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Dr. Cowan's Calling Card Case

Date: c. 1905


Description: This finely crafted object is a case for calling cards. Calling cards, also called visiting cards, were small paper cards with someone’s name printed on them. They were a popular tool of etiquette, especially among women, during Victorian times. In wealthy households cards were sent by mail or in person to someone’s letterbox to request a personal visit to the home. If a card was sent in return, a visit was encouraged. Cards were often presented to servants at the door so a visitor’s presence could be announced properly. In the early 20th century, and in less affluent houses, cards were often merely left when someone attempted to visit but no one was home. Cards could be very simple and only contain someone’s signature, but they could also be lavishly decorated.


This case belonged to Dr. Isabel Eliot Cowan, one of the first practicing female physicians in Sioux City. Cowan was a graduate from the Women’s Medical College in Pennsylvania and served in the Army Nursing Corps before coming to Sioux City. Dr. Cowan practiced in Sioux City from 1905 to about 1914. During this time, available jobs for women were rather limited: nursing, factory work, and gender-specific occupations like millenary were some of the most common paid employments outside of the home. However Cowan managed to practice as a physician, and women could hold lofty positions in the churches. Reverends Mary Safford and Eleanor Gordon officiated the Unitarian Church in Sioux City, and both were large supporters of women’s education and women’s suffrage in the city. After the Women’s Rights Movement women largely entered the job market in secretarial positions, and from then on they have expanded until today they hold the same jobs as men in most professions.


Donor: Elsie Campbell


On display

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