By RUTH MORGAN
Woman’s clubs first arose in the United States during the post-Civil War period in both the North and the South. As a result of increased leisure time due to modern household advances, middle-class women had more time to engage in intellectual pursuits. They established numerous women’s clubs, many with a primary function of “study clubs and reading circles.” They also frequently supported social welfare goals, such as building of schools, public libraries and hospitals. They founded 75-80 percent of the libraries in communities across the nation. These clubs were an integral part of a cultural building of institutions that occurred around the years 1870-1930 throughout the United States. It led to the formation of the General Federation of Women’s Clubs (GFWC).
The focus on self discovery in most women’s clubs resulted in their maintaining book collections for use by club members. As the clubs evolved, the members began to focus on civic duty within their communities. One of the first items on the club’s agendas was promoting literacy by increasing availability of books and establishing libraries. Women’s clubs wanted to share their libraries with the community, which led to the beginnings of traveling libraries.
Sorosis, a professional women’s association, was created in 1868 by Jane Cunningham Croly, because women were usually shut out of membership in the organizations of many professions.
Susie V. Powell, state director of Home Demonstration Clubs, organized the Sorosis Club of Mississippi State University in 1917. The first name of the club was “Household Engineering Corps” because it was organized during the First World War when emphasis was on food substitutes.
The Starkville Woman’s Club exemplifies the same objectives as those given above. In 1924, a group of civic-minded ladies, feeling the need for a federated civic club in Starkville, met at the home of Mrs. J. B. Perkins on Gillespie Street. It was federated that same year as “Starkville Woman’s Club.” Mrs. B. M. Walker served as the first president.
This group of civic-minded ladies formed this club with a three-fold purpose. The first was betterment of homes, schools and community. The second was to carry out the aims of the Mississippi Federation of Woman’s Clubs and last was to bring together women in social and intellectual communion.
The first major project was the founding of a library in 1924, which is still a primary interest of the club. The first library was located in an upstairs room at the courthouse and then moved to a corridor room until 1937. A small building on South Lafayette Street served as the library until the present library was built.
In 1933, The Woman’s Club raised the money for and erected a Memorial gate at the Northeast entrance to Odd Fellows Cemetery on University Drive. In 1936, each member adopted an underprivileged child for the year. In 1938, the club established the first free nursery school a forerunner of the Day Care Center today.
That same year, a junior club was organized under the name of “Young Woman’s Club.” This later became the Civic League. The club hosted the first “International Tea” when foreign students began to enter Mississippi State, and this became an annual event. During World War II, the club established the USO in Starkville.
On June 10, 1932, an entire issue of The Starkville News was dedicated to The Woman’s Club and their fine work.
Today, the club is still active and interested in projects that support the library, the blind, the School for the Deaf, youth activities and the Starkville-MSU Symphony. There is a membership of 40.
Projects over the years for the Starkville Woman’s Club include:
— Presented white marble cemetery gates to Odd Fellows Cemetery on University Drive.
— Sponsored the Girl Scout movement in Starkville.
— Sold more towels made by the blind than any federated club in the state.
— Organized the Oktibbeha County Library in 1924 and continued support through the years.
– Supported underprivileged children.
— Established a nursery school (Day Care Center).
— Sponsored drives for the Old Ladies Home in Jackson.
— Assisted in the formation of the Community Council.
— Established with other clubs a full time health unit in Oktibbeha County.
— Served as the leader in the establishment of a community park.
— Contributed to swimming pool at State College and the Community pool.
— Planted shrubs around the county courthouse.
— Planted crepe myrtles in the town
— Clean up week for Odd Fellows Cemetery undertaken annually by Woman’s Club.
— Leader in drive for March of Dimes.
— Leader in organizing the Red Cross in Starkville and buying Red Cross equipment.
— Bought 500 seedlings of dogwood trees and had them planted all over the city.
— Assisted in the purchases of high school band uniforms.
— Established Young Woman’s Club in 1939, which later became Civic League.
— Sponsored Miss Hospitality Contest.
This is what just one club has contributed not only to our county but also to the state.
In 1965 the Starkville Daily News published a 24-Page Special Supplement honoring all the Woman Clubs in the area. There is an old saying, “One woman can change anything, but many women can change everything.” The supplement provided brief histories of about 50 woman clubs, which are listed below. Just think how our county and town have benefited from the projects these clubs have and are sponsoring. Sincere appreciation is expressed to each member who volunteers time to making Starkville a great place to live: American Association of University Women (AAUW), Air Force Cadet Wives Club, Aldersgate Women’s Society of Christian Service, B’Nai Israel Sisterhood, Baptist Woman’s Missionary Union, Business Organization for Women, Christian Women’s Fellowship, Civic League, Civinette Club, Clay-Oktibbeha Hairdressers and Cosmetologists Association, Dames Club, Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR), Dormitory Hostesses Club, Electrical Engineer Wives, Episcopal Women, First Methodist Women (WSCS), Girl Scouts, Green Thumb Garden Club, Home and Garden Club, Home Economics Association, Hospital Auxiliary, Housewives Bowlers, Industrial Education Wives, Junior Auxiliary, M’Lady Garden Club, Maben Home and Garden Club, Magnolia Garden Club, MSU Women’s Club, Newcomers Club, Nocturne Music Club, Oktibbeha County Legal Secretaries Association, Oktibbeha Extension Homemakers Council, Oktibbeha Republican Women, Oktoc Garden Club, Order of the Eastern Star, Phi Mu Alumnae Club, Pilot International, Presbyterian Women Circles, Sessum’s Woman’s Club, St. Joseph Altar Society, Starkville Woman’s Club, Sturgis Eastern Star, Sturgis Woman’s Club, The Town and Country Garden Club, United Daughters of the Confederacy, Young Women’s Christian Association and Zeta Tau Alpha.