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Postcard 1904. The New York Public Library Digital Collection.

When Martha Washington Hotel opened with over 400 rooms “for women only” 113 years ago, it filled a much needed market niche at a time when a growing number of women began leaving the ‘proper sphere’ of the home in pursuit of a professional career, in order to travel, or simply to go shopping in the city, either in female company or on their own. While it was relatively easy for single men to find accommodations in private lodgings or in a residential hotel in the city, the reverse was true for the female visitor of New York (or of other cities), as she was either hedged in by a litany of strict rules to safeguard her own and the establishment’s respecatbility, or could not afford the prices. More about the dilemmas faced by both hotel managers and women in excerpts from Catherine Cocks’s Doing the Town: The Rise of Urban Tourism in the United States 1850-1915 (98 ff).

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The staff was mostly female.

In 1897 Charles Day Kellogg founded the Women’s Hotel Company with a view to raising the necessary funds to build comfortable accommodations exclusively for business and professional women. The fact that most shares of the future enterprise were bought by well-to-do women made clear how dire the need of such an offer was. Early in 1901 two lots at East 30th and East 29th streets were purchased, and over the following two years the renowed architect Robert W. Gibson (1854-1927), who had won the commision, oversaw the construction of the building designed in the Renaissance Revival style.

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Suffragettes in front of the hotel in 1912.

On its inauguration day March 2, the “Women’s Hotel” – as it was originally called – was fully booked and had already 200 names on a waiting list. Quite a number of well-known women are said to have spent some time there. Its central location at 29th and 30th streets and its customer policy made it an attractive meeting site for the women’s suffrage movement, locally, nationally and internationally.

Over the next years compromises had to be made between attractive prices and the need to offer shareholders some kind of annual return. In 1920, the hotel was bought by the Martha Washington Hotel Corporation, run by Julius and William Manger, who already owned a number of hotels in New York. Regardless of changing owners and public gender policies over the following decades, the hotel remained women only until 1998, when a new management admitted men as well. More about the history of the Martha Washington Hotel from the Landmark Preservation Commission.

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From the Landmark Preservation Commission report.

In 2012, the hotel – then by the name King & Grove Hotel – was granted city landmark status. In 2014, its name was changed back to Martha Washington Hotel. In 2015, it was bought by the SBE-chain and is apparently being transformed into the The Redbury New York this year.

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Sources: Ads, Lobby, Postcard 1907.

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