Today’s Women’s History Month post is celebrating Edith Carpenter Macy (1869 – 1925).
If you’ve ever shopped at the Chilmark Center on the border of Ossining and Briarcliff Manor, you’ve been wandering through what was part of V. Everitt and Edith Carpenter Macy’s eponymous farm and estate.
Also, if you’ve ever bought a box of Girl Scout cookies, you were enjoying a fundraiser popularized by Edith Macy in the 1920s, in her position as Chair of the Girl Scout Board of Directors.
Edith Macy lived amidst great privilege. Marrying Valentine Everit Macy in 1896, she would benefit from his prodigious wealth (he inherited $20 million at the age of 5 thanks to his father’s canny merger with Standard Oil – but more on that in another post).
The 1900 Census notes that she and Everit had a butler, a 2nd butler, a cook, 3 maids (kitchen, chamber and ladies’), a laundress, and a nurse living with them on Underhill Road.
But though it might sound like she lived the American version of Downton Abbey (sorry, it’s that 2nd butler listed above!) Edith Macy spent much of her time working for the good of others.
Like many of her neighbors (Narcissa Cox Vanderlip, Carrie Chapman Catt and Elizabeth Underhill, just to name a few) Macy participated wholeheartedly in the fight for women’s suffrage. And once the 19th amendment was passed in 1920, (though let’s not forget that New York State passed a women’s suffrage act in 1917), Macy became the Director of the Westchester League of Women Voters.
But Edith Macy wasn’t content with only being associated with suffrage – she was also active in charities that directly helped poor women and children.
Now, one of the things I enjoy about writing these posts is that not only do I learn about the individuals I write about, but I gain granular insights into what the world was like “back then.” In writing up Mrs. Macy’s story, I’m reminded about all the things we take for granted today, such as the right for women to vote, pure food, and not seeing the majority of your children die before they reach adulthood.
One of the many organizations Mrs. Macy was involved in was the Henry Street Settlement. According to the Scarsdale Inquirier, “Long before the milk situation in New York city was satisfactory, [she] took an active part in the work of the Henry Street Settlement and furnished pure milk for the babies to that settlement from [her] farm at Chilmark.”
I think it’s worth unpacking that snippet a bit, because we so take for granted that the milk we get in our supermarkets is safe for human consumption. But back at the turn of the 20th century, that was decidedly not the case. In 1901, in response to rising infant mortality rates, especially in the poorer sections of Manhattan, the Rockefeller Institute commissioned a report on the sanitary conditions in New York’s milk industry. They documented the generally filthy conditions found in local dairies, such as open vats of milk stored in stables and near manure piles that resulted in skyhigh bacterial content that sickened and killed thousands of infants.
So this “pure milk” the Macys supplied to the Henry Street Settlement was more than just a small PR stunt – they were actually responding to a serious need until routine pasteurization of milk was adopted in New York City in 1912.
In 1914, she helped found the Westchester County Children’s Association – an organization that still thrives today and, true to its original mission, provides direct support for children’s programs while also lobbying on behalf of policies that will benefit Westchester’s children.
Macy’s interest in women’s suffrage rather naturally steered her to the Girl Scouts, an organization she would help lead from 1919 – 1925. She thought it was never too early to educate girls about citizenship and how they could be effective, useful members of society. Indeed, one of her first initiatives was to involve the Girl Scouts in the final campaign that helped pass the 19thAmendment.
Vintage pin and patch celebrating Edith Macy. Photo credit Vintagegirlscout.com
Sadly, Edith Macy died suddenly at the age of 55. In her honor, her husband purchased 200 acres of land and established the Edith Macy Center, a permanent place for Girl Scout leaders to receive training. The Edith Macy Center at 550 Chappaqua Road is still active today and still named after her.
 Scarsdale Inquirer, Volume VI, Number 12, 14 February 1925