Personality Spans Eras with Styles
After graduating from Bryn Mawr in 1904, Helen Criswell found work as a teacher but didn't last long in the classroom as she decamped for Greenwich Village to unloose her inner Bohemian.
Taking the name Jimmie, Criswell wore smocks and sandals, and even bobbed her hair, back when bobbed hair was newsworthy. A New York Times piece on the subject quoted her: “I could hardly wait to come to Manhattan and have it done.”
In the Village, Criswell ran The Mad Hatter, a below-ground tearoom that drew an artsy crowd. As proprietor, she described herself as “cook, cashier, waiter, bouncer, bus boy, check room boy, official chaperone, arbiter, elegantiarum, chess scorer, peace maker, drainage system, book keeper, cat nurse, censor, and goat of said coffee house.”
Like Criswell, The Mad Hatter was decidedly alternative. According to the 1939 Federal Work Administration’s New York City Guide, “Commercialism, even on the part of the proprietress, scarcely existed. Meals were written on the cuff, never to be erased; but all ‘true’ Villagers were welcome so long as they kept the conversation flowing well into the night.”