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[Block of Lottery Tickets]: The Purchaser or holder of this Card is a member of The Women's Economical Garden Homestead League
[Boston]: Aurora H.C. Phelps. 1871. Block of four printed lottery tickets. Overall measurement approximately 5.25" x 2.5". Tiny nicks at the corners, else very near fine. A fascinating artifact of a suffragette's attempt to further the lot of women. Aurora Phelps was a womens' rights activist who attended Oberlin College and served in the Civil War "as a hospital nurse of much value and efficiency" (Parker Pillsbury, "How the Working Women Live," The Revolution, 13 May 1869). In 1864 she founded the Women's Garden Homestead League, which advocated public grants of land for women near Boston, where they could farm and build homes. While women were eligible to claim land under the Homestead Act, in practice few women had the resources necessary to move to the West and had to look for land in the East.When the war ended Phelps moved to Boston, where she joined a group of reformers who viewed labor rights as the next major moral issue facing the nation after the abolition of slavery. Struggling to support herself through a series of "laborious" jobs, Phelps found fertile soil for her campaign for Garden Homesteads. She allied with Jennie Collins, a vest maker turned labor activist, and Elizabeth La Pierre Daniels, a sewing machine operator and advocate of the eight-hour day, to establish the Boston Working Women's League, which became an important voice for the city's impoverished working women, many of whom had lost fathers, husbands, or prospects for marriage due to the Civil War.In the spring of 1869, the Boston Working Women's League circulated Phelps's petition for Garden Homesteads, which asked the Commonwealth of Massachusetts to purchase "a tract of good cultivated land," near Boston to be divided into lots ranging from one to five acres, "with good (but the cheapest possible) houses" to be constructed on each lot. In addition, Phelps asked the state to "furnish rations, tools, seeds and instruction in gardening, until such time as the women would be able to raise their own food, or otherwise become self-supporting" ("The Wail of the Women," Workingman's Advocate, 24 April 1869, p.1).Boston working women rallied around Phelps's petition for Garden Homesteads because it envisioned a future in which women could subsist as individuals and as family supporters, free from the crippling assumptions of female dependence within the family that shaped women's secondary role in the labor market and their compromised position within the polity. Phelps gained support from the broader labor movement by appearing at labor conventions and by writing a series of articles for the American Workman, arguing that women had "a righteous claim" on the government for relief as workers, mothers, and citizens ("The Work-woman," American Workman, 26 June 1869).Phelps and the Working Women's League created enough pressure in favor of Garden Homesteads that the Massachusetts Legislative Committee on the Hours of Labor granted them a hearing on 22 April 1869. Phelps testified to women's limited options for earning a living: those who entered domestic service were cut off from their own families, underfed, and "treated as strangers and aliens," adding that she knew, having "tried it herself." Women found it almost impossible to become skilled workers, and in any event "skilled labor fares no better than acquaintance with a single part, so long as compensation is concerned." She urged the legislature to grant the women land near Boston were they could farm and establish homes ("The Working Women in Council," American Workman, May 1869).The legislature did not grant the women's request for land. However, in 1871, the state incorporated the "Women's Economical Garden Homestead League," enabling it to hold property with a value of up to $5,000. As manager of the League, Phelps raised money from about one thousand male and female supporters to purchase a 60-acre (24-hectare) tract of wooded land in Woburn, a few miles north of Boston. Thus began the construction of a utopian community known as "Aurora." Property ownership and governance in Aurora were limited to women, an inversion of gender norms shocking to many male journalists, who reported disparagingly on the community. The New York Times compared Phelps to an Amazon and warned men to stay out of Aurora lest they be pressed into service "as household drudges" deprived of political rights ("Aurora," The New York Times, 28 Oct. 1873).Recognizing the need to diversify the economy of Aurora, Phelps planned to establish a cooperative commercial laundry. She invited Boston labor reformers as well as nearby residents to the dedication of the "Bethesda Laundry" in the fall of 1873. The ceremony included songs, poems, speeches, and "much rejoicing" ("Aurora", The New York Times, 28 Oct. 1873). In the spring, Phelps presided over a large gathering at Tremont Temple in Boston celebrating the 10th anniversary of the Women's Garden Homestead League.Despite this optimistic beginning, construction on the laundry stalled and the community never became economically viable. Ultimately, neither Phelps nor the women who joined her in Aurora could overcome working women's lack of access to capital or credit. Phelps's health declined as she began suffering from Bright's disease. She died at the Bethesda Laundry.Phelps's significance lies in her attempt to redress the economic, social, and political forces that relegated most women without male support to poverty in the 19th Century. Speaking from her own experience as a laboring woman, she urged social recognition for women's roles as family supporters, seeing economic self-sufficiency as essential to women's quest for equality.It is likely that these lottery tickets were an important part of Phelps initiative to found her Utopian community, Aurora. While the tickets convey membership, they are also individually numbered and advertise that the holder is eligible to win one of "1386 Prizes!" Lotteries were a traditional method of raising funds for both public and private purposes, including the United States Lottery, which helped to finance the Revolutionary War. .
      [Bookseller: Between the Covers- Rare Books, Inc. ABA]
Last Found On: 2015-07-07           Check availability:      IOBABooks    

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