Helen Gould Sewing School

Although bowling and women’s economic empowerment at the end of the 19th century are not usually thought of together, the recently restored Lyndhurst bowling alley links the two.  Helen Gould, who owned Lyndhurst from 1892 to 1938, was deeply concerned with women’s economic empowerment and independence. Although she is almost forgotten today, Helen had become one of the best-known philanthropists in the country in her time. When she built the bowling pavilion and recreation center at Lyndhurst in 1894, she included in it a dedicated space for a sewing school that taught local women an interchangeable trade that would allow them to move out of service and into their own homes.

Helen Gould built a sewing school in a building that was otherwise recreational on an estate that was otherwise for the wealthy in order to help women find their own way of making a living. The school started as a vehicle for her servants, who were primarily immigrant women with no other option than going into service. Eventually, her school expanded to include women in the nearby towns and ultimately trained more than 500 women a year and reached women of all races and religions.

Helen’s modesty and humility were a facet of her philanthropic career, but as a result, she is often overlooked as a key figure in the women’s empowerment movement. In her time, however, she was revered. Winnifred Harper Cooley, in her 1905 book The New Womanhood, included Helen among her list of unwed female heroes of the world, “The Joan of Arcs, the Florence Nightingales, the Grace Darlings, the Susan B. Anthonys, the Frances Willards, the Clara Bartons, the Helen Goulds, and the Jane Addamses…”

With the bowling pavilion newly restored, Lyndhurst recognizes how Helen transformed this unlikely space as a monument to women’s empowerment and economic freedom.

Historic Photos: Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division