The Redubury Hotel
29th East 29th Street
Part 2: Fun Anecdotes from the Martha Washington
In its early days, The Redbury (then known as the Martha Washington) was respected in many quarters. Yet, it seems there were male journalists who couldn’t quite swallow the idea of a women’s hotel and looked to poke fun at every opportunity.
An early rendering of the Dining Room in the Martha Washington Hotel.
In a feature entitled “Told in Her Boudoir,” which appeared about two months after the opening of the hotel, the writer for The New York Times commented on the tremendous success of the hotel’s opening but, then, felt compelled to inject this story: “A charming woman from Washington recently was a guest at the (Martha Washington) hotel for one evening. She said that it was impossible for her to eat her dinner in the dining room, as she had never seen so many women gathered together without the relief of a black coat. There was an orchestra and a gentle murmur of conversation. After dinner women thronged about the office and lobbies, and it seemed an Adamless Eden.”1
Indeed, it seems that most male minds at the beginning of the 20th Century believed a woman’s happiness rested solely in the companionship of one or more men. On August 2, 1906, New Yorkers were treated to this story about a 17-year old girl, who impetuously married a balding man, clearly much older than she.
“Edith Wilson, Captain of the day shift of ‘bell girls’ at the Martha Washington Hotel got married last night. She married George White, a machinist employed at the New York Edison plant, First Avenue and Thirty-eighth Street. She said last night she had seen so many old maids at the Martha Washington that she couldn’t bear to become on herself . . . Somehow, she said last night, there was something in the atmosphere of the menless corridors and the conversation of their occupants that hurried her into matrimony, and although she was only seventeen, she decided irrevocably to marry Mr. White . . . A dozen chums of hers among the bell girls at the Martha Washington were on hand to help her. She advised them all to marry as soon as they had a chance.”2
Is a Women’s Hotel a Funny Curiosity or Not?
In the early days of September 1904, there was a very interesting exchange between readers and editors of The Times. Today, it makes for an amusing read. In a letter to the editor of The Times dated August 29th, 1904, a reader identified as “E. L.” wrote, “The average reader of daily newspapers has been entertained for many months with so-called “doings” at the Hotel Martha Washington. At first these articles were amusing, but after a second repetition it is no longer funny . . . The observation automobiles (tour buses of the day) have now included it among the places of interest to point out to the out-of-town sightseers, and one would suppose that the inmates were a new kind of freak that has not yet been classified in a museum or menagerie . . . We must remember that the women who are guests of the Hotel Martha Washington occupy the highest positions of trust and are women of talent and education . . . all are doing their work nobly, and appreciating the comforts of this woman’s hotel.”3
A New York City observation automobile.
The Times responded to this first letter on September 2nd in its feature “Topics of the Times.” Noting the reader’s complaints, the writer went on “ . . . we still must smile gently at sufferings of this particular sort, caused in this particular way. For there is something fundamentally and essentially funny in the implications of a hotel conducted exclusively for woman (sic), and they are not made at all less funny by enumerating the achievements and describing the character of the woman (sic) . . . Nobody doubts the achievements or suspects the character, and yet there is an element of amusing in this sedulous segregation of persons . . .
“And the rules and regulations of the Martha Washington certainly do lend themselves with fatal docility to humorous comment, and perhaps to humorous exaggeration, for their strictness in excluding Man from all except its exterior precincts suggests a curious fear . . . of Man . . . If women will or must flock by themselves behind defended bulwarks, they should not be surprised if they become the objects of a peculiar attention. They must remember that in doing so they make tacit but severe charges against their brothers.”4
A few days later, another Times reader sent a letter critical of the article described directly above. The author of the “Topics of the Times” responded to this second letter on September 8th in an equally dismissive tone.
The editor began, “Some gently . . . frivolous remarks about the Martha Washington Hotel that recently appeared in this column have seemed to be read very much amiss by a stern Connecticut damsel, for she sent a letter in which she takes up and scorns almost every one of the points we tried to make.”5
The Times reader had quoted the original article in order to turn the author’s words against him, “The statement that the hotel is a ‘tacit but severe charge’ against our brothers is an utter misconception; the hotel became a necessity because of ‘tacit but severe charge’ against your sisters . . . The law (for the protection of men) which debars women from all reputable hotels after 6 P.M. unless accompanied by a trunk occasioned the necessity for such a harbor.”6
The reader went on to take up the “Topics of the Times” point of the hotel being “funny.” “To the masculine mind there may be ‘something fundamentally funny in the implications of an hotel conducted exclusively for women,’ but the feminine mind fails to see the humor. And to a party of foreigners on observation automobiles the ‘most curious and amusing sight in New York’ would be hotels where men ‘hide themselves behind bulwarks’ after dark and consign women to the street and the shelter of the sky.”7
Viewed in light of today’s editorial standards, The Times editor’s response seems condescending and petty. He criticizes the writer on several minor grammatical points and then notes “ . . . without the use of a net, our indignant correspondent runs on with charming agility.”8 Later in his column, the editor suggests that “in a cooler moment perhaps our indignant critic”9 will realize that the restrictions on women are not so bad after all.
Reading the debate in 2017, the “stern Connecticut damsel” seems justifiable outraged at the tone and content of the original Times article, and the editor’s response only proves her point and makes him appear narrow minded and misogynist. He would find a very different world inside and outside The Redbury today.
1907: One of the many parlors in the Martha Washington Hotel.
Don’t Die; Vibrate Away
One of the strangest stories about the Martha Washington appeared in The New York Times on the morning of Wednesday, December 12, 1905. It was a news report about a lecture given at the hotel the previous evening by a Miss Martha Craig to “fifty women and three bald-headed men.”10 One wonders from the description of the audience, if what seems like a minor event was covered solely to paint the lecturer and her audience at the Martha Washington as laughable and eccentric.
In the lecture, Craig put forth her theory that death was a mistake and could be done away with altogether. Her contention was that, because death was so difficult, people should become educated to the point that they could just evaporate into space. How? She said:
“We are full of vibrations. The entire world, the universe, is made up of these vibrations, and when we can by constant study attain the thought that will control these vibrations, then we will be able to dissolve ourselves at will and there will be no such thing as death. Everything is evoluting (sic).
“I am sure I was on this earth 2,000 years ago. In fact, I have met people who told me they met me 2,000 years ago, and I expect to be here 2,000 years from now.”11
She went on to explain, “we ought to draw in sufficient electric flame to dissolve our bodies . . . When I go I’ll go surrounded by a flame of fire. That’s your destiny. You can begin to get ready any time you make up your mind to.”12 In a fuzzy theorem, Craig went on explain that the dissolution of the body could be brought about by the soul’s control of the body’s electrons.
If all of this sounds a bit bizarre, Craig had two even more outlandish theories to expound before the evening was over. “Some persons were made up of quickly moving vibrations while others were composed of slowly moving ones. Each vibration had a shape of its own, just as each thought in the human mind had a shape. A thought of kindness was a different shape from a thought of hatred.”13
However, she saved the very best for last. Illustrating how a telegraph message could be sent from an outer room through her body, she explained this was proof that the body was not material, and therefore could be dissolved at will.
- The New York Times, “Told in Her Boudoir,” May 3, 1903.
- The New York Times, “Old Maids, Unwittingly, Help Wedding Along,” August 2, 1906.
- The New York Times, “Injustice to Women’s Hotel,” September 1, 1904.
- The New York Times, “Topics of the Times,” September 2, 1904.
- The New York Times, “Topics of the Times,” September 8, 1904.
- The New York Times, “Don’t Die; Vibrate Away, Says Miss Craig,” December 12, 1905.