Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Maynard Woman's Club (1904-1976)

May 1976: "A motion was made and seconded and carried to disband the Maynard Woman's Club after 72 years. A Board meeting was scheduled for late June to discuss the details of disbanding." This note, taken from extensive documents donated to the Maynard Historical Society, marks the end of an organization that had played important roles in Maynard's social community and public welfare.

Nationally, the women's club movement had beginnings in 1868*, after several professional women journalists were denied tickets to a New York Press Club event honoring Charles Dickens. Organizers of the event claimed that the presence of women would distract male attendees. Snubbed writer Jane C. Croly invited women to start an organization of professional and literary women, to be named Sorosis. Early joiners were women who had become keenly aware of sexism in their struggle for professional success. Croly's organization for women in journalism sparked efforts that eventually led to the formation of the Association for the Advancement of Women (1873), American Association of University Women (1881) and the General Federation of Women's Clubs (1890).

GFWC, as it exists today, describes itself as an women’s organization dedicated to community improvement by enhancing the lives of others through volunteer service. Community Service Programs are Arts, Conservation, Education, Home Life, International Outreach, and Public Issues.

In Maynard, in 1904, Mrs. Nellie Wilson and friends asked women in town if they were interested in starting a club as part of the Federation. Sixty-nine women attended the organizational meeting. The club took on many projects in town: support for school and adult education, donating books to the library, establishing the position of Town Nurse, charities, scholarships, woman's suffrage, Americanization of immigrants, and various town improvements. For a while the Club operated a thrift shop.

Monthly meetings (held afternoons, so that women would not be traveling after dark) dealt with club business, followed by presentations by invited speakers. Annual club dinners often included a play written and performed by club members.

Members tended to stay involved. A report on the 60th anniversary noted that six women who were among the founders were still active members. But over time, members died or moved away, and membership as a whole became smaller in number and older. Younger women did not join to the same extent as their mothers and aunts has done.   

Water fountain at Memorial Park, paid for
with what remained in the Womans's Club treasury
after the organisation disbanded in 1976.
Maynard's disbanding was not unique. According to the GFWC of Massachusetts, at the peak there were about 40,000 women who participated in more than 400 clubs in nearly every municipality in the state; as of 2010 there were fewer than 5,000 women in 168 clubs. The decline in our state mirrored decline at the national level.

A note on "Women's" versus "Woman's” clubs. The majority of clubs that joined GFWC went by "Women's" (Maynard was an exception). However, there are many city- and town-based clubs not affiliated with GFWC. These tend to go by "Woman's" and are more likely to be in upper class communities, to own their own buildings, and may be discretionary as to who can join. The Maynard Woman's Club did not own a building. 

The struggle for a woman's place in society continues. AAUW still actively strives for pay and advancement opportunity equality in the higher education setting. GFWC continues to be active nationally. Current by-laws include the statement "GFWC shall not discriminate against any person based on race, color, religion, gender, national origin, disability, age or sexual orientation." The National Organization for Women (NOW) dates its origins to 1966, inspired by the failure of equal rights legislation to end sex discrimination in employment. NOW's priority issues are ending violence against women, racial justice, reproductive rights and health, economic equality and labor rights, constitutional equality and LGBTQ equality.

Interestingly, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission just ruled this month that the 1964 Civil Rights Act outlawing discrimination on the basis of sex covers discrimination based on sexual orientation. Massachusetts passed such a law in 1989, but as of 2015, only 21 other states had followed suit. Court cases are expected in states which still allow employment discrimination based on sexual orientation. The EEOC ruling does not affect discrimination for housing.

*Prior to 1868 several male-membership organizations had had female member auxiliaries. For example, the Independent Order of Odd Fellows had the Daughters of Rebekah, both of which existed in Maynard. There were also women's groups associated with churches or the temperance movement, such as the Woman's Christian Temperance Union.


After this column was sent to the Beacon-Villager copies of the Constitution and By-Laws surfaced. From the various Articles and Sections:

"The object of the club shall be to promote acquaintance and kindly fellowship among the women of Maynard, to encourage all interests for the betterment of society, and to foster a generous public spirit in the community."

"The name of any person applying for membership shall be proposed by a member of the Executive Board, and if accepted by them, shall become a member for the current year by paying annual dues." Not stipulated in writing, but a guess is majority vote. The Executive Board (12 members, made up of elected officers plus heads of Departments: American Home, Art, Conservation, Education, Legislation, Publicity) also had the power to remove a member, but that required a two-thirds vote.

"There shall be a regular meeting of the Club the second Tuesday of each month, at 2:30 P.M., from October to May inclusive."

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