Excerpt from The Cape Cod Chronicle February 19, 2015
Women’s Club Of Chatham Celebrates Centennial
by Debra Lawless
CHATHAM – One hundred years ago a group of women in Chatham organized a club. Last Thursday, State Representative Sarah Peake, former State Senator Joanne Sprague and Chatham Selectman Florence Seldin all recognized the non-profit Women’s Club of Chatham on its centennial anniversary during a gala celebration in the community center. In her proclamation from the Massachusetts House, Peake noted that the club has donated $75,000 in scholarships and community grants during the past decade alone.
The gathering on Thursday began as it always does with delicate crustless tea sandwiches. To mark the special occasion, vintage silver tea service was brought out as well. After about 45 minutes of mingling, over 100 members and guests took seats to hear the program. Much has changed since 1915, a year when the population of Chatham was 1,667 and the town was not yet electrified. Joanna Schurmann, a past president of the club, gave a PowerPoint history of the club’s first 100 years. One of her historical tidbits drew gasps from the mostly female audience. “Most women only washed their hair once a month and used Borax or egg whites,” Schurmann said. Many other things have changed since 1915, of course. Women no longer wear hats to these meetings. Most women here today are wearing slacks, and a number wear red blazers in a nod to Valentine’s Day. Chatham Bars Inn had been open for a few months when 42 women signed on as charter members to the club.
The list of early members reads like a who’s who of Chatham’s familiar family names; Nickerson, Eldredge, Atwood, Bearse, Smith and Harding are among them. Four of those women attended the club’s 50th celebration. “I wanted all the members to feel proud of their club and its long history, and I wanted our newer members to learn something new,” Schurmann said later in an email interview.
Back in 1915, the women met on Feb. 23 to hammer out a constitution and bylaws for the club. “They were very serious about this club,” Schurmann said. The club’s first official meeting was held on March 4 in the home of Florence O’Neil. The 78 women who attended the meeting were “favored” with music provided by an orchestra. (An orchestra? Yes. As past president Regina McDowell noted, in 1915 “only the very wealthy had a Victrola and radio.”) The club’s stated purpose was “to broaden and strengthen the moral, social and intellectual life of Club members, and to be a power in the community.” Shurmann called this “a brave and feisty goal” five years before women could vote.
The group has met its goal over the past century. In 1919 the group helped establish the Visiting Nurse Association in Chatham. In 1925 it placed an article on the town warrant to create a town dump. Throughout the Depression, the group provided milk to needy schoolchildren. In the 1940s members knit afghans and packed shoes for veterans. The group sold so many war bonds that it financed a scout car that was shipped to Europe’s front lines.
Past president Sharon Oudemool, also a president of the Friends of the Eldredge Public Library, said that the club backed an article on the town warrant to fix up the library. By 1949 the library “was in sad shape after years of financial mismanagement,” she noted. There had been no new books for years. Townspeople appropriated $7,000, and the library began a period of steady improvement. In 1965, when the club celebrated its 50th birthday, 250 guests crowded into Chatham High School on Crowell Road, then a new building. In 2010 the Chatham Woman’s Club de-federated from the national club, and changed its official name to the Women’s Club of Chatham.
Today’s club has over 200 members, President Ann Hosmer said. The club is as civic-minded as ever. For Chatham’s 300th anniversary, the club funded a new bench in front of the Orpheum Theater. The club will also make grants this year in the amount of $5,000 and works with various non-profit groups. “Not only do we do that, we have fun,” Hosmer noted. As well as a jazz brunch, a Christmas box lunch and other events, the group hosts an annual friendship luncheon in May. “That talks about what the Women’s Club is all about, which is friendship,” Hosmer added.
The groups meets monthly (except during the summer) and listens to a variety of speakers on topics from “Preventing Infectious Disease” to “Locals You Should Know.” While that first meeting in 1915 included “a dainty lunch,” today’s meeting ends with a festive bright red punch and cupcakes with white frosting. The table was decorated with pink carnations, the club’s official flower in the early days.
Our club was called the Chatham Woman's Club until 2010 when the Club defederated from the General Federation of Womans Clubs (GFWC) in order to concentrate our efforts on the needs of Chatham and make scholarship contributions through Cape Cod Community College. We are the same club, now called the Women's Club of Chatham, celebrating our great history since the first meeting at Florence O'Neil's home in February 1915.
Former President Joanna Schurmann took us through the first 100 years with an eye on the times and the things the women could do despite no cars, no right to vote, no washing machines, no shampoo, but plenty of spunk, energy, and big hearts -- Saving the Eldredge Library, proposing a town dump, funding a Scout Car for the troops in WWII, buying a beach chair for the disabled, and numerous supporting contributions around town. What will we do next?
The Town of Chatham offered a Proclamation recognizing the service and contribution of our club to the town. Selectman Florence Seldin brought it to us and made it even better because she is one of our members. As one of only five women to ever be elected to the Board of Selectman, she issued a challenge to the Club to participate more in town government.
Recognition from the Commonwealth of Massachusetts on the occasion of the 100th Anniversary of the Women's Club of Chatham was brought by State Representative Sarah Peake as she warmly presented the document to President Ann Hosmer.
For our 100th Anniversary leaders joined us from the Chatham Board of Selectmen, the Eldredge Public Library, First Night Chatham, the Chatham Retired Men's Club, the Chatham Garden Club, the Chatham Alliance for Preservation and Conservation, the Chatham Historical Society, the Godfrey Windmill Museum, and the Chatham Reading Club.
Several of our former Presidents joined our current President for the celebration. Their leadership brought the Women's Club through the years enabling the Club to grow and to continue to provide service to the community.
Pink Carnations,Tea Sandwiches, Silver and Friendship
These are just a few things that are signature enjoyments of the club. Add volunteerism and it rounds out the picture of what today's Club offers to our more than 200 members.
The Tree of Life
Our 100th Anniversary Gift to Chatham
Our sculpture of the Tree of Life is complete and hanging on the outside wall of the Eldredge Public Library. It is everything we hoped it would be.
The Centennial Committee began meeting in June of 2014 to discuss what might be an appropriate way to remember the 100th Anniversary of our club. We began by setting a number of criteria for our choice. It would be Permanent, Require little or no maintenance, be Town Appropriate, and Honor or Celebrate Women. By September of 2015 we had narrowed our choices.
We first met with the Library Trustees to present our idea of the "Tree of Life". Though receptive, they reserved final approval. Once we reviewed sculptor Faye Anderson's proposal we presented it to the Women's Club of Chatham Board, the Library Trustees and then began the process with Town Boards - the Historic Business District Commission and the Board of Selectmen. Both Boards were enthusiastic. Faye's schedule required that we wait "our turn." Three and a half years later we are very pleased with the result.