An Unshakeable Belief in Women’s Collective Efforts
WOMEN'S CLUBS AS CHANGE MAKERS
Preface by Darlene Davies
A great wave of change swept across America during the nineteenth century. Women wanted to learn, to improve themselves and to enhance their communities. Most, not all, women at that time had difficult lives, and they were exhausted, leaving little time for self improvement and worthy causes. Life was hard. Nevertheless, they wanted more. There were many factors that motivated these women to connect with one another in the 1800s. Some formed groups to provide needed social services, to share religious beliefs, and to help one another in practical ways, for instance with farm life. Race definitely bonded women. Women joined together at a time when it was believed "woman's place is in the home." They encountered disapproval, but persevered anyway. Women of the leisure class were exceptions, able to pursue shared interests. As they gained formal education and a widening awareness of the world, they devised creative ways to bring the world to them. Leisure class women enjoyed the great luxury of time and they used that time to seek information and new experiences. Some attended exclusive colleges, returning home with determination to make a difference. They devised ways to continue learning and improving their lives by organizing gatherings in private homes. Book clubs were formed and talented musicians were invited to perform concerts for guests. But women of lower socio-economic classes were also compelled to come together to address issues and to forge friendships.
Two women's clubs were actually formed as early as 1868, the New England Women's Club and Sorosis. The founders urged women to join clubs and even participate in community service. But, those notions were somewhat advanced and most women continued to gather in homes and churches until later in the nineteenth century when the formal brick and mortar clubhouse notion took hold. Arts, politics, science, special interests, African-American topics, travel, literature, medicine, and education were topics presented, all of which motivated women's organizations to become pro-active. The nineteenth century laid the foundation for myriad women's clubs and organizations that took hold in the twentieth century. In that influential century, all over America, women strengthened institutions, did battle with injustices, educated students, raised needed funds for worthy causes, and enjoyed one another's company.
By the close of the twentieth century, with the rise of the internet and social media and with more women working outside the home, the means for women to affiliate shifted from brick and mortar to technology. Some groups survived, even thrived, but many saw their demise. Those that survived reinvented themselves and their ways of operating. The twenty-first century demanded a fresh approach and women responded.