Ypsilanti Citizen Opinions Ypsilanti Cycle

Thank you Ypsilanti
By Dan DuChene & Christine Laughren
Jun. 23, 2010   ·   5:07 p.m.

Christine Laughren and Dan DuChene, co-owners of the Ypsilanti Citizen, pose in front of their company's banner at Frenchie's during the Citizen's one-year anniversary party.

The Ypsilanti Citizen was launched in November 2008 to inform the Ypsilanti community about the news and events that were happening in their area.

Since our launch,...read more

Crossroads Summer Festival; rockin’ ladies night
By Dave Heikkinen and Frank Wright
Jun. 23, 2010   ·   4:37 p.m.

Barbara Payton and the Big Boss Trio rock Washington Street.

A special Ladies Night was held Friday at the 2010 Ypsilanti Crossroads Summer Festival in conjunction with the American Cancer Society’s Relay for Life.

Just...read more

Crossroads to hold Ladies Night for Relay for Life
By Dave Heikkinen and Frank Wright
Jun. 16, 2010   ·   9:13 a.m.

On June 11, the 2010 Ypsilanti Crossroads Summer Festival featured a rousing opening set from roots and blue grass band Dragon Wagon.

Dragon Wagon was joined on...read more

Electric rail pollution leads to dirty laundry
By Laura Bien
Jun. 15, 2010   ·   11:42 a.m.

From the approximate vantage point of the present-day Materials Unlimited, the interurban car barn and powerhouse on Michigan Avenue loomed large.

Maggie Smith was not looking forward to a forenoon of sewing pleats.

She put down her newest customer’s summer dress. Downstairs, she offered to get potatoes...read more

EMU students in wartime
By Laura Bien
Jun. 1, 2010   ·   10:32 a.m.

The 1942 Aurora yearbook, the 50th
anniversary edition, included images that contrasted modern and
old-time students.

Leroy Grindle was an Ypsilantian soldier who lost his life in WWII. He was a member of the Michigan Normal (EMU) class of ’41, and is memorialized with a black...read more

Ypsilanti ladies of 1910

A fragment of the 1910 Ypsilanti
census shows Barbara Disbrow's father's job of blacksmith and her own
as a worker at the Scharf tag factory. Photo by courtesy of Ypsilanti Archives

A fragment of the 1910 Ypsilanti census shows Barbara Disbrow's father's job of blacksmith and her own as a worker at the Scharf tag factory.
Dr. Kimberly A. Rice DDS

To the Archives

By Laura Bien
Apr. 6, 2010    ·    3:25 p.m.

Foremen, janitors, printers, telegraph company managers and machine operators are among the jobs held by about 75 Ypsilanti women in 1910, according to the city directory.

These jobs stand in contrast to other more traditional women’s jobs of milliner, dressmaker and seamstress in an era when the vast majority of Ypsilanti women, in a city of about 6,200 citizens, were homemakers who weren’t even allowed to vote.

Those homemakers’ jobs, however, were also demanding.

In 1910, electricity was still making slow inroads into Ypsilanti homes. One 1907 newspaper ad from the Washtenaw Electric Light and Power Company argues against the “mistaken ideas” about the expense of electric light.

Homemakers’ traditional washday was the so-called “Blue Monday,”—but electric washing machines, as opposed to hand-sloshed wooden tub varieties, didn’t start gradually appearing in Ypsi homes for about another 10 years—and it took electric clothes dryers another 40 years.

In 1910, 29-year-old Barbara Disbrow worked as a foreman in the Scharf Tag, Label, and Box Company. The company was housed in the castle-like stone building on Pearl Street, where Congdon’s Hardware is today.

Men and women at Scharf operated the factory’s machinery, which included printing presses that produced such city printing jobs as commencement books for local schools. Barbara’s work kept her moving among whirling flywheels, clacking presses and the chemical smell of ink.

Barbara lived with her parents at 216 Oakwood, in the present-day Normal Park area. Her 62-year-old Ohio-born father Charles owned his own blacksmith shop at 314 Pearson. Once a tiny east-west street between Hamilton and Adams, just north of Michigan Avenue, Pearson is now the space between the EMU College of Business and a parking garage.

Charles was one of Ypsilanti’s six blacksmiths in 1910. His shop stood near the Ypsilanti Marble and Granite Works at 213 Pearson.

Barbara’s 64-year-old New York-born mother, Annie, married Charles at age 23 and gave birth to Barbara at age 35. The 1910 census has a column in which to write the number of children born and another for the number of children surviving. As of 1910, three of Annie’s five children still lived.

Incorporated in 1891, the Scharf company closed early in the 20th century. In 1916, Barbara is listed in a city directory as working as a clerk at Davis and Kishlar’s dry goods store and boarding, at age 35, with her parents.

A member of the Order of the Eastern Star, a women’s auxiliary to the Masonic Order, Barbara in 1923 contributed her recipe for applesauce cake to an Eastern Star group cookbook.

Barbara eventually inherited her parents’ house. The 1930 census lists her as living there at age 49, presumably retired, with one 23-year-old lodger, Birdie Curran.

Another blacksmith’s daughter, Laura Mallion, was in charge of an underwear-knitting machine at the Ypsilanti Underwear Factory, at the southwest corner of Forest Avenue and the river. By 1910 she had worked there for at least 10 years.

Around the time that Laura began work there, 175 of the company’s 200 employees were women, earning $1 a day. There were 10 office men earning double their salary, and five foremen also earning $2 a day. The factory for many years employed more women than any other in town.

35 years old in 1910, Laura boarded at 305 Hamilton, not far from her 67-year-old father William and her 50-year-old mother Clarinda, who lived at 502 South Washington.

By 1910, Laura’s father was co-owner with Charles Horn of Mallion and Horn, their shop at 11 South Washington that sold and repaired bicycles, guns and sporting equipment. At age 41, Laura moved back into her parents’ home.

In contrast, Eliza P. Stewart owned her own home in 1910—“The Savoy,” a lodging house at 117 N. Huron of which she was the proprietor. The home sheltered herself, her 61-year-old sister Sarah P., her 68-year-old cousin Lenora Platt and 72-year-old lodger Mary Spencer.

A former postal clerk, Eliza apparently did well—she was one of the early owners of a telephone to appear in the 1910 Ypsilanti telephone directory. The guide listed roughly 1,600 telephone subscribers for the Ypsilanti exchange (which included parts of Superior Township and other areas outside the city).

To reach Miss Eliza, one dialed the Savoy’s number, 271-J.

Like Eliza, Mrs. Mary J. Griffin apparently never had children. She lived with her husband Charles Wesley at 621 Oak Street, at the northeast corner of Prospect Park. Charles raised chickens, ran a small dairy, and worked as a gardener. Mary supplemented their income with her work as a carpet weaver.

The handful of carpet weavers listed in the 1910 directory all work at home, and it’s likely the rugs they were weaving were colorful rag rugs on simple wooden rug frames. Carpet weaving for these weavers was a home industry.

“There is a rag carpet, or perhaps more strictly speaking a rag rug revival,” noted the Nov. 2, 1911 Montreal Tribune. “To be found years ago in many homes, rag carpets were familiar, then for a considerable period they passed into disuse. Now they are again in high favor, though they are most likely to be found in the midst of surroundings quite different from those of old, and are used not only for their ordinary purposes of floor coverings but largely for their ornamental, decorative, or harmonious effect in house furnishing.

“In old times the thrifty housewife saved all the rags that were suitable,” continued the paper, “and tore them into strips the ends of which she sewed together and then this long continuing strip she rolled into a big ball. She kept on rolling up such balls until she had rags enough for the carpet required and then she took these rags to a rag carpet weaver in her own town or in some place neighboring and had them made up into carpet, such weaving being done on hand looms only.”

Mary may have been one of the Ypsilanti carpet-weavers to whom Eastside homemakers took their big balls of rugs.

Mary and Charles Wesley Griffin had an almost rural life just within the city limits.

By 1930, Mary was widowed at age 74. She owned the home where she and Charles had grown plants, tended to peeping yellow chicks and woven rugs.

Though humble, her life, like the rugs she made, is one strand of the fabric woven into and making up Ypsilanti history.


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