Monthly Archives: March 2013
During the Gilded Age boom following the Civil War, the industrial revolution and the early days of mass production made it more affordable for women to maintain their households without having to spend as much time toiling at home. And so, some of the first modern department stores in the world began to open in the area between Union and Madison Squares. While their husbands were at work and their children at school, wives and mothers could enjoy the brief freedom of being out on the town independently. The area became known as “Ladies’ Mile”. A few stores from that era, like Lord and Taylor and Bergdorf Goodman, still operate in the city and beyond.
The subway was planned and constructed during this era, and as a modern, hurried commuter knows all too well, there are an unusual number of stops on the lines traveling through the former Ladies Mile.
The department store buildings that remain are beautifully designed, a few clad in cast-iron. The interiors of many, like the Home Depot on 23rd Street, have been modernized to accommodate modern commerce, and the area is still a major shopping destination.
Ultimately, the mass transit that had made Ladies’ Mile possible also allowed for development further uptown, and by World War I the neighborhood was in decline. But not before producing one of the world’s most iconic early skyscrapers –
There was a darker side to the glory days of Ladies Mile. While middle- and upper- class women enjoyed a new public life, the poorer women of the city suffered in the sweatshops that supplied the products for sale