Grace Hoadley Dodge (1856-1914) was one of the early feminists devoting her time and energy to improve the education and social status of women in the early 1900s.
Atireless supporter of women's issues, Grace Hoadley Dodge devoted her life to improvements in women's education, esteem, and safety at a time when women were just beginning to gain greater access to social privileges. Her vision of the possibilities for women came to fruition through her work with many associations and clubs, including the Young Women's Christian Association, the New York Travelers' Aid Society, and the Teachers College of Columbia University, which she founded. She contributed her time and talent generously to these associations, and worked actively in money-raising campaigns for them until her death in 1914.
In a letter to Mrs. Dave Hennen Morris, Dodge expounded on her efforts regarding the Teachers College: "I realized that the country needed trained teachers, and it was needed to make teaching a profession like that of law and medicine. I realized that expert professors, buildings, grounds, endowment, and so forth, were needed; in other words, money. I knew that the president, or professors could not go out and ask for money, and felt that I must. It was hard to know how to ask or whom to ask. Certain friends gave what they could, but much more was needed. I felt the spiritual force of this need…. I used to give months for several years to secure friends for the college…. God blesses the persistent effort."
Born the eldest of six children to William Earl and Sarah (Hoadley) Dodge in 1856, Grace Hoadley Dodge benefitted from the wealth and business savvy of her family. Her grandfather, William Earl Dodge, had founded the prominent New York firm of Phelps, Dodge & Co., of which her father was a partner. Her mother's father, David Hoadley, was a high ranking executive of large financial concerns. And her grandmother, Melissa Phelps Dodge, imparted the business know-how of her father, the successful Anson G. Phelps. Surrounded by such successful people, Grace Dodge developed strong business and management skills. Since she was a woman, however, she could not apply her talents as her forefathers had to ventures in copper, silk, or railroads.
Dodge's formal education came from private tutors and, starting in 1872, two years at Miss Porter's school for young ladies at Farmington, Connecticut. At Miss Porter's school, Dodge determined that her interests lay not in the program offerings, but in helping other people in need. At age eighteen, Dodge dropped out of Miss Porter's school. Unable to enter society as a desirable debutante like many of her more dainty and beautiful peers, Dodge became intrigued by the charitable activities of evangelist Dwight L. Moody.
Wishing to use her wealth and ambition to help others, Dodge began her distinguished career as a social worker and philanthropist, teaching Sunday School at Madison Square Chapel in 1874 and adding sewing classes one year later. Sympathetic to Grace's philanthropic desires, William E. Dodge put his daughter in contact with Louisa Lee Schuyler, organizer of the State Charities Aid Association; during their first interview Miss Schuyler made Grace Dodge a member of the association's Committee on the Elevation of the Poor in Their Homes. In 1876, Dodge began a five-year teaching career in the industrial school at the Children's Aid Society. Her work at the Children's Aid Society made her realize the need to instruct many working girls about fundamental aspects of household chores and health care. Dodge began holding discussion groups for silk factory girls, which developed into a fellowship program and a club with cooking and sewing classes. A resident doctor was added as well, and the club eventually grew into the Working Girls' Society. Dodge attended many Society discussion groups during this period, educating herself about the many and varied predicaments facing working-class women at this time. Armed with this information, she initiated tenement reform in 1879 from her position as chairperson of the Committee on the Elevation of the Poor.
In addition to her work at the Children's Aid Society and the State Charities Aid Association, Dodge taught "kitchen garden classes," which used kindergarten play methods to teach household arts to working-class girls. The success of the Kitchen Garden classes prompted organizers to enlist Dodge's help in forming the Kitchen Garden Association in 1880. The group was later reorganized into the Industrial Education Association in 1884, when it began to provide manual training for boys and promote the teaching of domestic and industrial classes in public schools. Dodge ran the association as its vice-president. Her efforts gained her additional recognition, and in 1886 she was given one of the first two seats given to women on New York City's board of education. During her three years of service on the board, she advocated manual training, secured evening classes for working girls, and became spokesperson for 3,500 New York women teachers.
The Industrial Education Association evolved into the Teachers College in 1889 under the guidance, vision, and dogged determination of Grace Dodge; following her suggestion, the college became a part of Columbia University in 1889. A decade after Grace Dodge's death, Mrs. Leonard Elmhurst wrote in Founding Teachers College of Dodge's vision and commitment to the school: "Being a trustee of Teachers College, I always feel in that institution a vivid sense of what her vision of education meant, not only to her generation but to the thousands of men and women who throng those halls today. She is still referred to in our trustee meetings and Dean Russell carries her spirit to us as if he only consulted with her yesterday."
Grace Dodge was still very active in her philanthropy until her death in 1914. She helped establish the Girls' Public School Athletic League in 1905, acted as president of the Young Women's Christian Association of the United States in 1906, and was influential in the consolidation of church groups into the New York Travelers Aid Society in 1907 and the organization of the American Social Hygiene Association in 1912.