Croly, Jane Cunningham
CROLY, Jane Cunningham
Wrote under: Jennie June, Mrs. J. C. Croly
Daughter of Joseph and Jane Cunningham; married David G.Croly, 1856
The Unitarianism of Jane Cunningham Croly's father was illreceived by his English neighbors and in 1841 the family moved to Poughkeepsie and then to Wappinger's Falls, New York. Croly studied at home, taught district school, kept house for her older brother, a Congregationalist minister, and wrote a popular semi-monthly newspaper for his congregation. In 1855 she moved to New York City and began her career as a professional journalist.
Unable to win employment as a regular staff member on a city newspaper because she was a woman, Croly was assigned to write a regular column on fashion for ladies. In 1857, she became one of the earliest syndicated female columnists, and was carried in newspapers in New York, New Orleans, Richmond, Baltimore, and Louisville.
In 1856 Croly married an Irish immigrant on the staff of the New York Herald. In 1859 he bought, edited, and published the Rockford Daily News in Illinois, where Croly's official duty was to write a column entitled "Gossip with and for Ladies." Croly's first child, Minnie, was born before the Crolys moved back to New York in 1860 to work on the World, where Croly wrote the women's column from 1862 to 1872. In addition to newspaper work, Croly contributed to Graham's Magazine, Frank Leslie's Weekly, and Demorest's Monthly Magazine, coediting the latter for many years. She produced a popular cookbook, several sewing manuals, and three collections of her newspaper columns. She supported the family with her writing and by teaching journalism when her husband, due to illness, left newspaper work in 1875.
Croly developed an interest in the woman's club movement of her day. She became an influential member of many clubs, including the Woman's Endowment Cattle Company, the Association for the Advancement of Women, the Women's Press Club of New York, the Association for the Advancement of Medical Education for Women, and, most important, a founder of the literary club, Sorosis. Later in life, Croly edited clubwomen's magazines and wrote organizational histories.
Croly's collected articles, like Jennie Juneiana (1864), provide vignettes of the domestic world, some as harmless as descriptions of Christmas day and patchwork quilts, but others filled with anger at male arrogance and thoughtlessness. Husbands who opened their wives' mail, fussed about meals, and demanded pristine households when they themselves were shamefully careless, won her scorn. Croly also found fault with women, describing them as "hidden under clouds of dyspepsia, nervousness, overeating, personal neglect, personal abuse, vanity, deceit, treachery, fibbing, equivocation, and a hundred other signs of equal magnitude." For all her criticism, however, Croly felt women had a special potential to become loving, loyal, morally superior, sensitive, perfect beings.
Croly's observations enabled her to define the sources of women's shortcomings. She considered education for girls in the ornamental arts to be useless, a restriction keeping them from the path of perfection. Croly also faulted women's behavior, clothing, and ambitions; instead, she advocated devotion to home duties, declaring that they prepared women to extend their superior influence beyond family life to identify and rectify injustice. Use of domestic handbooks like her own would minimize household duties and allow women to enter the clubs where they would broaden their education, confidence, friendships, and abilities to analyze and solve social problems.
Croly's brand of women's rights, less shocking than the radical and militant woman suffrage movement, won greater numbers of supporters. The club magazines Croly edited won adherents for her movement, and in speech, as Sorosis' presiding officer, she alluded to the success of her writing and club activity: "We shall live…to see the Woman's Club the conservator of public morals, the uprooter of social evils, the defender of women against women as well as against men, the preserver of the sanctities of domestic life, the synonym of the brave, true, and noble in women."
Croly's History of the Woman's Club Movement in America (1898) is further testimony to the appeal of her analysis and solution to women's oppression in the nineteenth century. The work is a staggering 1190-page reference work, with entries describing 1000 clubs—a careful compendium of their programs, leaders, and histories. Croly's introduction is an ambitious and early work in women's history, looking back as far as 5th-century monasticism for precedents to women's organizations. Croly's modesty, however, caused her to minimize her own contribution to the movement of women's club development.
Jennie June's American Cookery Book… (1866). For Better or Worse (1875). Knitting and Crochet: A Guide to the Use of the Needle and the Hook (1885). Needle Work: A Manual of Stitches and Studies in Embroidery and Drawn Work (1885). Ladies Fancy Work: A Manual of Designs and Instructions in All Kinds of Needlework (1886). Letters and Monograms for Marking on Silk, Linen, and Other Fabrics, for Individual and Household Use (1886). Sorosis, Its Origin and History (1886). Thrown on Her Own Resources (1891). Memories of Jane Cunningham Croly (1904).
The papers of Jane Cunningham Croly are at the Arthur and Elizabeth B. Schlesinger Library at Radcliffe College; in the Sorosis Papers, Sophia Smith Collection at the Smith College Library; and in the Caroline M. Severance Papers at the Huntington Library in San Marino, California.
Blair, Karen J., "The Clubwoman as Feminist: The Woman's Culture Club Movement in the U.S., 1868-1914," (dissertation, 1976). Bolquerin, M. J., "An Investigation of the Contributions of David, June and Herbert Croly to American Life—with Emphasis on the Influence of the Father on the Son" (thesis, 1948). Forcey, C., The Crossroads of Liberalism (1961). Hanaford, P. A., Daughters of America (1883). Hays, F., Women of the Day (1885). June, J., Memories of Jane Cunningham Croly (1904). Mott, F. L., History of American Magazines (1957). Wells, M., Unity in Diversity: The History of the General Federation of Women's Clubs (1953). Winant, M. D., A Century of Sorosis, 1868-1968 (1968). Wingate, C. F., Views and Interviews on Journalism (1875). Wood, M. I., The History of the General Federation of Women's Clubs (1912).
American Women (1897). DAB, NCAB (1892 et seq.). NAW, 1607-1950 (1971).
Demorest's Monthly Magazine (Jan. 1871). Journalism Quarterly (Spring 1963). New York History (Oct. 1961).NYT (24 Dec. 1901). Woman's Journal (4 Jan. 1902, 11 Jan. 1902).
—KAREN J. BLAIR