Dorchester Woman’s Club

Image: No. 225 Postcard. The Dorchester Woman’s Club Dorchester, Mass.

The Dorchester Women’s Club, whose building is located on Center Street near the Second Church and Girl’s Latin School (Dorchester’s third high school building) was begun in 1892 in the Harvard Street section of Dorchester. Membership grew to 500 by 1899. The group established and maintained sixteen programs per year intended to be stimulating to the thought, the sympathies, or the artistic sense of the attending members (and at times catering to their palates as well, “since even women grow wondrous open-hearted over their teacups.”

The right hand side of the building, Whiton Hall, was named for Ella Whiton from Melville Avenue, wife of Royal Whiton, a retired railway official. Mrs. Whiton was very efficient in securing the building of the beautiful club-house of the Dorchester Woman’s Club House Association — of which association she became president. She was also a charter member of the Dorchester Woman’s Club and filled the position of treasurer for the Club for five years.

To view the pdf version of an article by Anthony Sammarco entitled “Dorchester Women’s Club offered good works for a century,” published in the Dorchester Community News, 1 December 1995,

click here

The Dorhester Woman’s Club’s cookbook published in 1897 may be viewed here

At a social game of cards Mrs. Clara May Ripley told of a visit to the Home Club of East Boston. The women listened, much impressed, and proposed that a club be formed for Dorchester women.

Being somewhat in doubt as to the procedure, they invited the President of the Home Club to assist them. So, on Mrs. Ripley’s invitation, thirty-one women met at her home on February 17, 1892 to consider such a club with the help of the above-mentioned President.
Two weeks later at a meeting, pledges of membership were signed by fifty-two ladies and by-laws adopted. Then on March 8, the next meeting was over?flowing with eager women.

After nominations for Officers, four names of equal merit had been proposed for President. To solve the difficulty, the one with the largest number of votes was elected President, the others as Vice Presidents. That is why we had three vice presidents for many years.

Membership was limited then to two hundred and the first regular meeting was held at the Harvard Street Church on March 22, 18Q2. Julia Ward Howe was the guest speaker, telling of her club experiences and reciting her famous “Battle Hymn of the Republic.” The Club was presented a gavel by the Harvard Improvement Society.
The birth of a son, James Bryant Conant, to one of the Charter members was cause for much rejoicing. Little did they realize at the time that he was destined to become the President of Harvard University – James Bryant Conant.

In January, 1893, the Club voted to use a Seal, the Shield of the Seal of the Corporate Town of Dorchester. The Seal which is on your bulletin each month has in the background the Blue Hills which served as a landmark to pilot early settlers to the mouth of the Charles River. The rising sun is shining on a colony seeking religious liberty. The castle on top of the shield is in respected memory of Dorchester in Old England. The motto signifies that piety, learning and industry were the virtues the early settlers coveted.

Then came the application to the Secretary of State for a charter who, on inquiry, was satisfied the Club was not organized for gambling, sale of liquor or other unlawful purpose and on payment of $5.00 granted the charter. The local history class was started in I894 and the same season a choral class of 38 members was organized whose annual concerts were considered the musical event of Dorchester . . . with the ladies in exquisite gowns and the men in “Tails and Toppers.”
At this time the Club led a roving existence meeting in different churches. The distances were great and transportation facilities meager. At the annual meeting of 1895, it was voted to buy land for a building. After zealous work to augment $500.00 taken from the treasury, in March 1896, land on Centre Street was secured. Responsible for the building project was the Dorchester Woman’s Club House Association to whom the land was conveyed and its equivalent taken in shares of stock. Everyone worked wholeheartedly for its success with an endless round of activities.

On a cold Spring day in 1898, ground was broken for their so-called “Air Castle,” many members witnessing the turning of the first sod, a piece of which was enclosed in a frame and hung in the office for many years.

In May the corner stone was laid by Mrs. Whiton and a box deposited therein with year books and other papers of interest. The dedication of the building in October, 1898, was attended by all the elite of Dorchester and opened with a prayer. The keys were given to the President of the Association, Mrs. Whiton, who cited the aims of the Club, and Julia Ward Howe offered congratulations.

A week of carnival followed and the first meeting in the new hall was on November 8, 1898. Each member paid 69 cents for her own chair. It was decided to name the hall for Mrs. Whiton who had fought so long and so hard for the success of this enterprise. At the beginning of 1900, the Club was settled in their new building end 
seemed to answer a need in the community. Membership was increased to 500 with a large and impatient waiting list. So an auxiliary was formed which met once a month and presided over “by the vice presidents, in turn. This Auxiliary with its many interests proved a loyal ally and was later merged into the Club itself.

During its early years our club centered its energies on the needs of the community, entertaining at the various Homes and visiting the hospitals, giving useful articles as well as Thanksgiving and Christmas baskets.

In 1906, Mrs. Young formed “The Helpers” who made clothes for expectant mothers and needy school graduates.

During Mrs. Merritt’s administration, 1913 – 1915, musical instruments were given to the Dorchester High School Regiment; consisting of ten bugles and 14 snare drums inscribed with the name of the Club. As the band marched past the clubhouse on meeting days, all business was suspended. The ardor with which they played really showed their appreciation of the gift. During these years, also, a comprehensive library was started and the office of Historian was created. Mrs. Lucy Waugh served as Historian for 27 years and was present at 47 Annual Meetings. On retirement from office in 1915, Mrs. Merritt presented the Club with a substantial sum as nucleus of a Scholarship Fund. In later years the Fund exceeded the goal of $10,000.00 desired by its sponsor. Through the years Mr. and Mrs. Merritt worked for its success. By a unanimous vote on October l4, 1930, this became known as The Merritt Scholarship Fund.

In March 1917, the 25th anniversary was held, the most elaborate and colorful affair of the Club’s career. A company of cadets from the Drum and Bugle Corps of the High School Regiment marched down the aisle with an Americen flag which they donated to the Club. Also at this time, a beautiful State flag was given by Mrs. Parsons.

But dark clouds of World War I were gathering. Liberty Bonds and sewing machines were purchased and the Clubhouse became a hive of activity and industry.
In 1918, the membership was increased to 600 with 24 names on the waiting list. The hour of meeting was changed from 2:30 p.m. to 2:00 p.m. and members assembled to sing popular war songs.

Armistice Day came on a regular meeting day and although a holiday, the Club met as usual and rejoiced together. Later an Honor Roll of 98 names of sons of members serving their country was hung in the Reception Hall.

During Mrs. Alice Taylor Jacobs? term she suggested inviting the former President, the Honorable William Howard Taft, to Dorchester. His terms of $600.00 and expenses appalled the more timid members of the Board, but the Club President had confidence that it could be done and the engagement was made. As Whiton Hall was not large enough, it was made a community affair and the Second Church offered the use of their building. The people responded so well that the Club escaped with a small deficit. One of our Club’s Past Presidents, Mrs. Young, opened her home to Mr. Taft, thus saving the cost of his hotel bill.

In 1920, some members voiced opposition to the erection of the Codman Theatre, but on its completion, ironically, the Club had the distinction of opening its doors to the public with a play ?Fifi of the Toy Shop.” It was a gala event and netted over $1,100.00 toward reducing the Club’s mortgage.
Our Club’s history now comes to the depression days of 1929. Though fewer innovations were made, many ways were devised to replenish the treasury and to maintain the Clubhouse. A stupendous enterprise “Home Beautiful Exposition” in charge of the Bursar, Violet Humphreys, raised $1,300.00 part of which was applied to the mortgage and for a new roof and painting of the Clubhouse.

An International Fete was held with booths, with members gaily dressed in costumes of the country represented, an exhibition of dolls, some dating back many years and the stage converted into an Italian Garden, members dressed in the gowns of a bygone age, passed in a panorama across the platform. This was held in October with the temperature at 94 degrees and netted over $1,500.00.

Another clever idea was an Iron Melting Pot for old gold and silver articles, from the sale of which a goodly sum was received. Most of the projects were planned and carried out by the Clubhouse Committee, at which tine Mrs. Merritt was the Chairman.

In 1931, a Junior Club was formed to interest the daughters of members in club movement. It became an important branch of the Club, worked with enthusiasm and contributed generously to our Treasury.

The Choral and Drama Classes played an important part in the Club’s programs which were largely attended on these ?Home Days.”
As in the days of World War I, during the crisis of World War II, our Red Cross unit carried on their loyal efforts on behalf of suffering humanity at home and overseas.

On February 10, 1942, our Club’s 50th anniversary was celebrated with a program by the members depicting episodes in the growth of the Club, followed by an added feature, ?The Club of Today.” It was a gala day with a large birth?day cake, parade of Past Presidents and singing.

And thus we come to the end of our first fifty years as a Club and are indebted to Mrs. Lucie Waugh for her “Golden Milestones” from 1892 to 194?.
I might add at this point that we were one of the charter members of the Massachusetts State Federation of Woman’s Clubs when it was founded in 1893. We joined the General Federation of Women’s Clubs in 1892 and the Boston City Federation of Organizations, Inc. in 1912.

Highlights of later years:
Gave a donation for the erection of Channel 2 and after the fire for the rebuilding of Channel 2.
Collected our Quota for Dimes for Liberty.
Purchased the equivalent of five Bricks in the Bell Tower honoring the women who served in all the wars and erected in the Cathedral in The Pines. One honoring the departed volunteer workers of the Dorchester Woman’s Club and four honoring the late Eva Roulston with a donation by her sister Miss Ethel Roulston.
Helped with the purchase of a Bench erected in a park in Dorchester, Old England, and inscribed as a gift from the people of Dorchester, Mass.
Honored our fifty year members with gold membership cards.
One of two clubs in the sixth district donating the sum of $100 to the Freedom Foundations at Valley Forge where our name is inscribed for all visitors to see. Gave to the Y.M.C.A. Building Fund. Entered our operation Happiness in the C.I.P.
Changed from a member of the fourth district to become a member of the sixth district as a result of redistricting by the H.S.F.W.C.
A new fifty star flag donated in memory of her husband by Mrs. Percy Lantz.
Celebrated our Diamond Jubilee in 1967.
Lost a beloved president, Mrs. Edward (Mary Foye), while in office.
Gave stationery imprinted with Hospital to West Roxbury Veterans Hospital and money for store for veterans who wanted to visit relatives.
Matched money given to B.C.F.O. Inc. to augment their scholarship fund.


Posted on

May 24, 2020