Ethel Puffer Howes papers
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Biographical / Historical
Howes spent the next several years working at Radcliffe, Wellesley, and Simmons Colleges, publishing numerous articles and one book, The Psychology of Beauty. Her work came to a halt when she married Benjamin Howes; although he supported her professional career, many moves and the birth of two children kept her out of the workforce.
Frustrated by this professional dead end, Howes turned to feminist activism. She became the Executive Secretary of the National College Equal Suffrage League in 1914, and assisted in organizing the Women's Land Army during World War I. Still frustrated with having to end her academic career to have children, Howes published two artciles in Atlantic Monthly discussing the inability of women to combine marriage and a career. She believed women were being misled about what they could expect from marriage, and rejected the "home-use" theory that women could sufficiently exercise their talents in running a household. She proposed women achieve continuity in their lives by choosing flexible careers that allowed them to work while balancing home life.
As a result of her articles, Howes was appointed director of the Institute for the Coordination of Women's Interests at Smith College in 1925. She continued to experience the difficulties of combining a career and home life, as she was forced to commute weekly from her home near New York City. Despite difficulties, the Institute flourished as a think tank for experts in a variety of fields seeking to influence the social structures that kept women away from careers by surveying Smith alumnae who had successfully integrated home and professional concerns, and working within the cooperative movement to develop a cooperative nursery school and a food service which delivered ready-made hot meals. However, the grant that funded the Institute was not renewed after three years; those providing the grant had expected more theory, and Smith faculty saw the Institute's work as controversial and a divergence from Smith's liberal arts emphasis. On a larger scale, cooperative movements similar to the one Howes built at the Institute were dismantled by the energized manufacturing sector (which promoted buying appliances as the best solution to home labor) and the post-war Red Scare, which targeted cooperatives, labor unions, and feminist organizations. In a sad irony, Howes was forced to return to non-academic pursuits, her life becoming the perfect example of the choices she disagreed with women being forced to make.
Howes and her husband moved to Washington, D.C., following the dissolution of the Institute, and back to Connecticut in the 1940s to live with their son, Benjamin. Howes died in 1950 at the age of 78, survived by her son, daughter Ellen, and husband.
1.5 linear feet (2 letter document boxes, 1 legal document box)
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- Finding aid to the Ethel Puffer Howes papers
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