There is some confusion as to which Exchange was founded first, but each offered a range of services for its patrons in addition to the two most well-known: the Consignment Shop and the Lunch Counter.  Most exchanges continued to increase their mission and services.  Some examples include: Bureau of Information and Employment, Registry (references required), Cooking School, Lunch Counter or Dining Room, Library, Reading Room, Legal Advice, Bookshop, and Candy Store.  The Exchange phenomenon had its greatest growth in the 1880s when 63 of the 72 shops were founded.  It began to die out shortly after women received the right to vote, as shown by the drop from 72 to 18 shops in 1934 when the Federation of Women’s Exchanges was founded.

Despite being the butt of many a male joke (“I took my wife down to the Exchange to

see what I could get for her!”), the shops fared remarkably well during their heyday.  

The total amount the nine largest Exchanges sold from their establishments until 1891 was over $1.1 million dollars.  In 1891, the total paid to all consignors across the nation was over $350,000. The Detroit Exchange paid more than $3,000,000 to its consignors during its first 50 years.  The money did not stop there.  The Exchange movement also inspired wealthy women’s support, which included Mrs. Charles T. Howard and Mrs. M.L. Whitney who donated to the New Orleans Exchange the two largest charitable gifts given by women in their own name during the 19th Century: $10,000 and $20,000, respectively. 

As with any organization, there were some problems with the Exchanges as well.  Despite their mission of helping poor women sell the fruits of their labor for supplemental income, many shops simply could not stock or sell enough food or merchandise to fully support any consignor as there were frequently too many to support at one time.  Exchanges were also stratified between wealthy managers and middle or working class consignors, the former often benefiting significantly more than the latter.  These benefits generally derived from the managers’ ability to pursue careers under the auspices of charity, which allowed them to become astute business owners while those they intended to help had fewer alternatives. 

Overall, however, the Women’s Exchange movement embodied the ideal seen throughout these charity cookbooks: women helping women help themselves and others.  There may have been some missteps along the way, but the opportunity these shops afforded women to sell their handiwork, to learn a new trade, to get competent advice, or to become a businesswoman allowed many to flourish. 

Another example of the Old Girl Network in action.