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Relief for tired women shoppers

When George Putnam, future owner and editor of the Mail Tribune, came to town in 1907 and began editing a local newspaper, he quickly solidified his reputation as an unafraid crusader for good and honest government — a government that made a resident’s life better.

His first editorial took on Medford’s apparent move toward prohibition of alcohol. His second attacked the Medford City Council as “The Great Postponers.” Early in 1907, voters had approved funds to build a water system. Six months later, nothing had been done.

“The people have done their share,” Putnam said. “The council should do its part without their frittering away of golden hours.”

He was quick to criticize, yet he also believed in finding ways, sometimes small ways, to help improve the life of everyday people and local merchants. “Boosting the town,” he called it.

“Some merchants,” he said, “wonder why so many of the women of the nearby farms keep mail order catalogs constantly on hand and buy articles from the big city houses, which they might purchase from the home stores to equal advantage.”

To Putnam, the answer was simple. “Merchants who make any special provision for the comfort of farmers’ wives and daughters who patronize the store are scarcer than hen’s teeth.”

He asked readers to consider how a farmer’s wife might drive into town with her husband and two or three small children, and perhaps a baby. Maybe it was to attend a street fair, or just to do some shopping. Once the wagon was unhitched in a shady vacant lot and a basket lunch eaten, the husband heads for the street fair or to meet up with some friends. He leaves the wife behind to take care of the children.

If she goes shopping, the children come with her, and, as bored as children can be, they likely get in the way, get into trouble or annoy other shoppers. Some merchants might try to calm the children by giving them candy, but soon little hands are sticking to everything they touched, including mama’s skirt.

Finally, she finds a place outside, away from the summer sun’s heat, with little shelter from the dust clouds that swirl toward them from passing wagons and the occasional motor car. Of course, by now the children are cranky, and hands, faces and clothes are covered in grime. Everyone waits impatiently for daddy.

The man returns, hitches the wagon and off they go back home. Once there, mama is the one straining milk and preparing supper. Dishes washed, there are still chores to do. Children need baths, and the animals need fed. Her “holiday” is over, and she struggles to get to sleep.

Putnam’s article reminded merchants how they could help these women and, at the same time, induce them to give up their catalogs and to buy locally.

“There are numerous places where men are welcomed, where they can spend hours without a thought of being in the way. Should not these busy women have a place of their own, where, when shopping is done, they can take their babies, visit with others and go home refreshed?”

The “Rest Room” idea for women would catch on slowly. Just a few weeks after Putnam’s article, Baker-Hutchason’s “Style Store for the Ladies” led the way.

Their advertisement asked women to make the store’s “Rest Room” headquarters for the day.

“We want every lady in Medford to feel that she is welcome here. We have large mission seats and lots of ‘rest room,’ where you are welcome as often and as long as you care to remain. Our time is yours. You don’t need to feel that you should buy every time you look.”

Other large stores began to advertise their own “rest rooms for tired women shoppers,” however; small stores just didn’t have the room and couldn’t compete. But that didn’t bother the women.

Thanks in small part to George Putnam, they finally had a place to rest while shopping wherever they liked.

Writer Bill Miller is the author of six books, including “To Live and Die a WASP, 38 Women Pilots Who Died in WWII.” Reach him at newsmiller@live.com.