The Greenwich Exchange for Women’s Work is celebrating 120 years of service this year, and on Thursday they hosted an event to mark the anniversary.
It was a lovely balmy afternoon as friends and customers gathered in the private courtyard garden behind the store at 28 Sherwood Place to celebrate.
Guests enjoyed a fine array of sandwiches and pastries, and shoppers were treated to a gift bag of mouthwatering caramels.
Guests walked through several rooms in the main house filled with handmade children’s items including knitted hats and sweaters, hand-smocked dresses, pajamas, mittens, toys and bibs. Other rooms feature displays of antiques, women’s clothing, accessories and jewelry. Across the charming pebble courtyard, guests toured the Antiques Cottage, which is emerging as a holiday theme.
The Exchange is a 501c (3) nonprofit, and is run by a volunteer board of directors who also volunteer year-round in the store.
The Exchange serves market shippers for fine handicrafts, culinary specialties and unusual gifts.
Since its inception, the mission of the Exchange has been to support the art of handcrafted items and provide a marketplace for over 200 talented artisans and shippers who create unique, thoughtful, low-cost gifts.
At one point, there were nearly 100 exchanges across the country, each with their own unique personality, merchandise, and location, but each seeking to help others help themselves.
In addition to marking a unique gift, people who shop at a women’s purse help a shipper achieve economic stability and a purse remain a viable business outlet for selected shippers and sellers.
The Greenwich Exchange opened in 1901 and moved to various locations in the city center until 1937 when it moved to its current home at 28 Sherwood Place.
In 1934, the Greenwich Exchange became one of the six founding members (and the only remaining founding member) of the Federation of Women’s Exchanges which meets annually. Delegates from coast to coast come together to share information, artisans and ideas as well as a general sense of brotherhood.
In 1832, Elizabeth Stott and 16 benevolent associates created the Philadelphia Ladies Depository Association to help women of diverse backgrounds, from wealthy widows who suddenly found themselves without a family income, to poor women whose families needed extra income to food and shelter. The Association has enabled these women to support themselves and their families by selling valuable goods or arts and crafts of their own creation.
Similar stores have started to open across the country. At a time when there were few opportunities for women, many worked in factories for long hours in order to supplement their family income. Eventually, women in over 70 cities from Brooklyn to New Orleans to San Diego sold their wares on consignment and at a profit.
Today, there are 16 exchanges left across the United States. Brooklyn is the oldest, having opened in 1852. All exchanges are non-profit, all are unique, and all derive their strength from each other.
Today, as always for women artisans, the product of their skilled manual labor can bring financial independence, peace of mind and self-esteem.