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East Hampton Library’s “Women’s Work” exhibition on display through the end of May. (Photo courtesy of East Hampton Library)

A woman’s work is never done—but back in the turn of the last century, part of that work was finding ways to live as completely realized human beings at a time when women weren’t even considered full citizens. It’s a topic on full display at East Hampton Library’s new exhibit, “Women’s Work: A Century of Women Elevating East Hampton.” 

The idea began churning in the minds of Andrea Meyer and Moriah Moore, librarians and archivists at the East Hampton Library, when they realized they had a treasure trove of examples of this move toward equality in their own town.

Wainscott Sewing Society Members Hannah Hopping (center, 1819-1896) and her daughter Charity Hopping (right, 1845-1903), with an unidentified woman at the Hopping House in Wainscott (Photo courtesy of the East Hampton Star Photo Archive)

“For me, it was really fun to sort of personalize history,” says Moore. “To be able to humanize the turn of century and the first few decades of 1900s by thinking about these women and their everyday lives, and how they used the things they had access to in every way they were allowed in order to make their lives better and their communities better.”

The exhibit, on display in the library’s front lobby, brings to life the work of organizations like the Ladies Village Improvement Society, the East Hampton Garden Club and the Ramblers, all of which are still in existence today. You can view things like the first plan for the library’s gardens, designed by Martha Prentice Strong, a founding member of the East Hampton Garden Club; a treasure trove of photographs and letters; and the original draft of the Rambler’s constitution, now 100 years old.

Parade float, including members of the Ramblers, Fourth of July Parade, 1915. (L-R): Sophornia Sherrill, Annie Talmage, Hattie Van Scoy Dayton, Julia Hand and Mary Dayton. (Photo courtesy of the C. Frank Dayton Photo Collection, East Hampton Library, Long Island Collection)

The latter was a women’s intellectual organization that met and discussed literature, music, politics and art, and could perhaps be called the broader progenitor to Oprah’s Book Club, but which meant so much more at a time when men retired to the parlor to freely discuss such topics, and women were not invited.

More than just busy work, these women were smart and resourceful, working within the socially acceptable norms of the time to stretch their minds, their influence and their ability to be a positive force in their East End communities. 

It’s a fitting tribute during Women’s History Month. “We started with the desire to emphasize and bring to light the more marginalized groups in East Hampton history,” says Moore. “It’s often easier to find sources for men and for white people than for women and people of color. We have a lot of resources for women’s groups here in the collection.”

Visit the exhibit daily during the library’s regular hours: Monday through Thursday, 9 a.m. to 7 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Sunday 1 to 5 p.m.. The display will run through the end of May.