection. Franzen estimated that the collection has about 75 gowns, most of which are authentic.

The "Women at Work" exhibit will be on display through May 3. The docent guided tours through Doctors' House and admission are free, which should be a relief for those of us who work because we have to. The museum is open Sundays from 2 to 4 p.m., except on major holiday weekends. The last tour starts at 3:40 p.m. Doctors' House is located at 1601 W. Mountain St., Glendale.

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