Idaho History

Boise was ‘progressive and wide awake’ way back in 1910

An Idaho Daily Statesman front page from 1910.
An Idaho Daily Statesman front page from 1910. Idaho Statesman

In the first decade of the 20th century, the population of Boise nearly tripled, from 5,957 to 17,358. A business directory of the city published in Denver in 1910 listed several of them owned and operated by women. These included four who ran rooming houses, one who managed a hotel, two who were dressmakers, one a corset maker and four milliners. Three worked in beauty parlors, one owned and operated a needlecraft shop and one a confectionary. Two were listed as stenographers, and Ednah L. Ingram was secretary of the Anti-Saloon League of Idaho.

Professional women included physicians Mary A. Calloway, Mary E. Johnston, Effie K. Kester and Edna I. Wardell. Mrs. G.C. Logan was city treasurer, and Mrs. E.L. Savidge was city clerk. Ivy M. Wilson was Ada County superintendent of public instruction.

Not listed were the dozens of schoolteachers, clerks in stores, telephone switchboard operators and others who worked for someone else in one capacity or another.

These two items from the Statesman remind us that the city’s wealthy families of the time usually had live-in servants: “There is a scarcity of good hired girls in Boise at present. One who placed a card in the Statesman a few days ago had about 20 answers within a week.” And, “Wanted — An experienced second girl. Apply at 1235 Warm Springs.”

The introduction to that 1910 directory is so fulsome that it must have been provided by the Boise Chamber of Commerce: “Its business and professional men are progressive and wide awake to the immense future promised their city, and are ever ready to advance its interests in any way possible. Boise is an up-to-date city in every respect and is undoubtedly one of the best inland cities in the West. It has 91 blocks of pavement and 46 miles of cement sidewalks, a very efficient city government and fire department, with all the modern city conveniences, and, best of all, its tax levy is very low. It has many elegant business and public buildings, with beautiful homes and surroundings. Among the new buildings are an elegant opera house and a hotel costing $300,000. The Idan-ha is one of the best hotels in the city. … There are many fine church buildings, occupied by nearly all the denominations, with large attendance, for Boise is a church-going city.”

Whether a young woman was preparing for a happy marriage or a good job, there was plenty of advice for her in magazines and newspapers of the day. This appeared in the Wood River Times of Hailey on April 13, 1908. “A girl should learn to sew, to cook, to mend, to be gentle, to value time, to dress neatly, to keep a secret, to avoid idleness, to be self-reliant, to darn stockings, to respect old age, to make good bread, to keep a house tidy, to be above gossiping, to make home happy, to control her temper, to take care of the sick, to care for the baby, to sweep down the cobwebs, to marry a man for his worth, to read the very best of books, to take plenty of active exercise, to be a helpmeet to her husband, to keep clear of trashy literature, to be light-hearted and fleet-footed, to be a womanly woman under all circumstances.”

Readers of the Idaho Statesman learned of these events of 1910: On Feb. 8 publisher Edward Boyce founded the Boy Scouts of America; on March 16 Barney Oldfield drove a race car 131.25 miles per hour; on April 21 Mark Twain died at 74 years of age; on July 10 pitcher Cy Young of Cleveland won his 500th game; and in August the greatest forest fire in U.S. history raged across North Idaho from Montana to Washington.

In the years between 1901 and 1910, an all-time record was set for immigration into the United States from Europe: 8.8 million people passed through Ellis Island in New York harbor, most of them Italian, Polish, Jewish or German.

Arthur Hart writes this column on Idaho history for the Idaho Statesman each Sunday. Email