The Triangle • Fall 2017

Page 42


By Liz Johns, Delta Omicron, National Archivist

Working Women from the Beginning: Tri Sigma Founders who Built Careers Tri Sigmas have always been women in the workplace. Our eight

Founders went to school to learn how to be teachers so they could earn a living and support themselves even in a time when many

women did not join the workforce, or even attempt to gain higher

education. None of the women were attending school to get their

“MRS” degree. In fact, only one of them (Elizabeth Watkins) married a Hampden-Sydney graduate. (Hampden-Sydney was the men’s

college near Farmville, and the students of both schools engaged in social activities together often.) All the Founders became teachers after leaving the State Normal School in Virginia, and Lucy Wright James even became a principal. All eight remained teachers until

they married, except for Lelia Scott and Martha Trent Featherston, studying at the University of Virginia. In the early 20th century, it was

Clockwise from top left: Lucy Wright James, Margaret Batten Randle and Sallie Michie Bayley in Washington, D.C. at FDR’s first inauguration in 1933.

that did not mean their opportunities ended with marriage. Many

at the George Washington,

or started to work again if they became widowed, like Sallie Michie

manager of

A few of the Founders became successful women in the

as noted in the same letter,

business that she and her husband, George Bertrand James, ran

be called the principles of

for a few years before getting married and moving to New York with

for local and national college and women’s clubs, along with some

point she moved to Washington, D.C. and worked for the

fairly assume that Mrs. Randle did a fine job at the Barbizon.” The

New York Tri Sigma Alumnae chapter, which gave Margaret

who never married, and who spent summers in their early careers common for women to stop working once they were married, but

women, like Lucy, became business partners with their husbands,

Margaret had been the

Bayley and Margaret Batten Randle.

the Barbizon Hotel, which,

workforce with their husbands or on their own. Lucy managed the

“She first applied what might

together; the “Shirley,” an apartment hotel in Virginia. Sallie taught

Tri Sigma, and considering that the Barbizon had become a haven

her husband. But she was widowed before World War I, at which

of the finest women who had made New York their home, one can

Air Corps until she retired in 1943.

George Washington Hotel even became the headquarters of the

and took the opportunity to support the war effort through

“a great deal of personal pride.”

successful businesswoman in both Chicago and New York as

not, but for our Founders, to become great business women and

in 1933 from a guest of the George Washington Hotel in New

feat. For more information on the Founders and their careers,

her career: Her first job in New York was as a “cashier in the

Sigma, 1st Ed.

room’s manager. For two years, she was the manager also of the

Archivist at, and visit the Archives Flickr

mention her income, grew rapidly.” Before becoming the manager

more of the Archives Collection.

Like Sallie, Margaret was also widowed before World War I,

employment in Washington D.C. Afterwards, she became a

the manager of residential hotels. A letter written to The Triangle

remain successful teachers throughout their lives was a great

York, the hotel at which Margaret was the manager, described

see Chapter Three of The Years Remembered of Sigma Sigma

Allerton House dining room. In a short time, she was the dining

Allerton’s two dining rooms in Chicago. Her reputation, not to

Gallery at to see

42 the TRIANGLE | fall 2017

Women in the workforce today is expected more often than

For questions about the Archives contact Liz Johns, National

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