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New York Exchange for Women's Work

Call Number

MS 446


1878-2003, inclusive



7.25 Linear feet (18 boxes and 3 volumes)

Language of Materials

The documents in the collection are in English.


The collection consists of the records of the New York Exchange for Woman's Work, a charitable institution whose mission was to provide a retail outlet for the handiwork of needy consignors. The records include board minutes, corporate, financial, and real estate papers, advertising materials, clippings, photographs, and ephemera.

Biographical Note

Missing Title

1878 In March, the New York Exchange for Woman's Work is founded by Mrs. William G. Choate, Candace Wheeler, and approximately 20 other women, with Mrs. Choate as President. Thirty articles are offered for sale in Mrs. Choate's home at 108 East 31st Street. Within a month, the Exchange moves to larger quarters at 4 East 20th Street. In November, the Exchange is incorporated in New York State.
1894 The Exchange moves to 329 Fifth Avenue, and publishes its first catalogue.
1899 The Exchange moves to 334 Madison Avenue, and opens its first lunch counter.
1915 The Exchange opens the Vocational Bureau. This division places women in positions as domestic and office workers.
1917 Mrs. John Seely Ward becomes President of the Exchange.
1919-1920 The Exchange purchases twin five-story houses at 539-541 Madison Avenue. Restaurant service is expanded on the ground floor, and the shop occupies the second floor. Additional space is used for offices and for the Exchange's other activities, including the Vocational Bureau. The Exchange also provides training services, teaching women skills such as dressmaking.
1934 Mrs. Robert C. Ream becomes President of the Exchange. Amid letters of protest and extensive media coverage, the "Crinoline Bar" opens in the Exchange Restaurant. Also this year, the Federation of Woman's Exchanges is founded.
1936 The first Exchange Revue is published.
1966 Mrs. Fergus Reid, Jr. becomes President of the Exchange.
1969 Mrs. William J. Lippincott becomes President of the Exchange.
1970s The Internal Revenue Service begins to question the tax-exempt status of the Exchange's Restaurant. Proceeds from the Restaurant have traditionally been used to offset loses from the consignment shop. The IRS concludes that Restaurant itself does not serve the Exchange's charitable mission, and must become a for-profit establishment.
1979-1980 The property at 539-541 Madison Avenue is sold to real estate developers; the Exchange moves to 660 Madison Avenue. Although the salesroom is reopened, the Restaurant is permanently closed.
1984 Mrs. Richard E. Metz becomes President of the Exchange.
1986 Mrs. Bromwell Ault becomes President of the Exchange.
1988 Mrs. A. Reading Van Doren, Jr. becomes President of the Exchange.
1990-1991 The Exchange moves to 1095 Third Avenue.
1997 The Exchange moves to 149 East 60th Street.
2003 Unable to raise enough money to meet growing expenses, the Exchange closes in February.


The collection is organized into the following thirteen series:

Missing Title

  1. Series I. Minutes, 1878-1997
  2. Series II. Corporate Documents, 1878-1987, n.d.
  3. Series III. Financial Documents, 1911-1997, n.d.
  4. Series IV. Real Estate Documents, 1914-2000
  5. Series V. Correspondence, 1878-2003, n.d.
  6. Series VI. Menus and Recipes, 1937-1980, n.d.
  7. Series VII. Publications, 1894-1994, n.d.
  8. Series VIII. Advertising and Public Relations Materials, 1918-2002
  9. Series IX. Fundraising, 1879-2000, n.d.
  10. Series X. Photogrpahs and Video, 1981-1990, n.d.
  11. Series XI. Historical Information, 1891-1998, n.d.
  12. Series XII. Other Exchanges and the Federation of Woman's Exchanges, 1879-2000, n.d.
  13. Series XIII. In-Store Displays and Exhibits, n.d.

The materials are arranged chronologically within each series.

Scope and Content Note

The records of the New York Exchange for Woman's Work include board minutes, corporate, financial, and real estate papers, advertising materials, clippings, photographs, video and ephemera. The New York Exchange was one of many such organizations founded in the late nineteenth century. Its original aim was to help "gentlewomen in reduced circumstances" principally Civil War widows) achieve economic independence. The Exchange sold the handiwork of these women, including crafts, giftware, decorative items, clothing, pickles, preserves, and baked goods. Over the course of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the organization grew to include an employment agency, a vacation home where needy women were hosted free of charge, training and education facilities, and a Restaurant and Bar. Over time the Exchange also began to accept work from needy women (and, by the 1970s, men) of all social classes.

The collection supports research on the history of philanthropy, women's employment, and women's exchanges (which at one time numbered over 70 in the United States and Canada). The collection contains materials related to the corporate history of the Exchange, including nearly complete minutes of monthly and annual meetings of the Board of Directors (variously referred to as Board of Managers) and various subcommittees. The minutes detail the challenges of running a not-for-profit business, and provide insight into the social changes which occurred over the course of the twentieth century, particularly in regard to employment opportunities for women. Because it moved nine times in the course of its 125-year history, the collection also contains a great deal of material related to the real estate owned and rented by the Exchange.

For many years the Exchange was just as well-known for its Restaurant as for its shop. The collection includes menus, recipes, and cookbooks from the Restaurant, as well as numerous newspaper and magazine articles which comment on the experience of dining at the Exchange. Also of interest are the publications produced by the Exchange. In particular, the Exchange Revue, a magazine/catalog first published in 1936 contains articles on the subjects of fashion and beauty, housekeeping, entertaining, home decorating, literature, film, and theater, in addition to advertisements for local businesses and news about the Exchange.

The collection also contains materials related to public relations efforts of the Exchange. Press releases and PR strategies mainly date from the 1990s, but newspaper clippings and advertisements have been preserved from as early as 1919.

Access Restrictions

Materials in this collection may be stored offsite. For more information on making arrangements to consult them, please visit

Use Restrictions

Taking images of documents from the library collections for reference purposes by using hand-held cameras and in accordance with the library's photography guidelines is encouraged. As an alternative, patrons may request up to 20 images per day from staff.

Application to use images from this collection for publication should be made in writing to: Department of Rights and Reproductions, The New-York Historical Society, 170 Central Park West, New York, NY 10024-5194, Phone: (212) 873-3400 ext. 282.

Copyrights and other proprietary rights may subsist in individuals and entities other than the New-York Historical Society, in which case the patron is responsible for securing permission from those parties. For fuller information about rights and reproductions from N-YHS visit:

Preferred Citation

This collection should be cited as The New York Exchange for Woman's Work Records, MS 446, the New-York Historical Society.

Location of Materials

Materials in this collection may be stored offsite. For more information on making arrangements to consult them, please visit

Collection processed by

Gabrielle Sanchez

About this Guide

This finding aid was produced using ArchivesSpace on 2023-08-21 15:49:22 -0400.
Language: Description is in English.

Edition of this Guide

This version was derived from nyeww.xml


New-York Historical Society
New-York Historical Society
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New York, NY 10024