Women and Clubs - February 2005

Carol Roberts, TCI Bulliten Editor  By Carol Roberts, Kiwanis Club of Tri-Cities Industry, Richland, Washington, Bulletin Editor

You may not know that in the beginning of mankind women were treated like goddesses because they gave birth.  Women stayed together and discussed how to do things for the betterment of the tribes.  Then an ornery little bird told men where babies came from and from that day forward men grabbed his woman of choice by the hair and dragged her to his cave and unlike Peter Pumpkin Eater he did not keep her very well and he kept her from other women and men too.

We cannot give the history of how The General Federation of Women’s Clubs came into being without a background of the struggle for women to organize clubs, and  women of the 20th century felt a need to belong.  This had never happened before?  Well, yes, it did.  The first clubs for women were noted historically as the “Blue Stocking Clubs.”  In the mid-eighteenth century a group of ladies in England held “conversations” to which they invited men of letters and members of the aristocracy with literary interests.  The Blue Stocking Clubs, a nickname that came about when a certain man declined an invitation to a gathering because he lacked appropriate dress.  The hostess told him to come in his blue stockings—the every day dress for men at the time, hence the name for the society.

In 1678 a woman named Ann Hutchinson came from England to the Massachutus colony with her clergyman husband.  She organized a Monday afternoon gathering of women and led discussions centering on religious sermons and scriptures. Actually we may say that she started the first woman’s club in the USA. Governor John Winthrop told her to desist and withhold from these meetings.  Women could not be leaders and they could not give invocations.   Ann had asked a clergyman to act in this capacity for the women, but Ann would not give up the Monday meeting.  She was arrested 3 times and would not recant or give up the Monday meetings—at the last trial Ann was pregnant with her 16th child and was not well enough to fight with Governor Winthrop –she was sentenced to be exiled in 30days to a place that is known as Rhode Island today.  Ann’s husband Will stood by Ann all the way. .  When the verdict came in. Ann’s husband went to this wilderness and built a house for his family. Anne was expecting her sixteenth child.  It was a sixteen- day arduous journey and the child was born dead.   Ann started the Monday Morning meetings in this isolated place—the Indians were friendly but something set them off and Ann and her family except for one daughter and her husband were killed in an Indian uprising.  Some believed Governor Winthrop caused the Indians to become upset abut something.    Oliver Wendell Holmes and Franklin Roosevelt claimed to be direct descendants of Ann.

Women never seem to be deterred from a mission they think necessary and one of their objectives has been to be recognized as equals—they wanted to be educated and they wanted their daughters educated.  A myth about educating women prevailed that women would not be able to bear children if they were educated. 

In 1869 women were gaining some ground organizing women’s clubs, but men still scoffed saying women should be home taking care of their husbands and their children.

Things came to a head when Jennie June Crowley, a member of the National Press Club, attempted to attend a dinner given by the club to honor Charles Dickens at the end of a reading tour.  “NO!” was the answer—“You are a woman and we will not have Mr. Dickens embarrassed this way.”   Horace Greeley, editor Of the NEW YORK TRIBUNE, did his best to see that Jennie June and the other women were welcomed.  He even refused to attend himself.  It was finally agreed that a group of women might attend if, to avoid embarrassment to Dickens, they would sit behind a curtain out of sight.  Well our spunky Jennie June declined the conditional invitation replying “The ladies had not been treated as gentlemen.”  This instance led to the formation of the General Federation of Women’s Clubs in 1890with the help of Sorosis.  GFWC was a force to be reckoned with—the organization is credited with the formation of 75% of the libraries in the USA including our own library in Richland; but that is another story.  This organization was responsible for getting legislation passed to benefit women and children such as eliminating sweat shops and not hiring children.  In 1905 President Cleveland wrote an article in the May issue of the LADIES HOME JOURNAL saying, “I am persuaded that there are Women’s Clubs whose objects and intents are not only harmful, but harmful in a way that directly menaces the integrity of our homes.  These clubs have an undermining effect on women—it is a thousand pities that all women cannot sufficiently open their minds to see their complete duty.”  After more scathing remarks President Cleveland said, “It should be boldly declared that the best and safest clubs for a woman to patronize is her home.”  Well the rest is history.

Although this reporter does not know too much history of the GFWC Woman’s Club of Spokane we do know that it was organized in

 When the first Kiwanis Club in Detroit, Michigan was chartered on January 21, 1915, there was no question about the gender of membership.  Organizations of this type were typically male, but five years later after the adoption of the current Kiwanis Constitution and Bylaws in Denver it spelled out more specifically the requirements for membership in a local club.  Women had received the right to vote and that was challenging.   The provisions for male membership only was inserted into the Constitution and Bylaws, and the standard form for club Bylaws also contained the restriction.

 Although from time to time individual Kiwanians raised the issue as to why women could not be members it was not until 1954 that more attention was given to the pros and cons of this issue.  It was becoming increasingly evident many clubs were seeking growth.  Women were accepting new roles in business and professional worlds.  The question was asked, “Why should such leaders continue to be excluded from membership in local Kiwanis clubs?”   This became a burning issue.  Some Kiwanians threatened to resign from their local clubs as a protest against the continuing status of Kiwanis as a male only organization.  Some members believed strongly enough to attempt to put pressure on their local districts in hope of getting the policy changed.  Clubs stated their desires to the International Resolutions Board, but you have all heard John Yegge’s joke:  “How many Kiwanians does it take to change a light bulb?” The answer is a loud squawking,  “CHANGE?”   By 1973 frustration became increasingly evident and the question of Women’s membership moved to another phase.  For the first time the Kiwanis Club of Olympus, Salt Lake City, submitted a proposed amendment to be voted on at the International Convention.  The club stated that with women serving society as judges, doctors, lawyers, barbers, proprietors of their own businesses it was not illogical that they may also work to serve their communities through present proven organizations. “ Must they organize their own groups to compete with ours when the real goal is community service?  (Apparently this group had never heard of the General Federation of Women’s Clubs, and women were already competing in community service.)

Several attempts were made to change the amendment—one amendment gave the districts the right to amend their bylaws to admit women, but the most compelling argument against the whole idea of local option was presented by a member of the Kiwanis Club of West Central, Chicago, Illinois “I don’t see how it can turn out to be a local option when if a   woman—or any person for that matter—becomes a member that person automatically becomes eligible for any office within the Kiwanis organization which certainly would include the International organization as well.”  The amendment failed.

 In 1974,the Kiwanis of Teaneck, New Jersey, presented another amendment which emphasized, “The reason we sponsor this amendment which is being ratified by states across the country and is called the Equal Rights Amendment.”

 One delegate who had attended Kiwanis conventions for years and loved the spotlight was at his best in 1974 when he had the attention of the convention goers.  I could not find a picture of him but I picture him as a fat bald headed man with a handlebar mustache.  He wore a three- piece suit and had a large old chain attached to his pocket watch in his vest pocket, and when he rose to talk he stuck his thumb in his armpit and in a self-serving voice said, ”The most wonderful women in the world are the dedicated women and wives of delegates –now this type of woman would be an asset but unfortunately there is a phenomenon looming upon the scene:  The Liberated Woman!  Now these women are determined, they are aggressive; they are militant, defiant, educated, and independent.  They are also qualified.  On the other hand they are politically inclined.  Now these women would be a definite liability to Kiwanis, and, Gentlemen, with this in mind, the International Kiwanis would become a battleground of sex.”

 In 1976 at the San Diego convention an attempt was made to “get a foot in the door,” by proposing honorary membership for women. Wives and mothers of Kiwanians were associated with local clubs and were called Kiwaniannes. 

A difficult trend began developing; clubs knowingly admitted women appeared on the horizon.  Kiwanis International had no other recourse than to take action.  The Constitution and Bylaws gave no choice so each club was notified to comply within 60 days or lose their charter.

 On June 24, 1975, clubs presented their arguments for women members.  Carol Cashew, the attorney for one of the clubs, presented the club’s appeal.  She had attempted to gain admittance to the House of Delegates, but her request was denied for obvious reasons, she was a woman.  Shades of Jennie June Croley, history repeats itself.  Her most persuasive argument for women to be Kiwanis members was when she quoted the US Supreme Court decision,  “that private clubs meeting in places of public accommodation could not discriminate, the philosophy and the language of the court is clear.  You have an opportunity to lead.  Your very organization exists to provide leadership in the community. I call on you not to let Kiwanis be dragged kicking and screaming by the courts into the 21st century.  Show the way to other service organizations.  Allow clubs to admit women if they so desire.  Strengthen your own organization by drawing on the committed energy of successful businesswomen so you can continue to serve the community of mankind.”  Well, When the House of Delegates voted on this amendment it was soundly defeated 3,860-489 and 3,800-482.

 Since US Civil War Days there have been public accommodation laws initially designed to allow people into restaurants and hotels and to handle personal affairs in their communities.  These laws were designed to prohibit discrimination against people of color.  Later these same laws began to contain reference to ethnic origin, nationality, and finally in a number of states, such regulations were amended to prohibit discrimination in places of public accommodations based on gender.  In reality, however, nobody had in mind that these laws had any application to service clubs whatsoever.  It was the State of Minnesota that these laws were first applied to clubs in the case of the USA Jaycees.  The argument had a right to be discriminatory because it was a private club and because the US Constitution allowed it to be discriminatory.  The US ruled that the Jaycees could not be discriminatory and had to allow women.

 When the Ridgewood, New Jersey Kiwanis Club heard this they openly admitted it had elected a woman to membership.  KI sought legal advice and were told they had to carry out KI Constitution and Bylaws.  Ridgewood was notified it could not use anything Kiwanis –their club would be terminated in sixty days.  Ridgewood complied by dropping its women members.

 In 1985 the US Supreme Court ruled that Jaycees and Rotary organizations must allow women members.  July 7, 1987 Kiwanis International President J. Dinoto declared, “The chair rules that amendment #2, as amended, has passed by 2/3rds.” At that very moment  the very nature of Kiwanis Clubs was forever changed.  It was then within the provisions of the International Constitution, worldwide, clubs could elect women to membership should they so desire.  This amendment was passed without an order from the US Supreme Court. ”Kiwanis goes Coed!” screamed newspaper headlines across the country.  Of course women were supposed to be employed or had been employed.  I think it was in 1998 0r 1999 that the KI By-laws were being reviewed and revised and TCI Jim Hagan who was part of the committee proposed the amendment that prospective members, male or female did not have to have an employment record.  It was passed.  The rest of the story is in equality for all persons, Male and female, performing service for a better community, nation and world.

 Most Kiwanians were enthusiastic to admit women and I understand that Richland was the first club in the area to admit a woman.  They also lost a male member who objected to women being admitted into the club he said he had joined Kiwanis to get away from women—oh hum to each his own. TCI was second—only because Richland met on Wednesday and TCI did not meet until Friday.

 There is a Kiwanis club in Wentachee that has all female members they were Kiwaniannes and when they could be real Kiwanis members they were chartered.  Why are there no males in the club well maybe John Yegge has hit the nail on the head, he said

“Women are not afraid or intimidated to be the only female in a group of men, but a man is very intimidated to be the only man to walk into a room full of Women.  I am sure if the men would bring a friend or two the club would be very happy to have men in their club.

TCI was the second club in the area to admit women to Kiwanis membership, the reason Richland was first was because the club met on Wednesday and TCI did not meet until Friday.  Kitty Bridges with Harrington trophies was the first TCI female member and Nancy Adams was the first female president—that year TCI won awards in all five departments of Kiwanis International.  Paula Glenn was TCI’s second female president, Other females president include Jill Monley, Rozanne Tucker, Pat Merkel, Norma Holliday, TCI has not had a female Lt. Gov. yet but Jane Kassuba, who is a TCI member now, was Lt. Governor representing Dayton.  Thanks for asking me to speak for female Kiwanians.  I am almost sure there is no one who does not think females made a difference for the betterment of KI.


 Lou Beckman was president when he brought the women into the Richland Kiwanis Club—I do not know their names.  Priscilla Cannon was the first female president of this club, the only female to be given a Hixson by this club and she was the first female Lt. Governor of Division 54.   Other female presidents of this club were Sherry Likala, and Ginger Vetrano.  Ginger and her hubby  Jim are  the only couple to serve as presidents of the club.  Jim served 1994-95 and Ginger served 2003-04.

 Richland now has two community service minded women who have gained fame for the club with a unique service project called birthday bags.  Now children of needy families will have birthday items including cake mix  to celebrate with.  The Salvation Army distributes the bags.  If there is time I will try to answer questions  Good I probably wouldn’t know the answers anyway.  Thanks for allowing me to speak for female Kiwanians.  I do not think there is any one that does not think women are essential to making Kiwanis great. 

 Susan Volk was Atomic City’s first female president she served in 1995-96.  I don’t know for sure who the first female member was. May Hays was the first female to be given a Hixson by the club.   Phyllis Cannon, BC Cunningham, Jane Kassuba were Lt. Governor’s of Division Council 54, and   The first PNW Governor was Bobbe Godwin she served in 1999-2000, I think and Louise Regelin was the second female governor —the third of course is our present day Lori Bryant.  To date we have not had a Kiwanis International President—but maybe women really do not want to be President that is a lot of work. There are KI International female trustees however. 

“KIWANIS CLUBS GO COED” was the headlines in the newspapers across the country. 

The rest of the story is in the equality of all peoples, male or female performing service for a better community, nation, and world.

 Information for this essay was obtained mostly from the book REACHING OUT, The Story of The General Federation of Women’s Clubs, Copyright 1989; and DIMENSIONS OF SERVICE, THE KIWANIS STORY, by Larry Hapgood. Copy right 1989.

 If there is time I will try to answer questions.  Good I probably didn’t know the answer anyway.

 Carol B. Roberts February 2005