Jane Cunningham Croly
Jane Cunningham Croly, journalist, author, editor, and woman's club leader, was born in Market Harborough, Leicestershire, England, the fourth child of Jane Scott and Joseph Howes Cunningham, a Unitarian preacher. Her father's unpopular beliefs reportedly led to the stoning of their house and the impetus for the family's move to the United States in 1841.
Jane finished her childhood in Poughkeepsie, New York, and Wappinger's Falls, New York. She received her early education by reading widely in her father's library. She lived and kept house for a time for her brother, a Congregationalist minister in Worcester, Massachusetts. She taught school there and wrote a semi-monthly newspaper for her brother's congregation.
In 1854, at age 25, Jane came to New York City in search of work. Her father had died, leaving her without a means of support. The New York Tribune accepted her first article, and she began working as a journalist for the New York Sunday Times and Noah's Weekly Messenger, where she started using the pen name, Jennie June (a la Fanny Fern) and wrote a women's column called "Parlor and Side-walk Gossip." One account describes her as "small of stature . . . charming in manner with attractive blue eyes and brown hair, but beneath her engaging personality dwelt an independent spirit."
In 1856, she married a staff writer for the Herald, David Goodman Croly, a self-educated Irish immigrant who, as an editor, would be credited with pioneering the format of the modern Sunday newspaper. Jane's column was popular, and by 1857, she became one of the first women to syndicate her column, sending it off to newspapers in New Orleans, Richmond, Baltimore and Louisville.
The couple moved to Rockford, Illinois in 1859, home of Jane's sister Mary and her family, and Jane gave birth to her first daughter, Minnie. With the financial backing of Mary's husband, the Crolys started up the Rockford Daily News, but the newspaper failed a year later, and they moved back to New York. Jane ran the women's department at New York World (1862 - 1872), where her husband was managing editor, and became chief staff writer of Mme. Demorest's Mirror of Fashions, later Demorest's Monthly Magazine (1860 - 1887). During this period, she had four more children - a son who died in infancy, two more daughters, Viola and Alice, and a son Herbert David (1869 - 1930), the first editor of the New Republic. Jane managed her domestic duties and her professional career by spending mornings at home, then going to the office at noon and working steadily past mid-night. On Sunday nights the Crolys entertained the intellectual society of New York.
In 1864, Croly published her first book, Talks on Woman's Topics, a collection of newspaper pieces. In 1866 she published Jennie June's American Cookery Book, a domestic manual dedicated to the young housekeepers of America. Her message was clear - women needed to take charge of the home. Under "General Principles" she states, "Bad cooking is a crime; it is the cause of dyspepsia, and a host of other evils. A woman convicted of it ought to be arraigned for manslaughter." As expected from an ambitious, busy mother, she gives much advice on efficiency, preparedness, economy, and discipline. A diverse and entertaining collection of recipes, the chapters include "Secondary Meats" (where one recipe begins, "Take the lower half of a pig's face . . .") as well as "Favorite Dishes of Distinguished Persons," (where Susan B. Anthony's Apple Tapioca Pudding recipe appears, and Mr. Demorest's Favorite Lunch is revealed to be a large red banana sliced into a quart of new milk with a French roll and a pint of large red Antwerp raspberries mixed in.)
Aimed at the middle class woman, Jennie June's American Cookery Book tried to reinforce the notion that a women's place is in the home, despite all evidence to the contrary in Jane's own life. As her life unfolded, however, Jane would come to support career women more fully, provided they showed proficiency and commitment equal to that of their male counterparts. She also published three collections of her columns: Jennie Juneiana: Talks on Women's Topics (1869); For Better or Worse (1875); and Thrown on Her Own Resources (1891), a book of advice to the working girl.
Aware of her dual roles as mother and journalist, and the changing status of women - middle-class women, especially - Jane spent much of her life organizing venues for women to meet, learn, and discuss issues surrounding their roles in society. She started her first organization, the Women's Parliament, in 1856. Then, in 1869, she and other female journalists were denied tickets to hear Charles Dickens speak in New York City. This spurred her to form the famous women's club, Sorosis - a "centre of unity" that had neither a charitable nor socio-economic purpose, but sought "collective elevation and advancement." As women's clubs began forming across the country, they became a center of educational advocacy and a sort of college for older women who wanted to learn. "The woman has been the one isolated fact in the universe," she wrote in her best-known book, The History of the Woman's Club Movement in America (1898). "The outlook upon the world, the means of education, the opportunities for advancement, had all been denied her." Jane's own New York Women's Club attracted the most accomplished women of the day, who met at Delmonico's fashionable restaurant (whose recipes are included in her cookbook) and supported women's education and improved working conditions for women.
Croly formed the General Federation of Women's Clubs in 1890, to support clubs throughout the nation and further their efforts at providing education, improved working conditions, health care, scholarships and other reforms. Croly also founded the New York Women's Press Club in 1889.
Croly first came to New York because she needed to support herself. Throughout her life, Croly would be the major provider for her family. Her husband quit his editing position in 1877 to spread the doctrine of Auguste Comte's Positivsm. Croly became the sole source of the family's income. Her husband's health began to decline soon after, leaving him an invalid until his death in 1889. Meanwhile, with the end of Demorest's magazine ventures in 1887, and an unsuccessful attempt to revive Godey's Lady's Book (in which she bought a half interest) Croly turned her attention toward the founding of a magazine for her Federation, initially entitled the Woman's Cycle. It merged and eventually became the New Cycle, folding in 1896. Croly spent her last years writing her History of the Woman's Club Movement. She broke her hip in 1898, and suffered financially from the misdealings of a trustee. She died in New York City in 1901, and was buried in Lakewood, N.J., beside her husband.
Like many prominent women of her day, Croly's position on women's issues was contradictory. She recognized that the middle-class woman was losing her place of authority in the home as industrialization and servants freed her from housework, and new avenues of responsibility outside the home opened slowly if at all; she was becoming, as she wrote in 1869, "a child to be caressed, waited upon and provided for." Croly wrote earlier in her career that the answer to this problem lay not in political empowerment or outside employment, but in paying more attention to housekeeping and mothering. However, Croly became very involved in supporting better working conditions for women, supporting professional female journalists, and personally advised and assisted educated girls looking for employment. Through her dedication to women's clubs, she revealed a commitment to women helping each other obtain the education and other reforms the society of men had failed to support. This commitment may not have been as apparent when she wrote Jennie June's American Cookery Book as when she wrote The History of the Woman's Club Movement, which contains a hand-written "Dedication" at the front that reads "This book has been a labor of love; and it is lovingly dedicated to the Twentieth Century Woman by one who has seen, and shared in the struggles, hopes, and aspirations of the women of the Nineteenth Century." Jennie June was looking ahead, not behind.
- Blair, Karen J., American National Biography. Vol. 5. Eds. John A. Garraty and Mark C. Carnes. New York: Oxford University Press, 1999.
- Croly, Jane Cunningham, Jennie June's American Cookery Book. New York: The American News Co., 1870.
- ----------, The History of the Woman's Club Movement in America. New York: Henry G. Allen & Co., 1898.
- Schlesinger, Elizabeth Bancroft, "The Nineteenth-Century Woman's Dilemma and Jennie June," New York History. Cooperstown, N.Y.: New York State Historical Association, October 1961.
- ----------Notable American Women 1607 - 1950: A Biographical Dictionary. Vol. 1. Ed. Edward T. James. Cambridge, MA: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1971.