The New York Exchange for Woman's Work was founded in 1878 by Candace Wheeler, an interior designer, and Mary Atwater Choate, a prominent New Yorker who also founded Choate Rosemary Hall, the preparatory school. The purpose of the exchange was to provide a means for Civil War widows to earn a ''proper'' living by selling their hand-knitted scarves and mittens. Its first home was in the Choate parlor at 108 East 31st Street.
The Civil War had made widows of a number of well-off women who now needed to support themselves, but who were considered too genteel to leave the home for work. The exchange allowed these women to bake and knit in order to ward off poverty, selling their products through the exchange. A model for dozens of similar enterprises across the country, the exchange survived the Great Depression, two world wars, and the 1970's economic crisis by selling everything from liquor and lingerie to crab cakes and sweaters for dogs.
The exchange first established itself with a restaurant, which opened in 1919 at 541 Madison Avenue, selling bittersweet chocolate cake and home-baked crab cakes, codfish balls and wedding cakes. It became a place to eat well and inexpensively and to be seen. In 1934, after Prohibition ended, the exchange opened another popular spot called the Crinoline Bar, which served, among its many offerings, sidecars and Manhattans. This plate was possibly used in one of these business endeavors.