Lyme Tree Helps Women Sell Their Handmade Wares

by Anna Trusky

Joan Ryan, Co-President of the Lyme Tree Woman’s Exchange, enjoys helping creative women sell their hand-crafted wares.

Where can you purchase wonderful hand-crafted items for the holidays, sell your own wares and make some extra holiday dollars, and support a helping tradition that’s nearly 200 years old?
At The Lyme Tree Woman’s Exchange in Old Lyme, which is one of 20 woman’s exchanges in 12 states across the country.
The Woman’s Exchange Movement actually began in Philadelphia in 1832 as the Philadelphia Ladies’ Depository, explains Joan Ryan of Old Lyme, who is Co-President with Barbara Farmer of The Lyme Tree Woman’s Exchange. Joan just completed three terms as president of the Federation of Woman’s Exchanges, the national body under which the exchanges operate.
“The Lyme Tree Woman’s Exchange is not only a wonderful place to shop, it is terrific for creating community. People enjoy the friendly atmosphere. This place really gives me a sense of giving back,” Joan said. And it is a part of history.
“In Philadelphia in the early 1830’s, there was a lot of strife, including a cholera epidemic that killed 900 people, race riots, and the failure of the Second National Bank. People who were well off financially suddenly found themselves with nothing,” she explained. “At that time, it was frowned upon for women to work, and besides, many of the upper-class women were coddled and did not have a lot of skills. However, they did know how to do things like sew, knit, and crochet.”
The Ladies’ Depository was opened as a place where women could sell their handmade wares on consignment. It was all anonymous—the makers of the products were identified by number rather than name, a tradition that continues today.
The idea caught on—and by the end of the 19th century there were about 100 exchanges across the United States. At first, the exchanges simply provided a place for crafters to sell their goods, but soon the fashionable little shops expanded to provide sewing lessons for women, feature tea rooms where women could work, and even to offer workrooms and apartments for women to rent.
The Lyme Tree is one of three Woman’s Exchanges in Connecticut; the other two are in Greenwich and Southport. The Lyme Tree features a wide range of exquisite hand-crafted items, including hand-knit baby sweaters and clothing, toys, placemats and napkins, jewelry, wooden bowls and plates, as well as antiques and collectibles on consignment. The woman’s exchanges are staffed by volunteers, and proceeds from sales are donated to local charities. The Lyme Tree grants funds to many local charities.
For more information call 860.434.7290, visit the shop at 86 Halls Road in Old Lyme, or go to