The Woman’s Club of Maplewood — A Century of Service

Nov 1, 2010

The Woman’s Club of Maplewood, established in December 1916, was a product of a growing movement in America that had begun after the Civil War. Across the nation, women — primarily middle- and upper-class women who had the leisure time and the means — organized clubs to develop common interests and work together to improve their communities.

These were not “idle, gossipy women who gather to criticize each other’s hats,” in the words of Marion Moir, a club president in the 1950s. Rather, as Mrs. Clayton Lee, the founder of the club, wrote:

“Almost as soon as the club was organized our country was plunged into war. We took part in all the Liberty Loan drives, organized the Red Cross in Maplewood, originated a system of communication so that we could reach every person in Maplewood within two hours’ time… [and] helped finance the Home Guard.”

By 1922 the club had seven hundred members, 15 committees and about eight departments, addressing the wide interests of the members and the growing needs of the community. In 1927 the Junior Woman’s Club was established, quickly growing to fifty members.

The Vaux Hall Baby Clinic was created in 1923. By the next year there were 102 babies on the visiting list. The program moved to a new Community House in 1927, providing more space for the baby clinic, girls’ club meetings, Americanization classes, a food pantry, a thrift shop and other activities. In 1929 President Gloanna Wallace MacCarthy called the Vaux Hall house “our outstanding civic endeavor. From a small community center ...in one room over a garage, this social work has grown by leaps and bounds.”

The Members Chat was a magazine that covered its expenses through long-term local advertisers, and included poetry and articles by various members.

The club's focus was a balance of education, fellowship and community service. Inspired by her attendance at the General Federation of Women’s Clubs convention in 1922, Mrs. Lee wrote in Members Chat, “Because we live in a much-favored community we must not be unmindful of the ‘other half,’ but must be more deeply concerned about the problems of child labor, child-hygiene, dependent children and law enforcement.”

Throughout its long and illustrious history, the club has played a vital role in community affairs, from raising money to fund scholarships and even a World War II Grumman fighter plane nicknamed “Miss Maplewood.”

The Civics-Legislation Department initiated the Murals for Town Hall project in 1957.

In 1963, in response to the needs of working members, the Evening Division was created.

Women’s Clubs: Empowering American Women

Although the phenomenon of women's clubs burgeoned after the Civil War, both white and free black women had organized associations to crusade against slavery, end the "curse" of alcohol, or help less fortunate women in their towns and cities in the first half of the 19th century. But after the war, a new surge of energy and interest among women ignited the creation of new, more ambitious clubs.

These clubs took various forms. Some were study groups devoted to learning; others were fund-raising organizations designed to raise money for building schools, hospitals, orphanages, libraries, and other public institutions. In still other clubs, women became involved in local political causes, endeavored to improve working conditions in factories, lobbied for clean water and laws to end sweatshop abuses, and worked for women's suffrage.

Whatever the club's goals were, its members seized the opportunity to enlarge their interests beyond their homes and families. In the process, they also challenged social practices and conventional ideas about women's lives, although many women did not challenge their role as wives and mothers. Instead, they believed that their maternal concerns obligated them to help improve the quality of life in their neighborhoods and communities. Through their clubs, they practiced a form of "municipal motherhood," striving to bring the order, harmony, and healthy habits of home life into their communities.

In 1890, clubwomen from across the country established the General Federation of Women's Clubs (GFWC), bringing together 200 clubs representing 20,000 members. By 1910, the membership roster had soared to nearly 1 million women.

In 1916, the women of Maplewood joined this swirl of civil and political activity by forming the Woman's Club of Maplewood. — by Harriet Sigerman

When Women Built for Women

As the activities and scope of the Woman’s Club grew, the group moved from one location to another around town — from the Field Club on Baker Street to the Maplewood Club, to virtually every parish hall and school auditorium available. A room above the Maplewood Theatre became the first official club room.

The club had started a building fund in 1918, and the members raised all the money for the future building and the land it stood on. Although land was purchased for the site of the clubhouse in 1923, the organization’s newsletter in 1925 was still expressing concern about the financial scope of the building project — yet, “It is an opportunity that comes only once in a lifetime to be able to say one has helped to build an edifice that is going to stand for our children and their children.”

In 1928 the decision was made to move forward and architect Clifford C. Wendehack, a prominent designer of golf and country clubhouses, was retained to design a clubhouse in the Colonial and Early American style.

The building, roofed in Vermont slate, consists of two distinct sections that reflect different functions of the organization as well as the two major aspects of community life for many upper- and middle-class American women of the time: home and church.

Colonial Home

Wendehack used formal Colonial/Georgian Revival residential architecture for the wood- shingled façade of the building facing Woodland Road. Fronted by a gabled entranceway with a grand double doorway framed by paired pilasters and topped by a Palladian window, its style and character blend with the residential architecture of the neighborhood. Two-story wings, set back from the entranceway, flank the entrance, holding club meeting rooms and spacious lounges, as well as living space for a caretaker. Brick chimneys rise from the ridgeline of the roof at either end, emblematic of the fireplaces that were included for their “home-like” character.

New England Meeting House

In the rear, a two-story tower with an open cupola (surrounded by a railing until about 10 years ago) marks the junction with a perpendicular shingle-covered wing designed in New England Meeting House style. A second entrance at the ground level of the tower has double doors shielded by a small portico and topped by a circular window bringing light into the interior. A grand wooden staircase greets visitors at this entrance, rising up to the meeting rooms on the second story and leading down to the “meeting house” section.

The long wing extending southward from the tower is at a lower level, following the contours of the land. Gloanna Wallace MacCarthy, in the October 1930 members’ newsletter, wrote, “In the grading of the grounds every effort has been made to keep the natural beauty of the woodland lot,” which sloped down to a brook that was moved underground during the construction.

The long rectangular wing contains a pine- paneled auditorium that can seat more than 700 people, and a kitchen and service areas. A stage with a broad proscenium arch stretches across the southern end of the room, and a balcony backed by a mirroring arch, enclosing pocket doors, faces it on the northern wall. The ceiling is a flat barrel vault with projecting ribs, and still bears its original blue and gold paint, which was “softly antiqued” at the time and is now a deep, rich color.

Ten French doors -- five on each side of the room -- are topped by arched transoms. The transom windows have been painted over on the inside and obscured by siding on the exterior. Each is crowned on the interior by a crescent- shaped decorative cove stenciled with arabesque forms. The doors allow the room to be opened out to the landscape, originally onto bluestone terraces.

An article in the November 1925 Members Chat, "What Does the Club House Mean to the Community?”, notes that for the club it will be a locus for their learning, fellowship and service. But to the Community: "To begin with it would be a living monument to civic pride, the materialization of the keen vision of far-sighted women who have worked faithfully and given bountifully, unbiased in its views, where all are welcome. Its auditorium would be available for such entertainments as would reflect credit on the town, such as concerts, receptions, lectures, dances, card parties and meetings for town organizations. To sum it all up, it will stand for helpfulness, sociability and a center for civic interests." And indeed it has.

Read more about:

Architecture Maplewood History Women’s History

Next Event

December 9, 2018, 1:00 PM

Celebrate the Season - Gingerbread Houses, ‘Jolly Old St. Nick’ and Holiday Shopping

Mark your calendars to register to enter your gingerbread house for the annual contest by December 8!


Support Us

Membership in the Durand-Hedden House & Garden Association is open to all. Please consider your membership an invitation to join us as a volunteer or docent educator.