Women's Clubs and Organizations
Cultural Politics in the Northwest, 1840-1920
by Sandra Haarsager
Associate Professor of Communications,
University of Idaho
Sandra Haarsager is Associate Professor of Communications at the University of Idaho. She is the author of Bertha Knight Landes of Seattle: Big City Mayor, also published by the University of Oklahoma Press.
The following excerpt, from Organized Womanhood: Cultural Politics in the Pacific Northwest, 1840-1920, pages 343, 353-362, was used with permission from Sandra Haarsager, Professor, School of Journalism and Mass Media, University of Idaho. Copyright 1997, University of Oklahoma Press, Norman, Publishing Division of the University of Oklahoma. All rights reserved.
Cultural Politics in the Pacific Northwest, 1840-1920
The following list includes names, sites, and deeds not detailed in the text of a number of
women's study clubs between 1875 and 1915. Categorized by state and alphabetized by city, this list
reflects extant records of the more active study clubs uncovered in research for this project. It
is therefore not to be taken as a comprehensive listing of all women's club activity in the
Northwest, nor are all cities that had influential women's clubs represented by any means.
In 1892 a group of women organized to establish a free reading room with a few books. They had a membership fee of $1 and dues of 25 cents. Following the club tradition, they helped get a Carnegie library built in 1908.
In 1900 the PLF Club was founded with this commanding motto: "The world is advancing, advance with it." 16 had several study committees, including progress, civic, economics, music, and literature. In 1915 fourteen of its fifty members were single.
The Ladies of the Round Table, organized in 1895, believed that "reading, should teach us how to search for the truth; meditation, how to find it." Members answered roll calls with current events, and membership was limited to twenty-five. In addition, Centralia had a Swastika Club, founded in 1910. Its programs included book reviews, the national parks, and various nations, adding social problems later.
In 1906 the Tillicum Club wanted to establish a city park and playground and told the city it would take responsibility for its development. Members solicited donations, not only of money, but also of labor and supplies. They created a bandstand, picnic tables, shade trees, and a playground. Named Sutton Park, it was maintained by the club for thirty years until the city took it over.
The Sacajawea Club had two broad departments, intellectual and social. In 1911 its twenty-four members studied Washington Irving, William Cullen Bryant, and Oliver Wendell Holmes as representatives of American literature. Its motto was "Look forward, not back."
Dayton had several clubs, one of them organized before 1900 to promote literary culture and the public library. That group called itself the Ladies' Educational Aid Society.
Gertie Seavey, the single bookkeeper of the Mercantile Store, discussed the lack of social contacts with Mrs. Hayes Evans, and they decided to start a club. Eight women came to their meeting and created the Women's Improvement Club in 1906. They initially called themselves the PassTime Club and set dues at 5 cents a meeting. Noting that the three narrow bridges from the creamery corner into town were dangerous to pedestrians when horses and buggies passed, their first project was practical-to build sidewalks there. The club changed its name and began hosting dinners to raise money for "further town improvements."
Gradually afternoon meetings became evening meetings, and husbands began accompanying members, playing cards while the women met. In 1921 the group joined the federation and acquired its own clubhouse.
The WCTU union left a drinking fountain in the city's center. By 1900 Ellensburg had several
women' clubs. One was the Ladies' Municipal Improvement Society. A member donated two lots in
town for the site of the future library. The Improvement Society ran a reading room with donated
newspapers and books in the 1890s and led the campaign for a public library. In 1908 the city
received $100,000 for a building. Funds for books also came from the Friday and Gallina clubs.
The Woman's Book Club emerged in 1894, and by 1898 members had organized the Everett Public Library. The club began at the home of Mrs. C. C. Brown, later a president of the state federation. The library in the old city hall received 1,000 books from the club in 1898, some 600 from other clubs, and 400 more from the Everett women themselves. The club became the Columbian Woman's Book Club. By 1916-17 the club was taking up issues such as "practical suggestions for benevolent work by a club," "foremothers' day," and "why women should register and vote." At that point it had fifty-five members, divided among the mothers, literature, science and travel, art, and language departments.
The Ladies' Fortnightly Club by 1916-17 devoted itself entirely to social welfare issues. In September it was child welfare issues, such as open air schools, the Children's Bureau, juvenile courts, parental schools, and childhood songs. In October it was motion pictures, and in November legislation of interest to women and prison reform.
The Women's Association began in 1912 "to stimulate the social, literary, and educational advancement of the people of Goldendale and vicinity, and to initiate, recommend, and cooperate in any beneficial movement pertaining to civic work."
Its membership was open, and dues were $1. In 1915 it included library, social, legislative, educational, and benevolent committees. In addition, it sponsored a library day, a welfare day, and a town civics day.
The Women's Club, founded in 1908, pushed for a city library under the terms of the Carnegie
Foundation grant, but it was not approved by the city until 1911. The primary movers were
Mrs. Henry Patton, Mrs. Joseph Stearns, Mary Stuart, and Ruth McKee.
McKee became a statewide leader.
The Kalama Woman's Club, founded in 1912, promoted "intellectual advancement" and
"general culture." It established a city library, donated prints to it, raised money for it
through producing an annual play, and worked for a "better class of motion picture."
In 1880 Olympia (formerly called Smithfield) had 1,532 people. By contrast, Tacoma had 1,098 and
Seattle 3,533. The first club in Washington Territory recognized by the General Federation as a
member was the Olympia Woman's Club, founded in 1883, the year Willard came calling on the
Northwest. The Olympia Club had a membership of fifty. More ritualized than most women's clubs,
it had special rules of order and even a burial service, borrowing from the fraternal orders.
In fact, it was the first woman's club in the country to develop initiation and installation
ceremonies, according to Jane Croly, who termed the group conservative and exclusive. The club
issued honorary membership and traveling certificates under seal, the latter to vouch for
the "good standing" of the member. Character was the only stated qualification for membership,
and the club said all classes and opinions were represented, although its initiation fee of
$10 and annual dues of $3 must have deterred many. In addition to the colors and flower, this
club had an insignia, a blue enameled silver bar pin. Its motto was "United they assist."
The Olympia Womans Club, organized for "self-improvement," consisted initially of nine women
studying topics like "My Idea of a Good Dinner," "How I Clean My House," and "What Shall We Do
with Our Girls?"
Later, however, it devoted an entire year to the study of Washington laws relating to women.
The club's creation was inspired by Mary Shelton, who had attended a self-improvement club
meeting in San Francisco. Of the dozen women invited to the first meeting, only two could come
without consulting their husbands. About the same time another club began, but it veered in a
very different direction. Originally the Olympia Woman's Literary Club, it elected suffrage
leader Abigail (Mrs. A. H.) Stuart president. Initially the group met not in a home, but in a
room rented for 50 cents a night. The club's parties became social events, and in 1907 the club
used its money to buy a small clubhouse. By 1909 the club had amassed a library of over 1,000
volumes, which it donated to the city.
The Olympia Woman's Literary Club charter members included Universalist church pastor Sarah Whitney and Thurston County school superintendent Pamela C. Hale, who was also a founding member of the State Teacher's Association in 1889. Member Janet Shotwell Moore later became president of the state federation. She headed the primary department of Olympia's schools for thirty years. A particular concern was the unsanitary public drinking cup and towel that came with all public restrooms. She led a lobbying effort backed by the federation that persuaded the legislature to impose more sanitary conditions. Other Olympia clubs included the 1899 Eenati Club.
The 1912 Country Club's programs and civic efforts focused on flower shows, better babies
programs, health issues, and music.
The motto of the 1893 Reading Club was "No entertainment is so cheap as reading, nor any pleasure
so lasting." The Woman's Literary Club (1897) had programs ranging from the "cause of the
increase of crime" to "life of Beethoven" to "jellies and pickles." Its purpose was "mental
instruction and the promotion of friendship among its members." Its membership was open, and
its motto came from Longfellow, "Act in the living present." Over the years its programs became
increasingly more oriented to the political process and social problems.
White settlers first came in the 1870s, and the city incorporated in 1888. The sharply rolling
hills of the Palouse offered up rich harvests. The territorial government gave the town a
land-grant university that became Washington State University, first called the Washington State
Agricultural College and School of Sciences, sited in Pullman in 1889, only eight miles from what
became Idaho's land-grant university at Moscow. Pullman's Fortnightly Club began in 1893, when
Hattie Bryan, wife of the college's president, invited a group of women together to create a club
for literary study. It was limited to twenty-five members, with dues of $2 and initiation fees of
$2. This club was one of the region's most long-lived, celebrating its centennial in 1994.
Early Pullman groups were the Ingleside Club and Pullman Historical Club (1904). Pullman had no
permanent library until 1930. However, the Fortnightly Club gave Pullman one of its first parks
early in the century. The 2.5-acre plot purchased by the club, Thatuna Park, was deeded to the
The forerunner of the Womens Club, the Teacup Club, helped develop Pioneer Park at the site of
the homestead Ezra Meeker had donated to the city. The five-acre spot soon had a playground,
picnic area, and garden. It also became the setting for the Carnegie Library, which grew out of
the club's work, and a community hall.
The 1911 Tuesday Club had as its theme "always seeking the highest."
Programs were arranged in debates, with group discussions and outside speakers. Members who had reference books were asked to loan them to the club for members' use to study particular topics. Issues such as the double standard in divorce, economic independence, women in industry, prison reform, and "the Negro" dominated programs and discussions.
In addition to the clubs described in chapter 6, Seattle had a Classic Culture Club, organized
in 1889 to bring literature through traveling libraries to frontier areas of the state, to
people who had no or few books. The club's twenty-five to thirty-five members focused on
history, literature, and the arts of various countries. It got the legislature to appropriate
$2,000 to support the traveling library in 1901. Seattle also had the Ladies'Musical Club,
founded by twenty-one women in 1891 to foster musical activity through a concert series in 1900.
Membership was by audition. It also sponsored scholarships, recitals, and concerts by members,
offering a venue for female musicians in particular. More than a century later the club was still
sponsoring noontime concerts open to the public in the Seattle Public Library downtown. Seattle
had dozens of clubs that were part of the federation, and others that were not, many of them
founded before the turn of the century.
The spectacular Spokane Falls powered electric street lighting by 1886 in Spokane, one of the
first cities in the West to have it for its population of 3,500, which exploded to 20,000 by 1890.
By 1889 the city had six banks, four cigar factories, sixteen restaurants -- and forty saloons.
It also had a destructive fire that year. Because of the gold, silver, and lead taken out of
northern Idaho, Spokane had many wealthy families and men who became community leaders, but
their wives were not at the heart of club activism in the city.
The Spokane Sorosis was created in 1889 by thirty women. They found one another in response to a
call placed in the newspaper by Laura Shellabarger Hunt. She had been a member of the Decatur
Sorosis in Illinois and missed it. The club's purpose was "to develop fellowship among women, and
to promote the best practical methods for culture and civic progress." Meetings were held Saturday
afternoon, and the literary club had a treasured authors' album containing signatures of
Longfellow, Jennie June (penname of Sorosis founder Jane Croly), Harriet Beecher Stowe,
Julia Ward Howe, Oliver Wendell Holmes, John Greenleaf Whittier, and others. The club worked
on a free library, contributing books and money to the Union Library Association. The club also
helped support a Woman's Exchange, free kindergartens, and floral missions and brought in
experts in social problems as lecturers. In 1892 a Shakespeare Class was organized as an
auxiliary to the group, and soon after it joined the national federation, one of the first
to join. It joined the state federation in 1896. The Spokane Art League founded an art school,
the city's first, with classes in various media, and members volunteered to teach art classes
in the public schools. In 1914 it became the Spokane Art Exhibits.
The Spokane Sorosis Club also influenced the region through the organization of neighborhood
clubs, such as the Flora Club in Kettle Falls, the Woman's Club in North Yakima, and the
Neighborhood Club of La Grande Avenue. Sorosis in 1897-98 considered "Scientific Methods in
Modern Education," "The Decadence' of the Theoretical and Introduction of the Practical,"
and "Patriotic Teaching in Home and School" in its education department. In 1894 the city took
over control and funding of the city's club supported, semi-private library. By 1901 Spokane had
a citywide system of fourteen kindergartens, until they were attacked as extravagant.
Spokane also had a small but active community of African American clubs. The oldest was the Dunbar
Literary Club for the study of poetry, focusing on black writers. There was also a Grandmothers
Club and Ashanti Club. Before the state had a Federation of Colored Women's Clubs, historian
Frances Jones Sneed found Spokane had a Booklovers Club to encourage the reading of classics, a
Spokane Negro Dramatic Club, and a Merry Matrons Club as well as others. The latter club catered
dinners to raise money.
Other notable Spokane clubs included the 1892 Cultus Club, a group of women with a sense of humor.
The Cultus Club, according to Croly's club history, had organized with seven charter members,
which within months increased to thirty. One of the charter members, Mrs. J. J. Brown, christened
the club with her tongue in her cheek. The club had no literary pretenses, and cultus in Chinook
supposedly meant worthless, good-for-nothing, without purpose. The club's theme was "all work and
no play makes dull women."
Nevertheless, its, constitution said its object was intellectual and social improvement. It joined the federation in 1893. Spokane, like other cities, had a Twentieth Century Club, formed in 1898, with an ambitious outline of study.
There was also the Amethyst Club, organized in 1898 "to seek, to know, to enjoy," the Manito
Study Club, founded in 1912, and the Spokane Athenaeum Club, formed in 1902. The City Federation
of Women's Organizations was created in 1915 by twenty clubs and had its own study program that
year: "New Ideals of Peace"; "Immigrant Tide's Effect on the United States";
"Vocational Education"; "Conservation of Lands, Forests, Water-rights, and Mines"; and
The 1913 Woman's Club was founded by the wife of a physician. The group spent a day once each
week mending clothing and making layettes for the needy. It was a social and sewing club until
1929, when it changed its name to Woman's Club from Ladies' Club.
In addition to the clubs described in detail in chapter 6, Tacoma had several other influential
clubs, including the 1892 Tacoma Art League. The members of the league elected Galusha Parsons
president, who served from 1892 to 1899, and decided to call their club Aloha for the friendly
warmth of the word. Their goal as women was to make "home happier, schools better, society purer,
government righteous, churches consistent, and Washington worthy of its honored women." The
league began. a campaign in 1899 to buy reproductions of old masters' paintings to be rotated
through Tacoma's schools. The Aloha Club joined the General Federation in 1893 by telegraph.
In 1910 Mrs. Horace G. Scott organized the Monday Civic Club of Tacoma. Two years later she was
the first woman to be elected to the U.S. electoral college, shortly after the state of Washington
granted women the right to vote in 1910.
The 1902 Waitsburg Progressive Club joined the federation in 1905. Its purpose was "mutual
improvement of its members in literature, history, and the vital interests of the day."
Members were invited or could join as associate members.
In addition to the Woman's Club that became a suffrage society, as described earlier, Walla Walla
had a Women's Reading Club to support literary culture and libraries, founded in 1894. The motto
of the Reading Club was "We must read, you see, before we live." Its three committees were civic
improvement, music, and school. The town also had an Art Club, founded in 1898, a Woman's
Education Club (1911), and a Shakespeare Club (1905).
In 1900 the women in White Salmon found themselves in a small village, with no railroad and
"no good roads."
Mrs. Kate Butler, whose family homesteaded in the area in the 1880s, decided
to organize the White Salmon Woman's Club about 1900. In 1902, at its first bazaar, it sold a
silk crazy quilt of blocks made by each member for $10. Among its projects, the club loaned
$100 to help furnish the city's first high school room and bought its first dictionary. It
joined the federation in 1913, with seventy members by then. It also founded the Parent-Teacher
Association and a Red Cross branch.
The Yakima WCTU established the first public reading room there and had plans to build a temple
to house a library, lecture hall, and offices, but it fell short in raising enough funds and
abandoned the project. Leader Susanna Steinweg regrouped, creating the North Yakima Library
Association. The group held box socials, dances, concerts, and spelling bees to raise money for
books, and members took turns acting as librarian for the reading room.
There were also the Twentieth Century Club and the Woman's Club, which eventually merged into
the Woman's Century Club. In addition there were the PEO and Adelphian Society. Other clubs
included the Portia, Coterie, and two North Yakima clubs, the 1894 Woman's Club, and the
1898 Ladies' Musical Club.