Weavers and Businesswomen
Gender at Arden
As a community, Arden took a progressive stance towards gender equality. From its founding, both women and children had voting privileges. In the 1910s, there was an annual celebration day called “Equal Suffrage Day,” in which women’s rights were celebrated and women were the ones to ask men to dance at the evening gala. Women in the community were physically active in their daily lives, participating in manual labor and sports. Given this context, it makes particular sense that the Maude Rhodes Weaving Studio focused on sportswear for women.
Considering Rhodes's progressive community and her role as the eponymous head of a business, one might guess that she was an outright advocate for women’s rights, but she wasn’t exactly. A small feature on Maude Rhodes in the Wilmington Evening Journal column, “Unusual Stories about Unusual People,” quotes Miss Rhodes as saying, “Women should not have to enter the turmoil of business life. It breaks their womanliness down. If they have livings to earn, they should earn them in their own homes, by weaving or by the arts and crafts.”
While Maude Rhodes may not have believed in theory that women had a place in business life, her weaving shop’s promotional efforts and press attention tell a very different story. Whether or not she thought that women should enter the turmoil of business life, her legacy is one of women who did enter business life and who did design clothing for women who were physically active within their communities. Whoever led the effort to advertise the Arden weaving shop made sure that Maude Rhodes’s name was inextricably linked with the community’s efforts at making an impact on women’s clothing of the Art Deco period. When Mildred Noyes took over the shop, she continued and grew the Maude Rhodes legacy of a woman-led textile shop. Maude Rhodes was a home-based weaver at heart, but her 1920s utopian community certainly framed her as being part of a bigger picture.