Friday, March 2, 2018

Women's History Month 2018: Neith Boyce

Neith Boyce
Source: Wikimedia Commons
If the fictional Carrie Bradshaw raised eyebrows when she started writing about the single life first in Candace Bushnell's 1997 book, Sex in the City and a year later on the HBO show of the same name, imagine how people reacted to the very real, 26-year-old Neith Boyce as she chronicled navigating the world as a single woman in 1898 in the pages of Vogue magazine.

Boyce predates the fictional Bradshaw by a century. She is considered by some to be America's first "bachelor girl." She came from a journalism family. Her father, Henry Harrison Boyce, co-founded the Los Angeles Times. Later, her mother, Mary Boyce, became the associate editor of a women's right publication in Boston affording her daughter the opportunity to publish many of her early essays and poems.

Despite the literary roots, Boyce was self-taught without formal higher education. She was a self-made woman in the Victorian era of tightly laced corsets and high society marriages. She rejected this world and moved to New York City alone in search of a career and independence.

Boyce opened the first installment of her Vogue column "The Bachelor Girl" on May 5, 1898, with the following:
“I was born a bachelor, but of course several years elapsed … before my predestination to this career became obvious. Up to that time people acknowledged threatening indications by calling me queer, while elderly persons who wished to be disagreeable said that I was independent. [Their] prediction … has so far been justified. I did not marry. The alternative of course was a profession.”
She is most often quoted as saying, "I shall never be an old maid, because I have elected to be a Girl Bachelor." Boyce did eventually marry, but even this she did on her own terms. She wed Hutchins Hapgood in 1899, entering into what they both termed a "modern marriage." Fidelity was of little importance to either. Once married, Boyce not only maintained her career, but she also tackled an endless list of literary and artistic stations going on to be a poet, novelist, playwright and theatre artist. Much of her work addressed the themes of women's rights, sexuality and agency.

Neith Boyce didn't simply live an independent life, she worked to prove to the world that such a life was possible for women.

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