General Federation of Women's Clubs

The General Federation of Women's Clubs (GFWC), founded in 1890 during the Progressive Movement, is a federation of approximately 2,300 women's clubs in the United States which promote civic improvements through volunteer service. Community Service Projects (CSP) are organized by local clubs for the benefit of their communities or GFWC's Affiliate Organization (AO) partnerships. GFWC maintains nearly 60,000 members[1] throughout the United States and internationally. GFWC is one of the world's largest and oldest nonpartisan, nondenominational, women's volunteer service organizations.[2]The GFWC headquarters is located in Washington, D.C.

General Federation of Women's Clubs
HeadquartersGeneral Federation of Women's Clubs Headquarters
1734 N Street NW
Washington, D.C.
Federation Of Women's Clubs, D.C. Leaders Of Delegation To White House, 1914: Mrs. Ellis Logan; Mrs. H.W. Wiley; Miss E. Shippen; Mrs. R.C. Darr; Miss M. McNeilan
General Federation of Women's Clubs pamphlet on roadside beautification and billboard restriction.

History edit

The GFWC was founded by Jane Cunningham Croly, a leading New York journalist. In 1868 she helped found the Sorosis club for professional women. It was the model for the nationwide GFWC in 1890.

In 1889, Croly organized a conference in New York that brought together delegates from 61 women's clubs. The women formed a permanent organization in 1890 with Charlotte Emerson Brown as its first president.[3] In 1901 it was granted a charter by Congress. Dietz proclaimed, "We look for unity, but unity in diversity" and that became the GFWC motto. Southern white women played a central role in the early years.[4]

Local women's clubs initially joined the General Federation directly but later came into membership through state federations that began forming in 1892. The GFWC also counts international clubs among its members.

In 1900, the GFWC met in Milwaukee, and Josephine Ruffin, a black journalist, tried to attend as a representative of three Boston organizations – the New Era Club, the New England Woman's Club and the New England Woman's Press Club. Southern women led by president Rebecca Douglas Lowe, a Georgia native, told Ruffin that she could be seated as an honorary representative of the two white clubs but would not seat a black club. She refused on principle and was excluded from the proceedings. These events became known as "The Ruffin Incident" and were widely covered in newspapers around the country, most of whom supported Ruffin.[5][6][7]

In a time when women's rights were limited, the state federation chapters held grassroots efforts to make sure the woman's voice was heard. Through monthly group meetings to annual charter meetings, women of influential status within their communities could have their feelings heard. They were able to meet with state officials in order to have a say in community events. Until the right to vote was granted, these women's clubs were the best outlet for women to be heard and taken seriously.

Women's clubs spread very rapidly after 1890, taking up some of the slack left by the decline of the WCTU and the temperance movement. Local clubs at first were mostly reading groups focused on literature, but increasingly became civic improvement organizations of middle-class women meeting in each other's homes weekly. The clubs avoided controversial issues that would divide the membership, especially religion and the prohibition issue. In the south and east, suffrage was also highly divisive, while there was little resistance to it among clubwomen in the west. In the midwest, clubwomen first avoided the suffrage issue out of caution, but after 1900 increasingly came to support it.[8]

GFWC clubwomen outside N Street headquarters, Washington DC, ca.1920s

Representative activities edit

Historian Paige Meltzer puts the GFWC in the context of the Progressive Movement, arguing that its policies:

built on Progressive-era strategies of municipal housekeeping. During the Progressive era, female activists used traditional constructions of womanhood, which imagined all women as mothers and homemakers, to justify their entrance into community affairs: as "municipal housekeepers," they would clean up politics, cities, and see after the health and wellbeing of their neighbors. Donning the mantle of motherhood, female activists methodically investigated their community's needs and used their "maternal" expertise to lobby, create, and secure a place for themselves in an emerging state welfare bureaucracy, best illustrated perhaps by clubwoman Julia Lathrop's leadership in the US Children's Bureau. As part of this tradition of maternal activism, the Progressive-era General Federation supported a range of causes from the pure food and drug administration to public health care for mothers and children to a ban on child labor, each of which looked to the state to help implement their vision of social justice.[9]

General Federation of Women's Clubs logo in 1902

Kansas was a representative state, as the women's clubs joined with local chapters of the WCTU and other organizations to deal with social issues. The clubs continued to feature discussions of current literature, culture, and civic events, but they also broadened to include public schools, local parks, sanitation, prostitution, and protection of children.[10]

Paula Watson has shown that across the country the clubs supported the local Carnegie public library, as well as traveling libraries for rural areas. They promoted state legislation to fund and support libraries, especially to form library extension programs. GFWC affiliates worked with the American Library Association, state library associations, and state library commissions and gave critical support to library education programs at the universities.[11]

Many clubs were especially concerned with uplifting the neglected status of American Indians. They brought John Collier into the forefront of the debate when they appointed him the research agent for the Indian Welfare Committee in 1922. The GFWC took a leadership role in opposing assimilation policies, supporting the return of Indian lands, and promoting more religious and economic independence.[12] For example, southwestern clubs help support the Museum of Northern Arizona (MNA) and became advocates and consumers for authentic Native American arts and crafts.[13] Even more important, in western states, GFWC affiliates cooperated with Collier when he served (1933–45) as the New Deal's Commissioner for Indian affairs in his campaign to reverse federal policies designed to assimilate Indians into the national culture.

In May 1925 Edith Brake West conducted a survey of county organizations which was recognized by the National Federation of Women's Clubs. For the first time in the history of federated clubs, the accomplishments and the organization of these bodies were set forth.[14]

The membership peaked at 850,000 in 16,000 clubs in 1955, and has declined to about 70,000 in the 21st century as middle-class women moved into the public mainstream. During the Cold War era, the GFWC promoted the theme that American women had a unique ability to preserve world peace while strengthening the nation internally through local, national, and international community activism.[15] The remaining 70,000 members are older now, and have less influence in national affairs.[16] The affiliated clubs in every state and more than a dozen countries work locally "to support the arts, preserve natural resources, advance education, promote healthy lifestyles, encourage civic involvement, and work toward world peace and understanding".[17]

In 2009, GFWC members raised over $39 million on behalf of more than 110,000 projects, and volunteered more than 4.1 million hours in the communities where they live and work.[18]

Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion edit

The General Federation of Women's Clubs (GFWC), one of the oldest women's volunteer organizations, seeks to build global communities where people unite in diversity and dedicate their service to changing lives. GFWC celebrates the engagement of people of all backgrounds and believes in fostering an inclusive, equitable climate, and culture where community members can thrive. (Adopted on June 9, 2023)

Notable clubwomen edit

See also edit

References edit

  1. ^ "Who We Are". Retrieved 22 January 2015.
  2. ^ Blair 1998
  3. ^ "Charlotte Emerson Brown – American clubwoman". Encyclopædia Britannica. 17 April 2023.
  4. ^ General Federation of Women's Clubs (1910). Biennial of the General Federation of Women's Clubs: Official Proceedings. ... .no. p. 446.
  5. ^ Mary Jane Smith, "The Fight to Protect Race and Regional Identity within the General Federation of Women's Clubs, 1895–1902." Georgia Historical Quarterly (2010): 479–513 in JSTOR
  6. ^ "Race Discrimination", Congregationalist 85:24, 1900 June 14.
  7. ^ "Color-Line in Women's Clubs", Congregationalist 86:6, 1901 February 9
  8. ^ Stephen M. Buechler, The Transformation of the Woman Suffrage Movement: The Case of Illinois, 1850–1920 (1986) pp 154–57
  9. ^ Paige Meltzer, "The Pulse and Conscience of America" The General Federation and Women's Citizenship, 1945–1960," Frontiers: A Journal of Women Studies (2009), Vol. 30 Issue 3, p52-76. online
  10. ^ June O. Underwood, "Civilizing Kansas: Women's Organizations, 1880–1920," Kansas History (1984) 7#4 pp 291–306.
  11. ^ Paula D. Watson, "Founding mothers: The contribution of women's organizations to public library development in the United States." Library Quarterly (1994) pp: 233–269 in JSTOR.
  12. ^ Karin L. Huebner, "An Unexpected Alliance: Stella Atwood, the California Clubwomen, John Collier, and the Indians of the Southwest, 1917–1934," Pacific Historical Review (2009) 78#3 pp: 337–366 in JSTOR
  13. ^ Jennifer McLerran, "Clubwomen, Curators and Traders," American Indian Art Magazine (2011) 36#4 pp 54–92
  14. ^ "28 May 1925, Thu". Oakland Tribune: 47. 1925. Retrieved 5 September 2017.
  15. ^ Meltzer, "The Pulse and Conscience of America" The General Federation and Women's Citizenship, 1945–1960,"
  16. ^ Blair, 1998
  17. ^ From the GFWC Website Archived 2014-10-20 at the Wayback Machine
  18. ^ "GFWC 2009–2010 Annual Report" (PDF). Retrieved 2012-04-09.
  19. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z aa ab ac ad ae af ag ah ai aj ak al am an ao ap aq ar as at au av aw ax ay az ba bb bc bd be bf bg bh bi bj bk bl bm bn bo bp bq br bs bt bu bv bw bx by bz Binheim, Max; Elvin, Charles A (1928). Women of the West; a series of biographical sketches of living eminent women in the eleven western states of the United States of America. Retrieved 8 August 2017.  This article incorporates text from this source, which is in the public domain.
  20. ^ Fletcher, Russell Holmes (1943). Who's who in California. Who's Who Pub. Co. Retrieved 17 September 2017.
  21. ^ Morris-Crowther, Jayne (2013). The Political Activities of Detroit Clubwomen in the 1920s: A Challenge and a Promise. Wayne State University Press. p. 127. ISBN 978-0-8143-3816-2.
  22. ^ Detwiler, Justice Brown (1929). Who's who in California : a biographical directory, 1928–29. Who's Who Publishing Co. p. 74. Retrieved 11 September 2017.
  23. ^ Wilson, Linda D. "Douglas, Sophia Julia Coleman". The Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture. Retrieved 8 October 2018.
  24. ^ "Ebell Club Delegates – 02 May 1915, Sun • Page 21". The Los Angeles Times: 21. 1915. Retrieved 25 September 2017.
  25. ^ "Mrs. Hazlett's Funeral is Tomorrow – 05 Apr 1933, Wed • Page 2". Reno Gazette-Journal: 2. 1933. Retrieved 1 October 2017.
  26. ^ Madsen, Carol Cornwall (1995). "Decade of Detente: The Mormon-Gentile Female Relationship in Nineteenth-century Utah." Utah Historical Quarterly. 63 (4)
  27. ^ "Georgia Suffrage News" (March 3, 1915) Athens Daily Herald, p. 4. Retrieved March 1, 2013.
  28. ^ "Mrs. Fanny Purdy Palmer". Los Angeles Evening Post-Record. 2 May 1902. p. 7. Retrieved 30 April 2021 – via
  29. ^ John W. Leonard (1914). Woman's Who's who of America: A Biographical Dictionary of Contemporary Women of the United States and Canada, 1914–1915. American commonwealth Company. pp. 633–.
  30. ^ "Edith Dolan Riley papers, 1876–1965". Retrieved 3 October 2017.
  31. ^ Beachley, DeAnna E. "Biographical Sketch of Delphine Anderson Squires". Alexander Street. Retrieved 7 March 2024.
  32. ^ Humphrey, Carol Sue. "Threadgill, Frances Falwell". The Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture. Retrieved 8 October 2018.
  33. ^ Johnson, Anne (1914). Notable women of St. Louis, 1914. St. Louis, Woodward. p. 250. Retrieved 17 August 2017.  This article incorporates text from this source, which is in the public domain.
  34. ^ "GFWC International Past Presidents". GFWC. Retrieved December 28, 2017.
  35. ^ Rappaport, Helen (2001). Encyclopedia of women social reformers. Santa Barbara, Calif.: ABC-CLIO. ISBN 1-57607-101-4. OCLC 47973274.

Further reading edit

  • Blair, Karen J. "General Federation of Women's Clubs," in Wilma Mankiller et al. eds., The Readers Companion to U.S. Women's History (1998) p 242
  • Croly, Jane Cunningham (1898). The History of the Woman's Club Movement in America. H. G. Allen & Company. pp. 1184.
  • Houde, Mary Jean. Reaching Out: A Story of the General Federation of Women's Clubs (Washington, DC: General Federation of Women's Clubs, 1989). ISBN 978-0-916371-08-1
  • Meltzer, Paige. "The Pulse and Conscience of America" The General Federation and Women's Citizenship, 1945–1960," Frontiers: A Journal of Women Studies (2009), Vol. 30 Issue 3, p52-76. online
  • White, Kristin Kate, "Training a Nation: The General Federation of Women's Clubs' Rhetorical Education and American Citizenship, 1890–1930" (PhD dissertation, Ohio State University, 2010). DA3429649.
  • Epstein, Joel (2022). "The Women of America". Music for the Love of It: Episodes in Amateur Music-Making. Juwal Publications. ISBN 978-9659278237.

External links edit

Members edit