A place for like minds to meet is critical for establishing and maintaining group identity. We all are members of groups. Understanding someone else or detailing your personal history calls for some mention of the groups or gathering places we shaped and that shaped us.
Call them hair salons or beauty shops, the territory is one where women go to be on their own turf. The place was once the place of secrets. Remember “Only her hairdresser knows for sure,” the advertising slogan from the 20th Century?
Meeting friends for coffee, for many, has replaced visits to the parlor or drawing room of a friends house to enjoy the other’s company, perhaps tea, and conversation.
The salons of the 18th through mid-20th Century were usually gatherings of women in women’s homes. Public lectures might have been attended by women, but the discussion of the topics of such lectures was usually left to men when in the public domain.
Of course at one time, not so far in the past, women did not meet together for discussion outside of the home. The salon that is spoken of in history is usually a gathering of women to discuss topics of interest. While often maligned by men, some pivotal moments in history, such as the early women’s rights gatherings of the mid-1900s were facilitated by salons hosted by suffragists and women’s rights advocates.
In the early 20th Century Gertrude Stein was known for the salons that were hosted in her home in Paris for the members of the artistic and literary community and Expat Americans, such as Picasso and Hemingway.
While many examinations of salons say that they disappeared in the mid to late 20th Century, my own experience suggests that academic salons continued to exist throughout the 20th Century.
A resurgence of gatherings about specific topics has come about beyond the academy during the early 21st Century as the web and meetup sites, such as Meetup.com, have facilitated the formation of what for all practical purposes are contemporary salons. A group I formed, Tucson Women Bloggers, a meetup group serves to connect artists, writers, and professional women who discuss a wide range of topics related to establishing contemporary identity through voice, video, and the page in a digital world.
Any gathering of women can shape women’s culture. Celebrate your friends and the kindred souls who inspire you to live your legacy now, no matter the type of salon they form. The people who will want to know you at some point in the future will want to know about the community within which you exist. Do not short your friends and cohorts. You would not be the you who you are without them.